In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water with the pinch of sugar and let stand until creamy and starting to bubble.
In a medium saucepan, combine the sliced butter and the milk. Warm over low heat just until the butter melts. Stir in the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and the honey and salt.
Pour the milk mixture into a large bowl and stir in the dissolved yeast and the 4 eggs. Stir in just enough of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to form a dense dough that doesn't stick to the side of the bowl.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding only as much flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
Brush a large bowl with 1-1/2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Transfer the dough to the buttered bowl and brush the top with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
Punch down the dough, then cover and let rise until doubled in bulk again, about 1-1/4 hours.
Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper and sprinkle the paper with cornmeal. On a lightly floured work surface, divide the dough in half. Cover one half with plastic wrap and divide the other half into 3 equal pieces. Using lightly floured hands, roll each piece into a 10-inch-long rope with tapered ends. Arrange the 3 ropes side by side pointing toward you and just touching. Starting in the middle and working toward your body, braid the ropes together, bringing the outside ropes over the center one. Pinch the ends to seal and tuck them under. Turn the loaf around and repeat with the other half, this time braiding the outer ropes under the center one. Seal the ends, tuck them under and transfer the loaf to a prepared baking sheet; gently plump the loaf with your hands. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover the loaves with kitchen towels and let rise for 35 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Brush the loaves with the egg glaze. Let stand uncovered for 10 minutes, then brush again with the glaze. Bake the loaves in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, switching the pans halfway through baking, for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they are golden, feel light when lifted and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Loosely cover the loaves with foil if they become too brown during baking. Transfer to a rack and let cool thoroughly before slicing.
Makes 2 large loaves.
Source: Source: Food And Wine
Date: February 23, 2002