Mix yeast in warm water. Let sit 5 minutes. In a large bowl combine salt, sugar, eggs and oil. Add yeast mixture. Slowly add flour, stirring until not too sticky. When the dough becomes too thick to stir, turn it out onto a floured board and knead, adding flour as necessary. Scrape the working surface with a plastic dough spatula from time to time, to keep a dry skin from forming on it. You may find that you need more flour, but don't add too much more, or the dough will become heavy. Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (about 10 minutes).
Form dough into a ball and place in a lightly oiled large bowl, turning to coat the dough with oil. A ceramic bowl is best. Cover the bowl with a clean cloth and leave in a warm, draft-free place to rise for 1 1/2 hours, or until doubled in bulk. After the dough has risen, punch it down and divide it into 6 balls. Let the dough balls sit for 5 minutes, covered.
Keeping dough balls covered while working, remove a ball and roll it between your hands (or on working surface) into a cord about 1 inch wide by about 20 inches long. The dough is quite elastic, making it nicely workable, yet also tending to make it shrink back slightly after being lengthened. I find it best to lengthen it in a series of passes. Form 3 cords this way, and then start from the middle and braid them into a single loaf. Tuck the ends under. It's a little harder to figure out how to start braiding from the middle, but the loaves come out more even and attractive that way. Don't pull the cords while braiding. Place the loaf on a lightly oiled baking sheet, and cover it with a cloth while you form the other loaf. Keep the loaves well apart on the baking sheet, since they will expand a lot. Cover the loaves and place again into a warm, draft-free place to rise for 45-60 minutes.
After the loaves have risen, gently brush the tops with beaten egg using a soft brush, and then sprinkle with the seeds. Bake at 350 degrees F. for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Challah (pronounced "hallah") is a type of braided egg bread traditionally eaten on the Jewish Sabbath. It is eaten by tearing off hunks rather than by cutting with a knife.
I got this recipe from a house mate a couple of years ago; I don't know its origins before that, but it has become one of my favorite recipes, and one with which I have experimented a good deal. I've tried several other challah recipes, but find I like this one the best. Yield: 2 Large loaves.
The variation in oil makes quite a difference in the moisture of the bread: If you use the larger quantity, the bread comes out very nice and moist, but when it cools it becomes somewhat oily.
The amounts of sugar and oil may sound high, but try it this way once before cutting back. I have tried other recipes that use less, and they don't taste nearly as good.
Here's the fun part --> variations. Because this dough is so workable, you can form it many different ways, limited only by your imagination; I once made a whole collection of different shapes and sizes, for a festive dinner party.
Some of the variations I have tried include: Adding extra ingredients, such as raisins and/or nuts; Forming the braided loaf into a wreath-like loop (joining the ends); Braiding 5 ways instead of 3; Baking a small loaf on top of a larger loaf (traditional); Braiding 3 braided loaves into a recursive loaf (didn't turn out well; it ended up looking knotty, rather than intricate, and being somewhat tough); Varying the loaf sizes. One time I made individual-sized loaves, so that everyone could have their own loaf at dinner. Another time, I divided the dough into 2 halves, set one aside, and made a loaf out of the other half. Then, I divided the remaining piece into 2 halves, and continued the process until I had an array of loaves, each half the size of the previous. I managed to get 9 loaves by doing this, the smallest of which was about 1/4 inch by about 2 inches; Varying the length-to-width proportions; traditionally, challah loaves are quite wide relative to their length. I find that shorter, wider loaves are doughier (and thus tastier), but longer loaves look more elegant.