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Challah

2 packets (about 4 1/2 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups warm (105 to 115 degrees F) water
1/3 cup sugar, or to taste

6 to 6 1/2 cups white bread flour or all-purpose unbleached white flour
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup softened margarine, butter or vegetable shortening
3 large eggs

1 egg yolk, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
Poppy seeds (optional)

Mix the yeast with 1/2 cup of the water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar.
Let the mixture rest for 5 to 10 minutes, or until it begins to
foam. Meanwhile, put about 4 cups of the flour into a large bowl
with the remaining sugar, salt, and margarine. Use an electric
mixer or a pastry blender to combine the ingredients until they
form coarse crumbs. Add the yeast mixture, the remaining 1 cup
water, and the eggs, and beat the loose dough with the mixer or a
wooden spoon for about 3 minutes. By hand (or with a heavy duty
mixer), slowly stir in just enough of the remaining flour to form
a soft, slightly sticky dough. Cover the dough with plastic wrap
and let it rest for about 5 minutes.

Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead it,
adding small sprinkles of flour, if necessary, to keep it from
sticking, for about 10 minutes, or until it is very smooth and
satiny. Put the dough into an oiled bowl and turn the dough so
that all sides are oiled. Cover the bowl loosely with a piece of
plastic wrap and then a dish towel, to keep the dough moist and
dark. Let the dough rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours
(depending on the temperature of the room).

Punch down the dough and knead it a few times to remove any air
bubbles. [The bread will be good if you continue from here as
specified, but we found we like it better if it rises to double
once more, is punched down, and is kneaded a few times.] Divide
the dough in half, for two loaves. Then divide each half into 3,
4, 5, or 6 pieces, depending on the number of strands desired for
each loaf. Cover the dough pieces loosely with plastic wrap and
let them rest for 10 minutes.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out each dough piece into a
smooth strand and braid the strands following the directions in
the section The Symbolism and Shaping of Challah. [Do not flour
the surface too much. It takes a little friction to easily roll
the strands.] Carefully set the loaves several inches apart on a
very large greased or non-stick spray-coated baking sheet (or on
2 smaller sheets). Gently rub the surface of each loaf with a little
oil to keep the dough from drying out. Cover the loaves loosely
with wax paper and let them rise at room temperature until doubled
in bulk, 45 minutes to 1 hour or longer. (Formed bread dough tends
to hold its shape better if allowed to rise slowly at room temperature,
rather than in a warm place.)

Gently brush the loaves well with the egg glaze and, if desired,
sprinkle them lightly with poppy seeds. Bake the loaves in a
preheated 375 degree F oven for 40 to 45 minutes, or until the
crust is browned and the bottom of each loaf sounds hollow when
tapped. (If the loaves are browning too rapidly, loosely cover
each one with a tent of aluminum foil.) Remove the loaves from the
baking sheet and cool them on wire racks.

Makes 2 large challot, about 1 2/3 pounds each.


To Braid Three Strands

A. Pass the strand on the right over the one in the center.

B. Pass the strand on the left over the one now in the center.

Repeat.


To Braid Four Strands

A. Pass the strand on the far right under the two to the left of
it, then back over the one now on its immediate right.

B. Pass the strand on the far left under the two to the right of
it, then back over the one now on its immediate left.

Repeat.



This challah is a bit flatter than the one in method 1. The method
is quite simple, though the loaf tends to move toward one side as
it is being braided. Keep repeating step A, always beginning on
the same side (your choice) and moving in the same direction.

A. Pass the strand on the far left (or right) over the one next
to it, under the one after than, and over the last strand.


This version is slightly more difficult than the first two, but it
makes a high, beautiful challah.

A. Pass the second strand from the right over to the far left
position; then pass the strand on the far right over the one now
on its immediate left.

B. Pass the strand second from the left over to the far right
position; then pass the strand on the far left over the one now on
its immediate right.

Repeat.


To Braid Five Strands

A. Pass the second strand from the left over the one on its
immediate right.

B. Pass the strand on the far right over the strand which is now
second from the left.

C. Pass the strand on the far left over the two strands to its
immediate right.

Repeat.


To Braid Six Strands

A. Pass the second strand from the right over to the far left
position.

B. Pass the strand on the far right over the two strands now on
its immediate left.

C. Pass the second strand from the left over to the far right
position.

D. Pass the strand on the far left over the two strands now on
its immediate right.

Repeat.


This is actually composed of two three-stranded braids (for a total
of six strands), which are baked together as one loaf.

Divide the dough into four pieces - three that are equal and one
slightly larger. Braid the three equal pieces as described above
in "To Braid Three Strands." Then divide the remaining larger
piece of dough into three equal strands and braid them. Lay the
small braid over the large one; then let the two braids rise and
bake together.

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