I've got it. For the first time, I can honestly say, I have nailed a challah recipe.
I tinkered with the Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day challah recipe. The resulting crust had texture, the center was soft with a perfect crumb. It was sweet, but not too sweet, savory, but not too savory. It suited butter and peanut butter equally well, and was suitable for sopping up a stew.
Please try this and let me know how it goes.
Leah's Concocted Challah
Adapted from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day
1 3/4 cups lukewarm water
1 1/2 T yeast
1 3/4 T salt
1/2 cup + 2 T sugar
2/3 cup oil
4 eggs, lightly beaten
4 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all purpose flour
1. In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook, combine water, yeast and 2 T sugar. Allow to proof.
2. Add oil, eggs, salt and remaining sugar. Beat until combined.
3. Add all flour. On low speed (2 on a Cuisinart), stir until just combined.
4. Cover bowl. Allow to sit until dough has doubled and fallen - 2 to 3 hrs. Dough can be left up to 5 hrs.
5. Refrigerate overnight or shape immediately. Make four 1 lb loaves.
6. Dust surface of dough and hands with flour. Dust working surface with flour. Remove desired amount of dough (about grapefruit sized for single loaf). Quickly pull into a taught ball, working with half turns.
7. Divide dough into desired number of balls for braid. I do a 4 strand, which gives height to the challah: Bring your right most over the center two. Twist the now 2nd from the right over the now 2nd from the left. Then, bring your left most over the current center two. Twist the now 2nd from the left over the now 2nd from the right. Set formed challah on prepared cookie sheet - greased or parchment paper.
8. Allow dough to proof for 1 hr 20 minutes. At 1 hr 10 minutes, preheat oven to 350. Brush challah with egg wash (1 egg plus 1 T water, beaten), and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake in oven for 25 - 30 minutes, until resistant to touch on center braid and hollow sounding when tapped on the bottom. Remove from tray, and allow to cool on wire rack at least 2 hrs prior to serving.