2 1/2 Cups warm water (110 degrees F/45 degrees C)
1 Tbs active dry yeast
1/2 Cup honey
4 Tbs vegetable oil
1 Tbs salt
8 Cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 Tbs poppy seeds
Golden raisins [optional]
In a large bowl, sprinkle yeast over barely warm water. Beat in honey, oil, 2 eggs, and salt. Add the flour one cup at a time, beating after each addition, graduating to kneading with hands as dough thickens. Knead until smooth and elastic and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed. Cover with a damp clean cloth and let rise for 1-1/2 hours, or until dough has doubled in bulk.
Punch down the risen dough and turn out onto floured board. Divide in half, and knead each half for five minutes or so, adding flour as needed to keep from getting sticky. Divide each half into thirds and roll into long snake about 1 1/2 inches in diameter.
[If you want to include raisins in your challah, roll each third of your bread dough out flat, and dot with raisins, then roll the portion of dough back into a long “snake.”]
Pinch the ends of the three snakes together firmly and braid from middle.
Either leave as a long braid or form into a round braided loaf [a custom for Rosh Hashanah] by bringing ends together, curving braid into a circle, pinch ends together. Great illustrated instructions on making a round loaf of challah are here. Grease two baking trays and place finished braid or round on each. Cover with towel and let rise about one hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F (190 degrees C).
Beat the remaining egg and brush a generous amount over each braid. Sprinkle the egg-glazed loaf with poppy seeds. Bake at 375 degrees F (190 degrees C) for about 40 minutes. Bread should have a nice hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Cool on a rack for at least one hour before slicing.
Challah is a traditional food served during the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when foods symbolizing the desire for sweetness in the new year are served. You can sweeten your Challah with golden raisins, or dust the egg-glazed loaf with a sprinkle of cinnamon before baking.
Serve with honey.