Preparation / Directions:
*Anise extract, or anise flavoring, can be purchased at most health-food stores. Or rum can be substituted. In medium saucepan or microwave-proof bowl, combine milk, the 1 c sugar and butter. Heat, stirring occasionally, until butter is melted. Let mixture stand until warm, 105-115~. In small bowl, sprinkle yeast and pinch of sugar over warm water. Stir to dissolve. Let stand until foamy, about 10 minutes. In large bowl, with whisk, or in work bowl of heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with paddle attachment, place 3 cups of the flour, salt and baking powder. Make a well in center and break the 4 eggs into the well. Gradually mix a few tablespoons of the flour into the eggs, add the anise extract and yeast and milk mixtures, and mix until a soft, smooth, sticky dough is formed, about 2 minutes. Add remaining flour, 1/2 c at a time, until a soft dough is formed that just clears the sides of the bowl, switching to a wooden spoon as necessary if making by hand. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, 2 to 3 minutes, adding only 1 tb flour at a time as necessary to prevent sticking. It is important that this dough remain very soft, and springy. Place in greased deep container, turn once to coat the top and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at cool room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 12 hours or as long as overnight. Gently deflate the dough and let rise again at room temperature until doubled in bulk, 1 to 1-1/2 hours. Gently deflate and divide the dough into 9 equal portions. On a lightly floured work surface, roll each portion into a rope 12" long. Using 3 ropes for each braid, braid ropes together, tuck under the ends and place each braid into a greased 9x5 loaf pan. Alternately place loaves on greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk or 1" above the rims of the pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour. 20 before baking, preheat oven to 350~. Brush tops with the egg glaze, taking care not to let it drip down the sides of the pan. Sprinkle with fennel seeds. Bake in center of the preheated oven until deep golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Remove from oven and immediately turn out onto a rack to cool completely. This bread freezes well.