Moist and rich this is one of my favorite breads! Plan ahead because several rises make this recipe take the whole afternoon.
2 loaves, about 32 slices
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups water
4 teaspoons instant yeast
7 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 large eggs plus 2 yolks (save the whites for the wash, below)
2 egg whites
2 teaspoons sugar
2 tablespoons water
Poppy seeds (optional)
To make the sponge: Mix the flour, water, and yeast together in a large bowl and let sit for about 45 minutes
To make the dough:
Add the dough ingredients to the sponge and mix and knead together--by hand, mixer, or bread machine--until a smooth supple dough is formed. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning it over once or twice to coat it lightly with oil. Cover and let rise for 1 1/2 hours or until doubled in size.
To shape the dough:
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and fold it over once or twice to gently deflate it. Divide the dough into six pieces. Roll each into an about 24 inch log. On two lightly greased cookie sheets braid two three strand braids.
To make the wash:
In a small bowl mix the egg whites, sugar and water. Brush the loaves with this mixture reserving some for the second wash. Cover the loaves with lightly greased plastic wrap and let them rise for 45 minutes to 1 hour or until almost doubled in size.
To bake the loaves:
Preheat the oven to 375 F. brush the loaves with the remaining egg wash, sprinkle with poppy seeds, if desired, and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until the challahs are lightly browned. Remove them from the oven and cool completely before slicing.