2 cup milk
8 tablespoon (1 stick) sweet butter
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 packages active dry yeast
4 eggs, at room temperature
2 teaspoon salt
6 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/3 cup cornmeal
1 tablespoon cold water
1 poppy seeds
This splendid loaf makes wonderful eating straight from the oven and spread with butter and honey. We love French toast made with it. If any of this bread manages to last long enough to become stale, it makes excellent bread crumbs. 2 large loaves
1. Bring milk, 6 tablespoons of the butter, and the sugar to a boil together in a medium-size saucepan. Remove from heat, pour into a large mixing bowl, and let cool to lukewarm (1050 to 1150F.)
2. Stir yeast into the milk mixture and let stand for 10 minutes.
3. Beat 3 of the eggs well in a small bowl, and stir them and the salt into the milk-and-yeast mixture.
4. Stir in 5 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, until you achieve a sticky dough. Flour a work surface lightly and turn the dough out onto it. Wash and dry the bowl.
5. Sprinkle additional flour over the dough and begin kneading, adding more flour as necessary, until you have a smooth elastic dough.
6. Smear the reserved 2 tablespoons butter around the inside of the bowl and add the ball of dough into the bowl, turning to coat it lightly with butter. Cover bowl with a towel and set aside to let dough rise until tripled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
7. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut into halves. Cut each half into 3 pieces. Roll the pieces out into long "snakes" about 18 inches long. Braid three of the snakes together into a loaf and tuck the ends under. Repeat with remaining snakes.
8. Sprinkle a large baking sheet with the cornmeal, and transfer the loaves to the sheet. Leave room between the loaves for them to rise. Cover loaves with the towel and let rise until nearly doubled, about 1 hour.
9. Preheat oven to 3500F.
10. Beat the remaining egg and 1 tablespoon cold water together well in a small bowl. Brush this egg wash evenly over the loaves. Sprinkle immediately with poppy seeds to taste.
11. Set baking sheet on the middle rack of the oven. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, or until loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when their bottoms are thumped. Cool completely on racks before wrapping.
Challah represents the ceremonial show bread that was placed on the table by the priest in the ancient Temple of Jerusalem. There were twelve such breads, each representing one of the Israelite tribes. Challah was always braided to invest it with special beauty. Each family traditionally places two Challahs on the table for the Sabbath meal, representing double portions of manna from heaven that fell on the sixth day so that the Israelites would not have to collect manna on the seventh day, the day of rest.
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