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Hearty Holiday Challah by Heidi Hedeker

Hearty Holiday Challah by Heidi Hedeker

By: Terra Brockman (Read Bio)

Hearty Holiday Challah by Heidi Hedeker
Heidi Hedeker, certified master baker and a pastry chef instructor with Kendall College, provided Janie's Mill with this great recipe and step-by-step photos, including how to shape a 6-strand challah -- it's actually easier than it looks! Be sure to take a look at all of Heidi's photos and read her Tips below.

Yield: 1600 grams of dough, enough for 3 small or 2 large braided loaves


For the Sponge:

Final dough formula:

  • 225 ml (8 oz) Water or milk (cool ) 
  • 8g (1/4 ounce) Salt 
  • 115 g (4 oz) Oil 
  • 57g (2 oz) Honey 
  • 57g (2 oz) Sugar 
  • 12 Yolks (250g) Note: I often use 5 whole eggs instead of 12 yolks
  • 454 g (16 ounces) Janie’s Mill Turkey Red heirloom flour 
  • 350 g (12 ounces) Janie’s Mill High Protein bread flour
  • 170 g (6 ounces) Raisins (optional) 
for the Egg Wash:
  • 1 Egg 
  • 25 ml (1 oz) Water 
  • 15 g Honey


For the Sponge:

Combine the sponge ingredients to make a thick paste. Allow the sponge to ferment for 1 hour under a dusting of flour (this allows you to see its expansion). It should double in volume.
    • For the Final Dough -- Incorporate All Ingredients

      Put the sponge and the remaining ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Mix or stir together for one minute until all the ingredients are fully incorporated and beginning to form a dough. 

    • For the Final Dough -- Mixing
     Note: This is an intensively mixed dough because it needs to have full gluten development in order to make and keep the braided shape. It is mixed first on low speed and then medium speed for 10 minutes of total mixing time.

    For the first stage of mixing: Mix 5 minutes on low speed (second speed on a 10-speed mixer), until the dough comes together around the hook. As the dough is first mixed, it will look very firm, and then it will bcome sticky and elastic as it keeps mixing. At the end of five minutes, the dough should begin to show gluten development and start slapping the sides of the bowl. Scrape down the bowl completely to remove any gluten strands that are hugging the sides and incorporate them back into the dough.
    For the second stage of mixing: Mix 5 minutes on medium speed (4th speed on a 10-speed mixer or 2nd speed on a 3-speed mixer)

    Bulk Fermentation
    Scrape dough from the mixing bowl and coat with oil to keep it from sticking as it ferments. Ferment dough for 1 hour at room temperature, either in a plastic proofing bin or loosely covered with plastic or a cloth. Stretch and fold twice, once every 30 minutes, during the bulk fermentation hour. 

    Divide and Shape

    If making a 6-strand challah as shown in the pictures, divide the dough into six 90g pieces for a small challah (540g loaf) or 130g pieces for a large challah (780g loaf). Roll each piece of dough into a strand about 12 inches long.

    Shape: Braid as desired--see step-by-step photos below for how to make a 6-strand challah. You may also braid two 3-strand loaves and stack two together to make one large loaf. Place on parchment paper lined pans. Brush with the egg wash.

    Proof: Proof until slightly bloated, between 60 and 90 minutes. Your finger should leave an indentation on the surface of the loaf when pressed.

    Bake: Egg wash a second time, just before baking. This will give more shine to the final bread and also help the challah loaves expand more fully in the oven. Bake in an oven with some steam (that will help with expansion in the oven) at 365 for 25-40 minutes, until done.


    Heidi’s Tips for a Hearty Challah using Turkey Red and High Protein flours

    • In the recipe above, I adjusted my usual challah recipe for using Turkey Red by incorporating a sponge starter.

    • I use a mixture of High Protein flour and Turkey Red flour because 100% Turkey Red would not have the elasticity Challah needs for its best expansion.

    • Because challah is an enriched dough with extra sweeteners and fat, the yeast has a hard time activating. So you’ll do much better if you start by making a sponge starter to activate the yeast before mixing the dough. Sponge starters are often used in enriched doughs such as challah or brioche. Think of the sponge as an incubator for your yeast, a comfy place where it’s fed and kept warm to get a strong start.

    • Most sponge starters take only 1-3 hours before being mixed into the dough. They are usually liquid base, rather than dough base (as in the biga or pate fermentee) to allow for quicker growth of the yeast. When ready to use, a risen sponge starter with a dough base looks mounded, with a crackled crown of flour from the yeast expanding underneath the surface, and slightly collapsed.

    Here's a recipe for Chernowitzer Challah from the late Lotte Langmann using our Sifted Artisan and/or High-Protein flours.

    Posted on December 01 2022