This easy to make bread is beautiful, delicious, and the dough is a joy to work with and feel in your hands. The recipe below makes a single loaf, and took me 2 & 1/2 hours from the start to pulling the bread out of the oven, though it's good to leave a little more time so you're not rushed.
4 cups bread flour 2 eggs (plus an extra egg for a wash) 1/4 cup vegetable oil 1 & 1/2 tsp salt 1/4 cup & 2 tsp sugar 2 & 1/2 tsp yeast 3/4 cup + 2 Tbl warm water
Directions for Kitchen Aid table top stand mixer
Add yeast and 2 tsp sugar to warm water in mixing bowl.
Whisk gently to dissolve. The mixture should get foamy within a few minutes.
Use whisk attachment to add oil, eggs, the remaining sugar, and salt.
Change to dough hook and add flour 1/2-1 cup at a time.
Mix until all ingredients are combined into a consistent dough, 5-7 minutes.
Turn out onto a floured board and knead for a minute or two until the dough feels smooth.
Shape into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, cover with saran wrap, and let rise until doubled - usually an hour in a warm place.
I often use an oven just barely warmed to 150-170 and then turned off so the heat can dissipate and leave a warm environment. You don't want the dough to exceed 100 degrees.
Punch down and let rise again for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 375 F.
Turn the dough out onto a board and create as many 12 inch long strands as you'd like to braid together - usually 3-6 depending on your braiding skills!
Pinch the strands together at the starting end, braid the strands together, and then pinch the strands together at the end of the loaf and tuck underneath.
Transfer the loaf to an oiled cookie sheet.
At this point you can prepare the loaf for baking or let it rise for a few minutes, depending on how airy you like the loaf.
Beat the 3rd egg and brush the loaf. Sprinkle with poppy seeds if desired.
Place the dough in the oven, and bake 35 minutes until golden brown, and it feels hollow when tapped underneath.
Allow to cool on a rack.