After seeing this recipe from the Bread Baking Babes for Challah, a traditional Jewish celebratory bread, I absolutely had to try it. It looked complicated but I realized the end result was sure to impress. And I was right - about the impressive part! But it really was very easy to make. For the directions, please see the recipe on I Like To Cook. She has impressive step-by-step photos too.
(from the New York Times Bread and Soup Cookbook)
5 1/2 - 6 1/2 cups Flour, unsifted
3 tbsp Sugar
1 1/2 tsp Salt
1 package dry active Yeast
1/2 cup Butter or margarine, softened
pinch powdered Saffron
1 cup warm Water (120-130'F)
4 Eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp cold Water
1/2 tsp Poppy seeds
Stir the saffron into the warm water and stir until it dissolves.
Combine 1 1/4 cups of flour, the sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Mix in the softened butter. Add a little at a time to the flour mixture and blend thoroughly. Beat for 2 minutes with an electric mixer and medium speed, scraping the bowl occasionally.
Separate the yolk and white of one egg. Blend the single egg white and the other 3 whole eggs into the batter. Reserve the single egg yolk. Stir 1/2 cup of flour into the batter and beat at high speed for 2 minutes, scraping the bowl occasionally. Blend in enough additional flour to make a soft dough. Knead the dough on a lightly floured board about 8 to 10 minutes or until it is smooth and elastic.
Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to grease the top. Cover and allow the dough to rise in a warm, draft free place until double in bulk (approximately one hour).
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into two equal halves. Divide each portion into 2 pieces, using 1/3 of the dough for one piece, and 2/3 of the dough for the other. Divide the large piece into 3 equal portions.
Roll each of these into 12 inch ropes. Braid the ropes together tightly, using your fingers to press the dough together at the ends. Divide the smaller piece into 3 equal portions. Roll each of these into 10 inch ropes and braid tightly. Place the smaller braid on top of the larger one and seal the ends. Repeat this process to form the second loaf. The dough was smooth and elastic and really easy to braid - I was sure this was going to be the tough part but it was actually fun to do.
Place both braided loaves on a greased baking sheet. Mix the reserved single egg yolk with the 1 tsp of cold water and brush the top of the loaves with the mixture. Sprinkle with poppy seeds (I left this out), and let the loaves rise until double in bulk in a warm draft free place (approximately one hour). Bake in a 400' over for 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks.
(yeah one of them got a little lopsided!)