Author:Shannon Sarna, Editor of The Nosher, on kitchen-tested.com
¼ cup vegetable oil
5–6 fresh sage leaves
1 ½ Tbsp dry yeast
1 tsp sugar
1 ¼ cups lukewarm water
5 ½–6 cups all-purpose unbleached flour (I prefer to use King Arthur)
¾ cup sugar
½ Tbsp salt
½ cup butternut squash puree (fresh or frozen)
2 egg yolks + 1 tsp water
Additional fresh sage leaves for garnish
Thick sea salt
Place vegetable oil and fresh sage leaves in a small saucepan over low-medium heat. Heat through until sage becomes fragrant, around 5 minutes. Remove from heat and allow to sit 25-30 minutes. Strain sage leaves but do not discard. Finely chop leaves.
In a small bowl, place yeast, 1 tsp sugar and lukewarm water. Allow to sit around 10 minutes, until it becomes foamy on top.
In a large bowl or stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, mix together 1 ½ cups flour, salt, butternut squash and sugar. After the water-yeast mixture has become foamy, add to flour mixture along with oil and chopped sage leaves. Mix thoroughly.
Add another 1 cup of flour and eggs and mix until smooth. Switch to the dough hook attachment if you are using a stand mixer.
Add an additional 3 cups of flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough is smooth and elastic. You can do this in a bowl with a wooden spoon, in a stand mixer with the dough attachment, or once the dough becomes pliable enough, on a floured work surface with the heels of your hands. Dough will be done when it bounces back to the touch, is smooth without clumps and is almost shiny.
Place dough in a greased bowl and cover with damp towel. Allow to rise at least around 3 hours.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Braid challah into desired shape. Allow challah to rise another 45-60 minutes, or until you can see the size has grown and challah seems light. This step is very important to ensure a light and fluffy challah.
In a small bowl beat 2 egg yolks with 1 tsp water.
Brush egg wash liberally over challah. Sprinkle with chopped fresh sage and thick sea salt.
If making one large challah, bake around 27-28 minutes; if making two smaller challahs, bake 24-26 minutes.