Makes 1 large loaf
- 1 package active dry yeast (.25 ounce size)
- 2 tablespoons warm water (100°–115°F)
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1/4 cup butter, room temperature
- 2 large eggs, well beaten
- 3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)
- 1 egg yolk, beaten with a splash of water
In a medium bowl, stir the yeast into the water. Set aside. (It will be thick.)
Gently warm the milk in a small saucepan. Remove from the heat and add the butter, stirring until it melts. Once the mixture is cool, stir it into the yeast mixture along with the eggs, blending thoroughly.
In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt, and, if using, the raisins. Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir until a shaggy, slightly sticky dough forms. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead, adding more flour, until the dough is no longer sticky, but smooth and tacky, about 8–10 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until double in size, about one hour.
Punch the dough down and remove from the bowl. Knead the dough about 10 times. You can shape the dough one of three traditional ways: divide into three equal portions and braid; make two portions and twist together; or shape into a round loaf, using some of the dough to form a cross.
Place the shaped bread onto a parchment-lined baking sheet and drape loosely with plastic wrap. Let rise again until double in size, about one hour.
Preheat the oven to 375°. When ready to bake, brush the bread with the egg yolk glaze. Bake on the middle rack of the oven for 30 minutes or until golden brown.
Cool completely before slicing. This bread can be made two days ahead and wrapped in plastic wrap or kept frozen, tightly wrapped in a layer of plastic wrap and foil, for up to four weeks.