Adapted from <https://www.cooksillustrated.com/recipes/11531-easy-braid-challah>
by Lan Lam
1/2 cup water
3 tablespoons bread flour
3 large eggs
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 3/4 cups (15 1/8 oz) bread flour
1 1/4 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon table salt
1 tablespoon black poppy seeds
Vegetable oil spray or olive oil for greasing the stand mixer bowl
1 large egg
2 tablespoons white poppy seeds
2 teaspoons hulled sesame seeds
1. FOR THE FLOUR PASTE: Whisk water and flour in bowl until no lumps remain. Microwave, whisking every 20 seconds, until mixture thickens to stiff, smooth, pudding-like consistency that forms mound when dropped from end of whisk into bowl, 40 to 80 seconds.
2. FOR THE DOUGH: In bowl of stand mixer, whisk flour paste, egg and yolks, water, and oil until well-combined. Add flour and yeast. Fit mixer with dough hook and mix on low speed until all flour is moistened, 3 to 4 minutes. Let stand for 20 minutes.
3. Add sugar, salt, and black poppy seeds, and mix on medium speed for 9 minutes. Transfer dough to counter and oil the now-empty mixer bowl. Knead dough into ball by hand, then return it to prepared bowl. Lightly spray dough with oil spray and cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rise until about doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Line rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and nest in second rimmed baking sheet if you usually scorch your bottom crust. Transfer dough to counter and roll into 8-inch square, expelling as much air as possible. Follow YouTube instructions for the braid of your choice; I use the traditional six-strand braid, but Lan Lam, the author of the original recipe, uses four strands. Here are her instructions:
4a. Cut dough in half lengthwise to form 2 rectangles. Cut each rectangle in half lengthwise to form 4 equal strips of dough. Roll 1 strip of dough into 16-inch rope. Continue rolling, tapering ends, until strip is about 18 inches long. Repeat with remaining dough strips. Arrange ropes in plus-sign shape, with 4 ends overlapping in center by 1/2 inch. Firmly press center of cross into counter to seal ropes to each other and to counter.
4b. Lift rope at 12 o'clock, bring over center, and place in 5 o'clock position. Lift rope at 6 o'clock and, working toward yourself, bring over center, and place in 12 o'clock position.
4c. Lift rope at 9 o'clock, bring over center, and place in 4 o'clock position. Lift rope at 3 o'clock and, working toward yourself, bring over braid and place in 8 o'clock position. Adjust ropes so they are at 12, 3, 6, and 9 o'clock positions.
4d. Repeat steps 5 and 6, working toward yourself, until you can no longer braid. Loaf will naturally list to 1 side.
5. Pinch ends of ropes together and tuck both ends under braid. Carefully transfer braid to prepared sheets. Cover loosely with plastic and let rise until dough does not spring back when gently pressed with your knuckle, about 3 hours.
6. FOR THE EGG WASH: Thirty minutes before baking, adjust oven rack to middle position and heat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Whisk together egg and salt. Brush loaf with egg wash and sprinkle with white poppy seeds and sesame seeds. Bake, without convection, and under an aluminum foil tent if the oven is small, until loaf is deep golden brown, 40 minutes; according to Lan LAm, it will be done when it registers at least 195 degrees, but we're baking bread and not meat. Let cool on sheets for 20 minutes. Transfer loaf to wire rack and let cool completely before slicing, about 2 hours.