Four-strand challah

This slightly sweetened, plaited loaf makes an impressive centre piece for a brunch or breakfast with friends.

We’ve also got a handy video on how to plait a challah loaf.



Ingredients

75g caster sugar
15g fresh yeast, from bakeries, large supermarkets and health food shops
300ml lukewarm water
3 medium free-range egg yolks
60ml sunflower or vegetable oil, plus extra to grease
225g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
2 tsp salt
275g strong white bread flour, plus an extra 100g if needed
For the glaze

1 medium free-range egg, beaten
1 heaped tbsp poppy seeds

Method
Mix 1 tbsp of the sugar in a jug with the yeast and enough of the warm water to make a paste, then mix in the rest of the water, the eggs and the oil. Leave for 20 minutes, covered with a tea towel, until the mixture is frothy.
Put the plain flour and remaining sugar in a mixing bowl with the salt and make a well in the centre. Gradually pour in the yeast mixture, stirring with a palette knife until combined.
Mix in the bread flour to form a fairly wet and sticky dough (if it’s really too wet, you might need some/all of the extra flour). Tip the mixture onto a well floured surface and knead. Once the gluten starts to develop, the dough will start to lift off the work surface more cleanly – when this happens, put it into a clean, lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with a tea towel and leave somewhere warm to rise for 2 hours or until doubled in size. Alternatively, knead the dough in a stand mixer with a dough hook for 8-10 minutes on a medium speed.
Heat the oven to 180°C/160°C fan/gas 4 and oil a large baking sheet. Push the dough down, then knead briefly in the bowl to evenly distribute the air. Tip out and cut into 4 even pieces (it’s best to weigh them).
Roll out each piece on a lightly floured surface to a 35cm sausage shape, then put on the baking sheet side by side, lengthways away from you. Pinch all the pieces at the furthest end to fuse them together. Take the far-right strand and pass it over, under, then over the others until it becomes the far-left strand. Repeat this from right to left until the whole loaf is plaited. Next, pinch together the ends nearest you, then tuck them under. Leave to prove (rise) for 30 minutes.
Brush the whole loaf very generously with the beaten egg, then bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Remove and glaze generously all over again with the egg, making sure you cover any bits that have risen in the oven. Scatter with poppy seeds, then return to the oven for 15-20 minutes more. Remove, tap the base to make sure it sounds hollow, then cool on a wire rack. Slice to serve.

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