What can I say about Challah? Only that it is the best, most delicious, wonderful bread in the world, but only when it's done right. Lots of thing qualify as Challah, but the Challah I am talking about is the delicious eggy, slightly sweet, braids of amazingness. Growing up we always had a loaf from the local kosher bakery, but as I am no longer around the block from that, I decided to be brave, let the yeast adventures continue, and make my own. And I am so very glad I did, it was delicious and massive. The braiding was the hardest part, but well worth the effort since it makes the crust to inside parts at the perfect ratio. It is the best bread for French toast and bread puddings, but it also just tastes wonderful on it's own (and I mean on it's own, no butter or jam or anything else on it, trust me).
2 packages active dry yeast
1 cup warm water (105° to 115°F)
1/2 cup sugar
2 tsbp of honey
4 eggs, divided
4 1/2 to 5 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp of salt
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 cups of raisins (optional)
In a large bowl dissolve yeast into water and let stand until foamy, about 5-7 minutes. Stir in sugar, honey, 3 eggs, salt, butter, and 4 1/2 cups of flour with a wooden spoon until a dough forms. Dump the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, adding additional flour or water if neccesary, but do not over flour. The dough should be soft, smooth and just slightly tacky, about 5-7 minutes. (This is an easy dough to work with by hand because of the eggs and butter). Shape into a ball, and transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl and let rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours. Punch dough down and turn out onto a lightly floured surface, let rest 10 minutes then knead in the raisins. Line a cookie sheet with tinfoil or partchment paper and grease lightly. Cut the dough into 4 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long thick robe, about the length of cookie sheet. Line the ropes up horizontally and close together. Braid the challah (see below). Place the braided loaf on the cookie sheet and and loosely in plastic wrap. Refriderate over night. Position the oven rack in the lower third and pre-heat the oven to 350 degrees. Beat the remaining egg and brush the challah with the egg. Bake until golden and crust sounds hollow when tapped, about 30 minutes. Enjoy. (adapted from Williams-Sonoma)
Bring the ends together on one side, but don't pinch them together. Cross the strand farthest from you across all the other strands so it is closest to you. Next, cross the strand that is next to that strand (second from you) over the other two strands so it is now farthest from you. *Position the two outer strands so they point out slightly, and the two inner strands straight. Bring the strand closest to you in between the two inner straight strands. Bring the strand furthest from you up and to the opposite side of the strand you moved one step before. Now your original inner strands are the outer strands. Adjust the strands so the new inners are strainght and the outers point out slightly. Bring the strand farthest from you down between the two straight strands, and then the strand nearest to you to the opposite side of that. Repeat from the * until you reach the end of the ropes. Pinch the ends together.