Once you’ve got the ingredients all arrayed in front of you, it’s time to put the thing together. This is the mixing stage.
There are several ways to mix dough.
You can put the ingredients into a large mixing bowl, grab a large spoon, and stir and mix away until things are mixed properly. This is one old fashioned way to do things, and it’s still a good way to make some breads, especially very high hydration, wet, doughs. The only problem with this method is that it takes a lot of energy to stir a couple of pounds of dough around enough to get things incorporated properly.
The second method, also old-fashioned, is to use the fountain method. This is similar to the bowl-and-spoon, but it entails puting all the ingredients on the counter and very carefully getting everything incorporated into a shaggy mass of dough without getting flour and water all over the counter, walls and floor. I love the fountain method, but I think a part of my infatuatioin is its high-wire aspect — “Can he mix this dough and not get it all over the place?” This is a good method to use for normal doughs, since the dough won’t be too sloppy to handle.
The technique most people will use is to throw everything into a large stand mixer and have at it. This is the way most dough gets mixed and it works well. I use it most of the time because it’s quick, it’s easy to monitor the progress of the dough and it’s as easy as turning on my mixer.
Many of the recipes on this site call for an initial mixing of one to three minutes, followed by a resting period (the autolyse) and then the kneading period. I’ve found that this is a good way to operate and have incorporated it into most of my breads. There is a discussion about the proper time to add salt to a bread dough. Some people say to add it at the start, some say add it after the autolyse. Raymond Calvel’s “Taste of Bread” isn’t much help, at least not in the English translation. The various places where the book covers the topic are ambiguous or contradictory. Try things both ways and see which you prefer.
As with most things in bread baking, there is not one correct answer. A lot depends on your temperament, the conditions in your kitchen, the recipe, your methods of cooking, etc. Still and all, mixing is one of the few things that seem to be straightforward and simple. It has a single aim: to get the ingredients all together so you can start kneading.