This bread is a hit at my home. It comes out so beautifully that you don't resent the labor :) I usually bake 4 loaves on Friday, and it's all gone by Sunday! I hope you enjoy it. (Another variation to this recipe is using Nutella!! -then I don't add the raisins). When you are working on each independent strand, make an indentation with a knife without cutting through the opposite side and add Nutella to the indentation. Then close it and proceed braiding). I hope you enjoy this bread as much as my family does! This is what I'm asked to bring for family gatherings ;)
Dissolve the yeast in a medium bowl with the lukewarm water and 1 teaspoon of the sugar. Beat and let it stand for 10 minutes.
In a large bowl (with enough space to mix and knead the dough), beat the 4 eggs. Then, add the honey and mix again. Then, add the salt, sugar, oil, vanilla extract, and beat again. Add the frothy yeast mixture to the large bowl. (The yeast mixture should have risen, this is how you check your yeast is OK). Beat well.
Now add the flour slowly to the mixture. First mixing with a wooden spoon and then with your hands. The total kneading time should be around 15 minutes. If you find that your dough is sticky, or hard then add more oil. I always add more canola oil to make the dough smooth and elastic. I use my hand as a measuring tool and add 3 measures of my hand holding the oil to the dough. This will give you a smooth and nice dough. Work it on a ball, and put some oil on the bowl rubbing it all over the dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave overnight inside the oven. It will rise a lot.
The next day, check your dough and it should be big (see picture)! Punch it down and knead again (I used to be afraid of kneading too much, but don't be). Divide into 4 loaves.
Braiding Technique: (This step takes me 1 1/2 hours but I also work with 4 strand challahs & add Nutella to each strand). Next you will take one of the pieces and divide in 4 (cut half and then vertically for symmetric pieces) or in 3 pieces depending how you want to braid your Challah. Roll each piece between your palms and pull into long thin ropes about 18 inches long and 1 1/4 inches wide. Start braiding. I find this video explains the 4-strand braiding technique perfectly:youtube.com/watch?v=4RvoqkYaUWo&....
Oil a baking sheet (I prefer to use glass pirex) and place the braided dough there. Do this for the other 3 pieces. Let them stand for 1 hour or until doubled in bulk (here in SC during winter takes approx. 2 hours). Now brush each bread with the beaten egg (this will give the bread a nice shine) and sprinkle with the sesame seeds. Bake for 25 minutes, checking the bread after the 22 minutes. The bread is done if it sounds "hollow" when you tap it on the base. It should be golden on top. If you find it needs more cooking, put aluminum foil on top the bread to avoid burning its top and leave it for 5 more minutes. I bake 2 loaves at the time and use the middle section of the oven. Enjoy :)