2 teaspoons active dry yeast (or one small packet)
2 1/8 cups warm water (110º F)
1 cup bread flour
1/3 cup vegetable oil
1/3 cup agave (or honey, but agave is lighter and easier to work with) , or more to taste
2 teaspoons salt
2 cups bread flour, or more if needed (I usually end up with about 3 1/2 cups)
3 cups whole wheat flour, or more if needed (I usually end up with about 4 cups)
For top (after loaves are braided and have risen a second time)
1 teaspoon water
1/4 cup sesame seeds (optional)
- In a large bowl, mix yeast, warm water, and a tablespoon of sugar, and let stand until the mixture shows frothy bubbles, about 15 minutes. Stir in one cup of white bread flour, then Stir in vegetable oil, honey, 3 eggs, and salt until well combined. With a bread hook on the standing mixer, Beat in 2 more cups of bread flour and the whole wheat flour, alternating flours by cupfuls (or 1/2 cup if you're unsure), until the dough starts to make a tacky ball in the mixer and starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl (about 5 minutes)
- Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead a couple of times, adding more flour if needed to form a slightly sticky dough. Form the dough into a round shape. Lightly oil the mixing bowl, place the dough in the bowl, and turn the dough over a few times to oil the surface. Cover the bowl with a plastic bag, and let rise in a warm, draft-free place until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.
- Punch down the dough, knead it a few times to remove some of the bubbles, and cut it into 3 equal-sized pieces (or two if you want to make larger loaves). Cut the first piece into 3 equal parts. Set the rest of the dough aside under a cloth to prevent drying out while you braid the first loaf.
- Working on a floured surface, roll the small dough pieces into ropes about the thickness of your thumb and about 12 inches long. Ropes should be fatter in the middle and thinner at the ends. Pinch 3 ropes together at the top and braid them. Braid the loaves, but start in the middle so that they are more uniform, and pinch the ends together and fold them underneath for a neat look. Repeat for the other 2 loaves, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, and let rise until doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Preheat an oven to 350º F. Beat 1 egg with 1 teaspoon of water in a small bowl, and brush the egg mixture over the braided challah loaves. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake in the preheated oven until the tops are a deep golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, about 30 minutes for two large loaves. Cool on a rack before slicing.