I've tried flouring the strands first and rolling them out on a lightly oiled surface. No dice.
What's the secret of keeping the braid looking braided?
How tightly do you braid your dough? I would try doing it a few different ways and see what gives you the results you like. If you are braiding very tightly then when the dough does its final rise in the oven there is no room for the dough to expand except to "swell like a mummy." I find tightly braided challah comes out looking very lumpy. I like to braid fairly loosely - no gaps but still fairly loose - and then tightly seal the ends. That give me the best results.
The good news is that you have the flavour and texture down - sounds like you just need to play around with your shaping and then you will have the perfect challah!
Just wanted to say thanks for the recipe. I've wanted to try it since you posted it and finally tried it today. I followed the recipe exactly as written. The loaves turned out well and everyone is enjoying them. One loaf has almost disappeared already.
For anyone else trying out the recipe, I found that 3 and one half cups of flour was a just little too much to add after the initial 1 cup of flour. My dough was a little too stiff and not at all tacky. Kneading was a challenge. At least I got a workout . I think my house is too dry right now with winter, central heating etc. Next time, I'll mix in 3 or maybe 3 and a quarter cups of flour and then add extra as needed.
Ha, I didn't even notice that there was no instruction for adding the yeast. So much for careful reading!
I added the yeast to the 1/3 cup of warm water in the bowl of my stand mixer and proofed it for a few minutes while I organized the rest of the ingredients. I can't recall if I put in a pinch of sugar to help it along, but I often do. Also, I used traditional active dry yeast, not instant, although I'll bet either would work.
Then I added the other 1/2 cup of the warm water, sugar, oil, salt, and egg and continued with the rest of the recipe.