Ingredients for 1 large braided loaf or 2 medium loaves:
3 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
1/2 tablespoon sea salt
2 teaspoon Rapid-Rise or SAF yeast
7/8 cup water at 100 degrees
2 large eggs at room temperature
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1/4 cup mild honey
1 large egg yolk ½ teaspoon water
2 tablespoons poppy or sesame seeds
Dough: Stir together the dry ingredients. Mix the water, eggs, butter and honey separately. Stir the wet ingredients into the dry ones until they are just mixed. Allow to rise until doubled, at least 2 hours. Refrigerate at least 3 hours, overnight or several days.
Shaping: Remove the chilled dought to a lightly floured work surface. Lightly flour it.. Divide the dough into thirds. Working quickly and adding more flour to your hands as needed, roll each piece into a 12” long rope. Braid them together starting in the middle and bringing the ends around to form a wreath. Lift the bread onto a sheet of parchment. Let it rise for 1 hour and 20 minutes.
Baking: Preheat the oven to 450 degrees 30 minutes before baking. Glaze the top with egg wash and sprinkle on the poppy seeds. Bake in a heavy covered pot or directly on a stone. If using a stone, preheat a cast-iron skillet in the bottom of the oven and add ice cubes when you put the dough in the oven. Bake for 30 minutes or until the interior temperature reaches 200 degrees.