I love love love Challah bread. I've only made it a couple times (yesterday being the second). SOMEONE left the oven on pre-heat (which I never use, EVER because this happens!) and the bread got way darker than I would have liked, but it still turned out perfect.
And now, for the recipe:
5 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup (8 fl oz)warm water (105-115 degrees f)
1/2 a cup plus 2 tsp sugar
3 large eggs, + one if you are doing a glaze
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter @ room temperature
You can add a tablespoon of poppy or sesame seeds, but I don't like to.
Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand until foamy. With a wooden spoon, stir in the sugar, 3 eggs, 4 1/2 cups of the flour, the salt and butter until the dough comes together in a sticky mass (below)
Turn out onto lightly floured work surface, and knead. Work in the remaining flour to keep the dough from being too sticky. Knead for about 5-7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. DO NOT add too much flour! This is a sticky dough. I have to flour my hands to keep it from sticking. As you are kneading, it will become less sticky.Form the dough in to a ball, and put in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rise in a warm and draft free spot until double in size, about 2 hours.
Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Punch down the dough. Scrape or turn out dough on to a clean work surface (lightly floured).
Now comes the tricky part. I am terrible at braiding, I can't give advice on braiding, and you would get lost if I even tried to describe. I just throw things around until it looks ok. Depending on how many strands you want, divide the dough into that many parts using a sharp knife or scraper. Roll them out with your hands until the strands are about as long as your baking pan. Place on the pan, and work your braiding magic.
Once you have your braid done, cover with a dry kitchen towel and let rise again until it doubles in size and feels spongy to the touch, about 45 to an hour.
Position a rack in the lower third of the oven, and preheat to 350 degrees.
If using, brush the bread with the beaten egg and sprinkle with seeds.
Bake until nicely browned (probably not as brown as mine) and it makes the hollow sound when tapped on the bottom, about 30-35 minutes. Transfer to wire rack an cool completely (who does that!)