Sweet Challah (adapted from a recipe from Sarah Schecht of Brooklyn appeared in an article by Craig Claiborne in the New York Times).
9 cups sifted, unbleached flour (1/2 white, 1/2 whole wheat), plus additional flour for kneading
2 (1/4-ounce) packages dry active yeast
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
4 large eggs
3/4 cup corn oil or clarified butter, plus more for greasing baking sheet
3/4 cup plus 1/8 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon sesame or poppy seeds.
1. Place 6 cups of the flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. In a small bowl, stir the yeast into 1 cup of lukewarm water until dissolved. Add this to the well. Using a fork, stir around the well, gradually incorporating 1/4 of the flour — no more — into the yeast mixture. Set the bowl in a warm place and let stand 45 to 50 minutes.
2. Sprinkle the baking powder, cinnamon and salt over the flour mixture. Add the vanilla, 3 of the eggs, the oil (or butter) and 3/4 cup of the sugar. Add 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water and blend again, first using the fork and then your hands. Add 2 cups of flour, kneading for about 10 minutes. If the mixture is still too sticky, add up to a cup more of flour. The dough is ready when it doesn’t stick to your hands. Shape into a rough ball, cover, let stand 20 minutes and then turn it out onto a lightly floured board. Knead well for about 5 minutes, adding a little flour to the board as needed to prevent sticking. Set the dough in a floured bowl and lightly coat in flour. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
3. Turn the dough onto a flat surface and knead briefly.* Cut off 1/8 of the dough, knead quickly, shape into a ball, flour lightly and let rest briefly. Repeat with remaining 7 pieces. Using your hands, roll each piece into a 12-to-15-inch-long rope. Continue with remaining balls.
4. Align the ropes vertically, side by side. Gather the tops together, one at a time, pinching down to seal. Separate the ropes down the center, 4 to a side. Braid them as follows: bring the outer right rope over toward the center next to the inside rope on the left. Bring the outer left rope over toward the center next to the inside rope on the right. Repeat this process until the loaf is braided. As the last ropes are brought over, pull and stretch them a bit as needed. When braided, gather the bottom ends of the ropes and pinch them together.
5. Generously oil (or butter) the bottom and sides of a large baking sheet. Carefully lift the braided loaf and transfer to the baking sheet. Cover the loaf with a towel and place in a warm spot until the loaf is doubled in size, about 45 minutes. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
6. Beat the remaining egg with the remaining 1/8 teaspoon of sugar. Brush the loaf with the egg wash and then sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Bake until puffed and golden, about 1 hour. Makes 1 loaf.
*I decided to jump on the "pull-apart challah" bandwagon that's sweeping the nation. What has been taking me so long? Lightly oil a cake pan, roll the challah into a small, evenly sized balls (some do twelve for the twelve tribes of Israel), throw it into the pan, let rise, brush w/egg wash and voila! Beautiful challah.