Homemade Egg Bread
To get started, place the yeast into a large bowl. Add the water, and the sugar. The water should be just hot enough that it is starting to hurt your finger - about 105 degrees F. Give the mixture a stir, then set it aside, giving the yeast time to come alive. This should take 10-20 minutes. It's ready when a scum appears on top.
Meanwhile, crack two eggs into a small bowl. Add two egg yolks, reserving the egg whites for later. Mix the eggs in the bowl.
Once the yeast has a scum on top, add the eggs, the honey, the salt and the slightly cooled butter. Mix it all together.
Now it is time to add the flour. Do this slowly - half a cup at a time, mixing with a large spoon the entire time. Once it gets too thick to mix comfortably, put the spoon aside. Put some flour on your hands, and start to need the dough, adding flour as you go. You can do the kneading in the bowl so that your counter doesn't get messy.
The kneading entails pushing the dough onto the bottom of the bowl with the heel of your palms. Then, fold the dough over on itself, like a sandwich made from one piece of bread. Push down on this, adding a little more flour each time until the dough is smooth and yellowish. It won't be a big ball, but trust me, it will get huge later on.
Now the dough is ready for its first rise. Take it our of the bowl, scrape away the flour in the bowl and dump it. Put a tablespoon of oil into the bowl, and spread it around with your hands. Then place the dough in there, and cover with a damp towel. The first rise has begun.
Braiding the Bread
Come back when the dough has doubled. Depending on how warm it is in your kitchen, this can take 1-2 hours. The warmer it is , the faster it will rise.
Now it's time to braid the bread before it can start it's second rise. Punch down the dough in the bowl so that the dough goes flat on the bottom of the bowl. Next, form it into a ball, and place it on a flat surface that has been coated with some flour. ( If you have a marble or stone surface, you can skip the flour - the bread usually won't stick).
Divide the ball into three equal parts. Now, take one ball at a time and squeeze and roll it until you get a rope-like shape, about a foot and a half in length. It can be shorter, but not less than one foot ( 30 cm). Do this will all three balls until you have three ropes of roughly equal length.
Place them side by side, one end close to you. Bring that end together and pinch the dough together, so that all three ropes have one common root. Now, to braid the bread, take the rope on the right-hand side and fold it over the middle one. Now take the left-hand rope, and fold it over the rope in the middle ( which used to be the right-hand one). Repeat this process until you have a braid. ( If you're unsure how this works, watch the video, or get someone who knows how to braid hair to help you). Pinch together the dough at the far end.
Grease a baking sheet, and lift the dough onto the sheet. The dough will rise a lot over the next hour and in the oven, so make sure there is room for the dough to expand - at least one inch on each end.
The dough is now ready for its second rise. Place a damp towel on top and walk away. The dough should be ready in an hour.
Baking the Braid
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F*. Normally, breads bake at 400, but this one will burn at that temperature, so keep it lower. Take the towel off the bread. To give it a nice sheen, stir together the egg whites you saved from earlier, and brush them onto the top edges of the braid. This is purely cosmetic, but it looks nice. If you like, sprinkle some sesame seeds on top.
Place the bread on its pan into the oven. It will bake quickly, and it can rise quite a bit, so place it on the middle rack.
Bake for 12-15 minutes until it is a golden brown, but before it starts to turn dark brown. You can test when it is done by sliding a knife into one of the seams. If it comes out dry, it's ready. If it comes out gooey, then put back in the oven for a few minutes. But watch it closely. These breads are beautiful when golden brown, but a drag when dark brown.
This bread is a real crowd pleaser for its looks, and tastes quite sweet. It's always a big hit at dinner parties, and makes great toast the next day.