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Challah (Braided Bread)

Video

Notes

Challah
  • 3 Tablespoons Yeast
  • 4 cups warm Water
  • 1/2 cup Sugar
  • 2 Tablespoons Salt (reduce if you use salted butter instead of oil, like I did)
  • 1 cup Vegetable Oil (I don't use vegetable oil nor canola oil.  I used melted butter because my olive oil supply is currently limited and I forgot I had peanut oil)
  • 4 large Eggs
  • 12 cups Flour (approximate)
For Egg Wash:
  • 1 large Egg
  • 1 Tablespoon Water
  • 1/2 teaspoon Vanilla Extract or Vanilla Sugar (optional)
  • 1/4 cup Sesame Seeds (optional)
In a large bowl (remember, enough dough for 6 loaves of bread), pour in the warm water (How warm?  I test on my wrist: if it doesn't make me flinch, it's good.  For more specifics, check out this web page: Yeast Is Fussy About Temperature) and whisk in the yeast and sugar (I use Saf-Instant.  I don't bake a lot  so once opened, I store it in the freezer.  I have had the most consistent results from this yeast even when it has expired).  Let sit in a warm spot until it looks like a layer of foam is across the top of the liquid.
In a smaller bowl, break the eggs into it and whisk in the salt and oil.  Once the yeast is ready (proofed), whisk the egg mixture into the yeast until everything is well incorporated and you can't see chunk of egg.  Now, for the fun part: adding the flour.
Using a large spoon, stir the flour (1 to 2 cups at a time) into the liquid.  Keep doing this until it feels like your arm is going to fall off (I tried making large batches of dough like this when I had a working Kitchen Aid mixer ... it wasn't pretty and is probably what lead to it dying).  Then, on a large surface (counter top, kitchen table, whatever will work as long as it is sturdy) sprinkle about 1/4 cup or so of flour and turn your dough out onto the floured surface.  Time to knead in more flour.
This is where I used to mess up.  When a recipe called for X-amount of flour, I used it all.  The amount of flour you use depends on so many factors from the humidity in your house to the size of the eggs you use to what kind of flour you are using that you need to pay attention to how the dough is behaving to determine how much flour you really use for a certain recipe.  I typically add (to the bowl) all but the last two or so cups, then add more flour while I knead.
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees F.
When the dough is ready place in an oiled bowl (I don't have one large enough so I used my stock pot), cover with plastic wrap or a towel (I usually wet a towel with hot water, wring it out, and cover the bowl with it if I'm using a container that doesn't like plastic wrap) and let rise until doubled (1 to 2 hours, depending on how warm your house is).  Once it is risen, punch the dough down and place it onto a very lightly floured surface.  Knead just a bit so you can form a nice ball, then separate into sections to make loaves or rolls.
Now, get the egg wash ready.  In a small bowl, beat the egg with the water and vanilla (if you are using it).
Each one of the loaves I did a 6-strand braid and the rolls were two strands each.  You can shape the dough however you want. Once shaped, brush with the egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds (if using).  Let the loaves rise until nearly doubled (1 or 2 hours).  Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, until the loaves are a deep golden brown.  Each one of my loaves were baked for 25 to 30 minutes and, because I got distracted, the rolls probably went for about 40 minutes.