Growing up all I wanted was for someone to braid my hair. French braids. One on each side. The closest I ever got was a single braid down the center of my back…starting at the bottom of my neck. So I decided to teach myself how to french braid and would beg my baby sister to let me practice…and eventually I got perfect. Seriously, come over one night and we can have a slumber party with margaritas and I will give you two of the best looking french braids ever. Sadly I soon discovered that braiding someone elses hair and braiding your own hair are two completely different things. I still have yet to get the hang of it…but thankfully these day’s it’s no longer cool to wear french braids on Fridays with your uniform.

I thought that I had the one up on this Cinnamon Raisin Challah bread since I am such an excellent braider. But as you can obviously see, I am not an experienced bread braider. It’s not bad…but it’s not great either. But you know what? It was absolutely delicious! So who cares if I could braid the bread perfectly or not? This Challah made a delicious breakfast bread when you slightly toasted it and smeared it with a little bit of butter. And when I make it again, and I will make it again, I plan on trying it out as french toast or in a bread pudding. No matter how you plan on eating it, you must make this Challah!

Cinnamon Raisin Challah

Yield: 2 loaves

Ingredients:

1 1/2 cups dark raisins, plumped (soaked in water)
1 3/4 cups warm water
2 tablespoons yeast
pinch sugar approx, 1/4 teaspoon
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup honey
3 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon cinnamon
1/2 cup canola oil
3 eggs
2 additional egg yolks
6-7 cups flour

Egg wash:
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons sugar
1 egg
1 additional egg yolk

Directions:

In a large bowl stir together the yeast, water, and pinch of sugar. Let stand five minutes to allow yeast to swell and dissolve.

Briskly stir in remaining sugar, honey, cinnamon and salt. Then add oil, eggs, yolks and about five cups of the flour. Stir and let stand 10-20 minutes to absorb flour. Knead, by hand or with a dough hook, adding remaining flour as needed to make a soft and elastic dough (about 10-12 minutes). Dough should leave sides of the bowl. If it is sticky, add small amounts of flour until dough is soft but no longer sticks.

Let dough rest on a lightly floured board ten minutes, then flatten and press in raisins as evenly as possible into the dough, folding dough over raisins to "tuck" them in. Place dough in a greased bowl and either cover with greased plastic wrap and a damp tea towel or cover with a damp tea towel and place entire bowl inside a large plastic bag. Let rise until doubled and puffy looking, anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes.

(If you are doing an overnight, cool rise, place dough in a large, lightly greased bowl and insert this in a large plastic bag. Refrigerate overnight. If you see the bread rising too quickly, open the bag, deflate dough, and reseal. Next day, allow dough to warm up then gently deflate and proceed.)

To make a 6-braid challah, either straight or circular, take half the dough and form it into 6 balls. With your hands, roll each ball into a strand about 12 inches long and 1 1/2 inches wide. Place the 6 in a row, parallel to one another. Pinch the tops of the strands together. Move the outside right strand over 2 strands. Then take the second strand from the left and move it to the far right. Take the outside left strand and move it over 2. Move second strand from the right over to the far left. Start over with the outside right strand. Continue this until all strands are braided. For a straight loaf, tuck ends underneath. For a circular loaf, twist into a circle, pinching ends together. Make a second loaf the same way. Place braided loaves on a greased cookie sheet with at least 2 inches in between.

Place on cornmeal dusted baking sheet. In a small bowl, whisk together egg glaze ingredients. Brush loaf with egg wash. Let rise until puffy, around 20-30 minutes. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

Bake bread 12 minutes then reduce heat to 350 Degrees F and bake another 25 minutes or until bread is evenly browned.

Can be frozen baked or unbaked. If freezing unbaked, let bread rise slowly, overnight in the fridge. Bring to room temperature before baking.

Adapted from JewishRecipes.org