Challah (Braided Egg Bread)
Makes 2 large braids
4 large eggs
1 cup minus 1 tablespoon oil
1/2 cup minus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) margarine or butter, room temperature
2 teaspoons salt
1 pinch saffron (optional)
1 cup water or low-fat milk (120 to 130 degrees F)
5 to 5 1/2 cups flour (1/2 all-purpose, 1/2 hard wheat, 4 to 4 1/2 white)
2 envelopes dry yeast
1 teaspoon water
2 tablespoons sesame or poppy seeds
Lightly grease large bowl and baking sheet; set aside.
Combine first 5 ingredients in mixing bowl and beat until thoroughly blended. Dissolve saffron in water or milk and add to mixing bowl. Beat in 2 1/4 cups flour and yeast. Continue beating 2 minutes, then add additional 2 1/4 cups flour or enough to make soft dough, blending thoroughly.
Turn out onto lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Place in greased bowl, turning to coat entire surface. Cover with plastic wrap and hot, damp towel and let rise in warm place until doubled in volume. Punch down and let rise again until doubled.
Beat egg with water. Place dough on lightly floured board and divide in half, then divide each half into 3 equal pieces. Roll each into 12-inch rope. Lay 3 ropes parallel and begin braiding in the middle, working out to each end (make braids very loose). Pinch ends together securely. Repeat with remaining ropes. Place loaves on baking sheet, brush tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Bake loaves until golden and bread sounds hollow when tapped, about 35 to 45 minutes. Cool on racks.