2 Tbsp. (or 2 pkgs.) Dry active yeast at room temperature
½ cup warm water (between 105-115 degrees)
¼ cup sugar
¼ unsalted butter at room temperature
3 large eggs at room temperature
1 ½ cups warm milk (105-115 degrees)
6 ½ to 7 cups unbleached flour
2 teaspoons salt (the only “exact” measurement!)
Glaze: 1 beaten egg with 1 Tbsp. cold water
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds (optional)
In a lg. bowl stir yeast into water and soften (pinch of sugar optional). Once it’s softened stir in sugar, butter, eggs, milk and 3 cups of flour. Beat vigorously with a heavy whisk x 2 minutes or use Kitchen aid with paddle at #6 for 2 min. It should be like cake batter. This is called a sponge. Cover it with a moist heavy towel or pam-sprayed plastic wrap x 30 min. (It can be done 24 hours in advance).
Then add 2 tsp. salt and remaining flour ¼ cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away . (Use the dough hook x 4 min. at level 4). If no mixer, turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic. Put in an oiled bowl, turning once. Cover and let rise 40 min-1 hour.
Lightly oil a work surface and turn out the dough. Divide into thirds and roll equal lengths of long dough about 20 inches each. Lay each strand side by side on a well greased or parchment covered baking sheet. Braid bread tucking each end under. Allow to rise 30 - 45min. covered with a towel. Then brush entire surface with egg wash and sprinkle optional seeds. Bake at 375 for 45 min. until internal temp = 190 degrees.