This is the first recipe I learned from my grandmother, who, in the tradition of old-world grandmothers, never used a recipe or measured anything. When I asked her to tell me how she made her challah, she told me she used flour and eggs and "all good things" (said good things never specified). She agreed to show me how she made the challah, and displayed great patience and some amusement (as a child I required quite of bit of the former and inspired quite a bit of the latter) as I "helped," mostly by scurrying around catching everything she used to measure things with the closest object to a measuring cup I could find -- a jelly jar she'd saved and reused for more years than I'd been alive. And voila -- or voila-ish, as it took me some time to get the recipe right, or as right as I could make it. I've been making this for over half a century, and I think I'm still working on it. No one could cook or bake like my grandmother.
This is a recipe for lovers of crispy crust. It is not what many of us think of as challah today -- brioche-like loaves, commercial loaves with the texture of cotton candy. It is not as rich as many challahs, and does not keep as well. Best to make ahead and freeze if you want it to keep for some time. But it is wonderful. It is the taste of "all good things." —louisez
Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Allow to proof. Add salt, oil, eggs, and egg white. Mix well. Add flour (I use a stand mixer, but you could use a food processor or make by hand) a cup at a time and knead till you have a soft, not tacky, dough. You may need to add more or less flour, but it's always better to err on the side of adding less than adding too much. Put in large greased bowl, cover, and let rise till doubled, about 1 hour and 45 minutes.
Punch dough down and divide into two parts. Working with one part at a time, divide it into thirds. Roll into balls and then into ropes. Put one rope in front of you on a diagonal, Place the second over it, on the opposite diagonal, forming an X. Put the third in the middle (it should now resemble an asterisk). Braid from middle to each end, and tuck the very last of the ends under. Repeat with second half of dough. Place on silpat-lined or greased baking sheet. Glaze with some of the yolk-water mixture (you'll want to save some to glaze just before baking). Cover and let rise till doubled (about 45 minutes). Very carefully glaze again.
Bake at 350 degrees till well-browned and dough sounds hollow when tapped on bottom, about one hour to one hour and fifteen minutes. If you like not just crispy but super-crispy crust, remove from baking sheet and bake directly on oven rack 5 minutes more. Cool on a baking rack.