The challah is a very soft bread. The crumb is not very open but it is visibly soft. I had wondered how the absence of eggs and no other substitute could produce the same result. But it does. The picture below of the crumb was shot at night so it is not very good. But I had to share it. The bread was all gone by morning.
Baking the braids is tricky. Oven spring can sometimes ruin the appearance with unwashed dough peeking through between the darker washed dough. To prevent this from happening use a simple tip I got from one of the ladies from my Facebook baking group. Allow the dough to over proof. Poke it with your finger, if the dough springs back let it rest a little longer. If it takes a while to bounce back it is ready for the oven. Bake at 350 F for a good 40 minutes to get the dark golden color. Another tip I got from the same person after I shared this picture - use a corn starch wash to get a shine similar to an egg wash. Will use this tip next time.
You will need (for 1 long loaf)
For the dough
2 1/4 cups flour
3/4 cup warm water
2 tbsp oil
3/4 tsp yeast
1 1/2 tsp sugar
1 tsp salt
For the wash
1 tbsp. cream (I used whipping cream)
1 tsp. butter (optional)
Combine all the ingredients in a mixing bowl and form a soft dough. Knead the dough for 5-8 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.
Cover and keep aside until it doubles in volume. The time could be anywhere from an hour to 2 and a half hours depending upon weather and temperature in your kitchen.
Transfer the dough to a floured working surface and divide into five portions by weight. Roll each of the portions into a rope.
To braid, bring together the ropes at one end. I followed instructions on this video. Start the braiding on one end.
Continue to braid without pulling on the ropes. Place them with the help of gravity. You do not want a tight braid.
Continue braiding to the end.
Tuck the end in for a neat finish. Transfer to a baking sheet covered with parchment paper.
Cover with a tea cloth and let it rest for an hour or two. Poke your finger in the dough. If it does not spring back then the dough is ready for the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Brush the top with cream making sure you get it in all the crevices.
Pop it in the oven for 30-40 minutes or until the top is deep brown and the bottom sounds hollow when tapped. Brush with butter is desired.
Allow it to cool completely before slicing.