Braided loaves can be daunting, but they’re really not that difficult and absolutely worth the effort (and the french toast afterward <_<).
I’m a messy, impatient, lazy cook. But in order to make great bread, all you have to do is follow the directions. If I can somehow manage, so can you!
What You Need:
- 2 teaspoons active dry or instant yeast
- 1 cup lukewarm water
- 4 to 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup white granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 large eggs
- 1 large egg yolk (reserve the white for the egg wash)
- 1/4 cup (2 ounces) neutral-flavored vegetable oil
- Sprinkle the yeast over the water in a small bowl, and add a healthy pinch of sugar. Let stand until yeast froths, about 5 minutes. Set aside.
- Whisk together 4 cups of the flour, sugar, and salt in the bowl Make a well in the center of the flour and add the eggs, egg yolk, and oil. Whisk these together to form a slurry, pulling in a little flour from the sides of the bowl.
- Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry. Mix the yeast, eggs, and flour until you form a shaggy dough that is difficult to mix.
- Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface and knead by hand for about 10 minutes. If the dough seems sticky, add flour a teaspoon at a time until it feels tacky, but no longer like bubblegum. The dough has finished kneading when it is soft and smooth.
- Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and place somewhere warm. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Separate the dough into three or six equal pieces, depending on the type of braid you’d like to do. Roll each piece of dough into a long rope roughly 1-inch thick and 16 inches long. If the ropes shrink as you try to roll them, let them rest for 5 minutes to relax the gluten and then try again.
- Gather the ropes and squeeze them together at the very top. If making a 3-stranded challah, braid the ropes together like braiding hair or yarn and squeeze the ends together when complete. If making a 6-stranded challah, the directions are below.
For a 6 stranded challah, the way I learned was over two, under one, over two. Or basically just passing the far right strand, left and under the center. Just repeat this until you’ve hit the end!
Line a baking sheet with parchment and lift the loaf on top. Sprinkle the loaf with a little flour and drape it with a clean dishcloth. Place the pan somewhere warm and away from drafts and let it rise until puffed and pillowy, about an hour.
About 20 minutes before baking, heat the oven to 350°F. When ready to bake, whisk the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water and brush it all over. Be sure to get in the cracks and down the sides of the loaf.
Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through cooking. The challah is done when it is deeply browned.
Let the challah cool on a cooling rack until just barely warm. Slice and eat.