Yield: Makes two 15 ounce Challah, or one 1 ½ pound Challah
Mixing the yeast:
In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and ¼ cup of the flour, then whisk in the warm water until smooth. Let the yeast mixture stand uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes, or until it begins to ferment and puff up slightly.
Mixing the dough:
Whisk the 3 eggs, salt, oil, and honey (measure the oil first, then use the same cup for measuring the honey, the oil will coat the cup and let the honey just slip out) or sugar into the puffed yeast mixture until the eggs are well incorporated and the salt has dissolved. With your hands or a wooden spoon, stir in the remaining 3 ¼ cups flour all at once. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface and knead it until smooth, no more than 5 minutes. (Soak the mixing bowl in hot water now to clean and warm for fermenting the dough.) This dough is very firm and should feel almost like modeling clay. If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tablespoons flour. THE DOUGH SHOULD FEEL SMOOTH AND VERY FIRM BUT BE EASY TO KNEAD
Fermenting the dough:
Place the dough in the warm cleaned bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the sough ferment until it has at least doubled in bulk, about 2 hours, depending on the temperature in your kitchen.
Shaping the dough:
Line one or two large baking sheets with parchment paper or oil them. Divide the dough into two 15 ounce portions of loaves, or one 1 ½ pound portion for a large loaf and three small pieces for rolls. Separate the dough into three equal pieces and make them into a braid. Cover the loaves or loaf well with plastic wrap. Let them stand until tripled in size, about 2 hours.
Meanwhile, 30 minutes before baking, arrange the oven racks in the lower and upper third portions if using two baking sheets, or arrange one rack in the upper third portion and remove any racks above them. Preheat the oven to 325 F. Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt for glazing the bread.
Baking the loaves:
When the loaves have tripled and do not push back when gently pressed with your finger but remain indented, brush them with the egg glaze. Bake the rolls for about 15 to 20 minutes, the 15 ounce loaves for 25 to 35 minutes, or the 1 ½ pound loaf for 35 to 45 minutes, until very well browned. After 20 minutes of baking, switch the loaves from front to back so that they can brown evenly; if the large loaf is browning too quickly, tent it with foil. When the loaves are done, remove from the oven and let cool on a rack.