>>I am looking for "the method" that will be the best way to develop web applications while keeping things fairly simple.<<
I reckon every developer is looking for "the method"! I certainly am - been looking for ages and still haven't found it! We'll never find it, but between us we can get closer to it (then the goalposts move and we'll be chasing after another method :-().
>>I was initially creating the HTML by hand in a text file. That seems cumbersome.<<
Some hand-coding may be inevitable, but for the visual stuff a WISYWIG editor is a must. Take a look at Dream Weaver, Homesite, or similar software - it will save you hours of coding in the long-run.