Braiding a challah whether it's three strand, four strand, or even six strand is truly the only part in the entire recipe that's slightly challenging. The rest of it is surprisingly easy. All the more reason to bake your own to have on hand for the best french toasts of all time, epic grilled cheeses, or whatever you like to use challah for.
4 1/4 cup (515g) bread flour
2 whole eggs (100g)
4 egg yolks (67g)
1/3 cup plus 2 Tbsp (102g) water @90-95F or 32-35C
3.5 tbsp (78g) honey
1/4 cup (60g) vegetable oil like sunflower
1 Tbsp (16g) fine sea salt *you can reduce this amount if you don't like the loaf as salty*
2 tsp (6g) instant yeast
Egg Wash Ingredients:
1 Tbsp of water
Braiding A Four Strand Challah:
Start by labeling your strands A,B,C, and D from left to right with the open part facing you. move A to the center, C to the far left, D to the center, B to the far right, C between A and D, and A to the far left, B in between C and D, D to the far right, you're back in your beginning position, just repeat what you just did until there isn't enough room to continue doing so, then bring the edges together and pinch together. Lightly fold 1/4 inch of the edges under the loaf to ensure they don't come undone.
Start off by mixing instant yeast with water warmed to 95 degrees Fahrenheit. Give a little mix until dissolved, and let it sit for 5-8 minutes.
In a small mixing bowl, mix together bread flour and fine sea salt. Transfer to a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook; and with your mixer on low speed, add in your yeast mixture along with honey.
Toss in the remainder of your ingredients - 2 whole eggs, 4 egg yolks and vegetable oil. Mix on medium-low speed, scraping the sides if necessary for 4-6 minutes.
Lightly grease a medium sized bowl and shape your dough into a ball by gently tucking the bottom into itself and rolling it onto a work surface. Place your taut ball in your bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Let sit at about 76 degrees Fahrenheit for one hour.
Once that hour is up, perform some light stretch and folds by grabbing one edge and folding it over to the middle; repeating all the way around the dough. Then, pick up your dough and flip it over seam side down. Cover and let it rest again for one more hour.
After that hour has passed, remove your dough from the bowl and divide it into 4 pieces; each weighing about 232 grams.
Take each piece and shape it into a rough rectangle that’s relatively even. Fold the top part of the rectangle to the middle and repeat with the bottom; overlapping the top. Gently seal it and lightly conform to an even tube shape. Repeat with all of your remaining dough, cover and allow to rest for 15 minutes.
Once they’ve rested, dust a work surface with flour and gently roll out your dough into 13-14 inch strands; starting from the middle and working your way out to taper off the edges.
Take your 4 strands and meet them all at one point from the end facing farthest away from you. Conjoin all of those strands together.
*See above for a guide on braiding your loaves.*
When you’re done braiding, pinch all of the edges together and push that edge underneath the loaf.
On a baking sheet, spray on some cooking oil and then place down parchment paper. Place your braided loaf on the baking sheet and brush with egg wash. Once done, place in an oven that’s turned off with the light on. Let it rise for 2 hours. During this time, brush the loaf every 40 minutes with egg wash.
To test and see if the loaf is done proofing; dip your finger in egg wash and poke the loaf. If it springs back easily, it’s ready to bake; if not, it needs to proof more.
Set your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit and brush your loaf one last time with egg wash. Place your loaf in the oven and immediately reduce the temperature to 325 and bake for 45-50 minutes or until golden brown.