There's a long story behind this bread recipe. But I will tell you, I learned to make this bread when I visited old friends of the family who lived in a Victorian house, 40 years ago, in the Bay Area of the San Fransico They had a large marble slab to knead bread on and old wood burning stove. It made all the difference in flavor and texture.
Since we all can't live in an old Victorian home in the Bay Area with a woodburning stove or a marble slab...we will just have to make do.
There is a big difference in Saffron. My favorite is Spanish Saffron. It is well worth the expense.
Turn the 1 cup of hot water into a large china bowl and add the 2Tbl. cold butter. Stir until the butter has melted.
Add the salt, sugar and (crush by hand} saffron. Do not wash your hands the saffron flavor on your hands will help flavor the dough when you knead. Let it rest a minute.
Stir in the slightly beaten eggs.
Add the yeast. Blend well.
Gradually add the sifted flour in till you have a soft dough. Turn out on a slightly floured surface and knead in more flour until you have smooth and shinny dough. If it isn't keep kneading. If it's sticky knead in more flour. The more the dough is kneaded the better. It takes me about 20-25 mintues of continually kneading. And yes, I do have arm muscles.
Top with soft butter and turn..coating all sides.
Cover and set in a warm place until double. About an hour.
Punch down dough and turn out on a lightly floured surface. Knead dough until it is smooth, elastic and you heaar popping sounds if you kneaded it enough the first time of kneading.
Cut the dough in 3 equal pieces. Form each piece into a loaf shape.
Roll each piece, by hand on a lightly floured surface, till it's just about 24 inches long. DO NOT stretch the dough.
Braid the 3 pieces together, pinching the ends together. Traditonally, the dough is formed into the letter "C" for Chanukah.
On a little greased large cookie sheet, carefully lift the breaded dough on to it.
Make the egg wash with the water.
Brush the egg wash on the dough. Reserve some of the egg wash.
Cover and set braid in a warm place to rise double.
I make a tent with 4 plastic bottles and 2 cotton flour sack towel, because I find the egg wash makes the towel stick.
Brush top of dough again with the egg wash. Sprinkle poppy seeds or sesame seeds on top. Or leave plain.
Bake in a preheated tested oven at 375*. Bake 55 to 60 until crust is a golden brown and the bread tests done. Turn on a rack to cool.
How to test for bread..tap on the bread, if you hear a hollow sound it is done.
I have a baker's rack..I inherited. I have a commerical rack too, saved from when I had my catering service. I suggest if you do alot bake..you invest in one.