yields~ 1 loaf or 12-15 one inch slices
The Bits and Bobs:
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 cup luke warm water
4-4 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar + a pinch for the yeast mixture
2 tsp salt
1 egg yolk (save the egg white for the egg wash)
1/4 cup vegetable oil
In a small bowl, sprinkle the active yeast over the water. Add a large pinch of sugar and stir until the yeast dissolves. Let stand for 10-15 minutes until you see it start to bubble and froth.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flour (start with only 4 cups of flour at this point), sugar, and salt. Form a well in the middle of the flour mixture, and add the eggs plus the yolk and the oil. Using your hand, whisk together the eggs and oil pulling in a bit of the flour mixture until you form a sort of slurry (basically a thick, slightly starchy goop).
Pour the yeast mixture over the egg slurry and using either your hand again or a large wooden spoon or spatula, mix the wet with the dry until you form a shaggy dough.
If using a stand mixer, place the bowl on the mixer with the dough hook attachement and knead on low for 8 or so minutes. You can also turn the shaggy dough out onto a flour surface and knead by hand for 10-ish minutes. The dough is ready when it has formed a smooth, soft ball that is only slightly tacky. If you notice during the kneading process that it is very sticky, add more flour a tablespoon at a time (not to exceed 1/2 cup).
Lightly grease a large bowl. Transfer the dough to the bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm spot for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The dough should double in size.
After the first rise, separate the dough into either 3 or 6 even balls. Working one at a time, roll each piece into a rope shape about an inch thick and a foot long. You may need to re-roll one or two of the ropes if, after resting, they shrink up a bit.
To braid the dough, if using three ropes proceed like a hair plait, lining the three ropes up parallel to each other, pinch the ends together. Then repeat this pattern: left rope over the middle rope, right rope over the middle rope. If using six ropes, once again line the ropes up parallel to each other and pinch the ends together. Repeat this pattern: left rope over two ropes, under one rope, over two ropes. Continue taking the most left rope and repeating the pattern all the way to the end. Pinch the ends together, then tuck both ends under slightly. Run your hands very lightly under the sides and push the ends very slightly towards one another to plump up the loaf slightly.
Transfer the braided loaf to a parchment or silpat lined baking sheet and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Allow to rise once more in a warm spot for about an hour. The dough should be pillowy and soft.
Preheat the oven to 350*F. When ready to bake, mix the reserved egg white with a tablespoon of water then brush all over the loaf, taking care to get all of the sides and the crevices between the braided ropes. This will ensure that the ropes won't separate while baking. I also sprinkled mine with a little madron sea salt just for an extra punch.
Bake for 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan once halfway through the bake time. The bread is done when the crust is a dark golden brown. If you like you can test the internal temperature with a thermometer. When it reaches 190*F it is done.
Allow to cool on a cooling rack. Can be eaten straight away or cooled completely and wrapped very tightly.