This is my favorite (and only) go-to bread. The outside is crisp, the inside is soft, the kitchen is warm, and the smell is divine. Sprinkle with dried herbs to pair with something savory, or cinnamon to go with something sweet. Or if you are undecided, you could be non-committal and sprinkle with sesame seeds. To feel extra special, try making this bread while wearing your hair in a braid.
My long-lost friend Kristy gave me this recipe years ago. Back then she was baking the two loaves every other Sunday, freezing the second loaf for the next week's bread. Apparently this was her compromise, being an American ex-pat living in Switzerland, where the women do the weekly baking. (Kristy, are you still making this bread?)
(makes 2 glorious loaves)
In a small bowl, dissolve 1 (.25 oz) package of active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast) in 1 3/4 very warm milk. Let this stand about 15 minutes, or until creamy.
Meanwhile, mix 2 eggs, 1 egg yolk (reserve the white for brushing on top later), 2 tablespoons sugar, 2 teaspoons salt in a large mixing bowl. Pour in the yeast/milk mixture and stir. Pour in 3 cups white flour and stir well. This is where I add any fun stuff, like flaxseed or garlic powder, whatever extra flavor or texture you want, or nothing at all, for you purists. Add about 2 cups whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead this for a few minutes with floured hands, exclaiming "I knead you!"
The dough should look something like this.
Divide the dough in half. Split each half into 3 chunks and gently stretch each chunk into long strands of (generally) equal length. Sprinkle the dough with flour if things are getting sticky and you start wanting to say bad words. Rest the strands on a greased cookie sheet and say, "Okay, that wasn't so bad."
Braid the strands. Tuck ends under.
Repeat for the other loaf.
Take a breather while the loaves rise in a warm spot. I like to cover them with a clean dishtowel and set them near a sunny window for about 20 - 30 minutes, or until the dough is puffy and light.
Then, get a really cute three-year-old to brush the reserved egg white on top of the loaves while wearing her bathing suit. When she's done, have her sprinkle on her dried herb or ground spice of choice.