This is really a very easy recipe, but it needs some attention and timing. Since challah is so good in the morning, and since there's a big raising lag in the middle, Your best bet is to make the dough the night before and then wake up at least an hour and half before you want to start eating it.
Recipe adapted from The Joy of Cooking.
1. In a large bowl:
combine 1 package (2 1/4) teaspoons active dry yeast and
1/2 cup of warm (105 to 115 F) water. (Not too hot, or you'll kill the yeast!)
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 tablespoons sugars
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Mix until thoroughly blended.
3. Gradually stir in:
2 1/2 cups bread flour. (By which is meant some less refined, less bleached, more glutinate flour. I didn't have any on hand this time, and substituted all-purpose flour, and it turned out fine. I feel bad, though.)
4. Knead for about 8 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to your hands or bowl. (Or until you sense enough of a change in the dough, you're tired, and you worry about denaturing the dough; this is one sticky dough.)
5. Transfer dough to an oiled bowl, turn it over to coat, and cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm place (75-80 F) until doubled in volume.
6. 1-1/2 hours later, punch down the dough. Knead briefly. Cover it, and refrigerate it until it's almost doubled again. 4-12 hours.
7. Shaping the dough:
Get out a baking sheet, grease it, and dust a bit of cornmeal over it. This is the surface on which you'll braid your challah strands.
The picture above is a four-strand challah loaf, but a three-strand loaf is easier. Start by dividing the dough into equal parts. Roll each part out into one-inch thick snakes. Dust the snakes with rye flour if you have it, other flour if you don't; this step helps you keep the snakes separate. Secure the top end by pressing the snakes together. If you need instructions on braiding, the Joy of Cooking actually has diagrams. The tail-end of the braid can just be tucked under the loaf.
8. Whisk together and brush over the loaf (as much as possible, conserve the rest):
a pinch of salt
9. Cover, start heating oven at 375, and let the dough rise another 45 minutes or so, until almost doubled. (At this point, the best place to let the dough rise is certainly on top of the oven.)
10. Brush what's left of the egg from step 8 over the dough. If you like poppyseeds, now's your chance to add them.
11. Bake for 30-35 minutes.
Although this was delicious, I'm already starting to imagine alternatives. Melted butter would be so much better than vegetable oil, wouldn't it? What would happen if I added another egg yolk early on? What if I added a pinch or two of cinnamon?