3 1/2 cups flour (plus extra for if needed)
2/3 cup warm water (plus extra if needed)2 whole eggs + 1 yolk
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 tsp sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 tsp salt
1 packet active yeast
1/2 tsp baking powder
1-2 Tbs vegetable oil (for coating the bowl)
Mix the flour, salt, and baking soda together in a large bowl and make a well. Pour 1/2 cup of the warm water into the well, add yeast and sugar. Mix thoroughly and try to incorporate as little flour as possible. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, or until foamy.
In a small bowl whisk together the two whole eggs, butter, and honey. When the yeast has activated, add the egg mixture to the yeast mixture in the large bowl along with the rest of the water. Stir thoroughly and incorporate all the flour. Add extra flour or water as necessary to get a dough that is slightly moist, but that does not stick to your hands or table top. Knead the dough for 5-10 minutes or until indentations in the dough take several seconds to spring back. I found that challah dough takes very little kneading, this batch only took about 5 minutes, whereas most of my other bread doughs take a good 10 minutes of kneading. Turn the kneaded dough into a well oiled bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place.
I have a very idiosyncratic way of handling the rising process with challah. My friend Laurel and I made challah often the summer after I graduated from college and this rising technique was recommended by her. Let the dough rise 3 times: first, for 30-45 minutes (a little under doubled in size) then punch down and re-knead briefly; second, again for 30-45 minutes, punch down and re-knead briefly; third, for 90+ minutes (until more than doubled in size).
After the dough has risen for a third time, turn out onto your work space, divide the dough into thirds and form the thirds into rounds. Now is a good time to preheat the oven to 375. Roll or press out the rounds so that they are relatively flat, then roll the flats into cylinders. Stretch and roll the cylinders into ropes 10-12 inches long. Let these sit for a few minutes while the oven finishes preheating.
In a small bowl, whisk the egg yolk and some warm water together to make the wash.
Braid the ropes together. I've read that it is best to start from the middle, working out and that 5 twists is plenty, but as you can see from the picture, my braiding advice should be taken with a very large grain of salt. Once you have the loaf formed, brush the egg wash evenly onto the loaf, making sure to cover all the twists and corners.
Bake for 30-35 minutes or until golden brown on top. You can try reapplying the wash to the loaf in the first 10-12 minutes of baking as the dough rises, though you might need to increase bake time depending on how quickly your oven recovers to 375. If you are using a baking stone, make sure to use plenty of corn meal as the wash may make the loaf stick. If you are using a baking sheet, grease it very well.