From A Blessing of Bread: Recipes and Rituals, Memories and Mitzvahs by Maggie Glezer
This recipe for a classic European challah (pronounces "chern-o-vitzer") comes from the late Lotte Langmann. It is not terribly sweet or eggy, but it is generously enriched with oil. The Austrians* traditionally use a four-stranded braid, but this dough holds its shape so beautifully during baking that it is a great choice for showing off any fancy shape. This has become one of my favorite recipes.
1 envelope or 2 1/4 teaspoons (7 grams/ 0.3 oz) instant yeast
MIXING THE DOUGH: In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 3/4 cups (100 g, 3 oz) of the flour, then whisk in the warm water until the yeast slurry is smooth.
Let the yeast slurry ferment uncovered for 10−20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly. As the slurry is hydrating and starting to ferment, add on top, WITHOUT MIXING IN, the salt, sugar, eggs, and oil.
When the slurry bubbles up and over the salt, sugar, eggs and oil, the dough is ready to be mixed. Whisk in the ingredients, and when the mixture is smooth, stir in the remaining 3 cups (400 g, 14.7 oz) flour all at once, with your hands or a wooden spoon. Mix the dough just until all the flour is incorporated, there is really no need to knead it. If the dough is too firm, add a tablespoon or two of water to the dough; or, if the dough seems too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour.
This dough should feel smooth and slightly sticky.
FERMENTING THE DOUGH: Place the dough in the mixing bowl, and cover it with plastic wrap. (If desired, the dough can be refrigerated just after kneading and removed from the refrigerator and finished fermenting up to 24 hours later.) Let the dough ferment until it has at least doubled in bulk, about 2 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen. (If refrigerated, the dough will take an extra 30-60 minutes of fermentation).
SHAPING AND PROOFING THE DOUGH: Cover a large baking sheet with parchment paper or oil it. Divide the dough in half for 2 medium loaves, braid or shape them as desired, position them on the prepared sheets, and cover them well with plastic wrap. (This is another point at which the loaves can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours.)
Let the loaves proof until tripled in size, about 1 1/2 hours. (Add another hour if the loaves were refrigerated).
Thirty minutes before baking, arrange an oven rack in the upper third position,remove any racks above it, and preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C, gas mark 4). Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt to glaze the breads.
BAKING THE LOAVES: When the loaves have tripled and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush them with the egg glaze.
Optionally sprinkle the loaves with the poppy or sesame seeds. Bake the 2 one-pound loaves for 35-40 minutes. After 20 minutes of baking, switch the breads from front to back so that they brown evenly. If the large loaves are browning too quickly, tent them with foil. When the loaves are very well browned, remove them from the oven and let them cool on a rack.
Yield: Two 1-pouund challahs, one 1 1/2-pound challah plus three rolls, or sixteen 2-ounce rolls.
*Vienna of the Eastern Europe. In the late nineteenth century, the city of Czernowitz, known as the Vienna of Eastern Europe, was famous throughout Austria-Hungary for its tolerance, civic beauty, culture, and learning. Frequently renationalized over the last millennium, Czernowitz has passed through Romanian, Ottoman, and Austrian control and is now a Ukrainian city called Chernivtsi. At its cultural peak at the turn of the twentieth century, it was populated and governed by Jews from Poland, Russia, Austria, and Romania - it even hosted the first-ever Yiddish-language conference in 1908. Of course, World War II destroyed this idyll, and most of the city's Jews were deported to Auschwitz.