Perfection. This resulted from mistakes, experimentation, & a bread-machine that broke down just as it started mixing my dough. I ended up with the most beautiful, huge, sweet, flaky loaf of delicious bread I could hope for, and my friends asking for the recipe. Bread by hand always intimidated me, and I have had plenty of disappointments, so I am delighted that this easy, winging-it bread turned out so perfectly. I have found a go-to recipe at last!
I highly suggest the quick-rise yeast packet when making this. Just don't do it until you have that in hand. Put it on your shopping list.
Add ingredients to bowl in order. Mix and knead it all together. I didn't do much kneading, just enough to get a nice, mixed ball of dough.
Place the resulting ball of dough in a large oiled bowl. Oil the top of the ball of dough, then cover with plastic wrap. (I use light flavored olive oil, but you could use butter to oil it.)
Leave to rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour and a half. It was actually to the top of my large bowl by the time I punched it down, so maybe a bit more than doubled. (I get the oven warm by just turning it on for a few seconds, then turning it off. It makes a nice place for the dough to rise. Careful not to make it hot enough to kill the yeast.)
Punch down. Divide dough into 3 sections. Make into ropes. On the pan or baking stone it will bake on, pinch the 3 ropes together at one end, braid, and pinch the other ends together at the bottom of the braid.
Brush the braided dough with oil, cover again with plastic wrap. Let rise for about 15 minutes or so, until it is about the size you will want your bread to be. It will rise a little more while baking.
Remove plastic wrap, and brush with more oil. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees F. and bake15-20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool a little. Let people tear chunks off and serve with fresh butter.