Since making the decision to go vegan 7 1/2 years ago, I’ve been in search of a challah recipe that can compete with my favorite eggy versions from my childhood. The kind I liked best was extra eggy, soft and cake-like challah with an extremely rich flavor and delicate crumb. I could eat slice after slice, coated with the unsalted, pareve margarine my mom kept on hand for meat meals. Although water challah exists in the US, it’s not nearly as popular, and can be quite difficult to find. In fact despite reassurances from several friends, there was only one store in all of Manhattan that I knew would reliably have an accidentally vegan challah. Given the scarcity of options, I spent many a Friday night dinner unable to participate in the cornerstone ritual of blessing and breaking bread at the start of a meal. This is less of an issue in Israel, as it is much easier to find egg-free challah here, and at most meals there’s also a pile of soft pitas sitting next to the braided loaves.
My quest for the perfect challah recipe has been ongoing since a very young age. Even when I knew where to buy my favorite brand, I still always had an itch to make my own, and no matter how masterful I became in pastry creation, my challah was a perpetual disappointment, eggy or vegan. The first egg free recipe I tried called for the unholiest of sins in my book, most especially as an egg replacer: banana. There is nothing you can say or do to make me believe that “you can’t even taste the banana!” because yes, I can, even in those super chocolatey brownies. Even the slightest hint that banana is lurking beneath the surface, and the brownie/cake/smoothie/muffin/challah is ruined. I still wanted to try that first, sinful recipe, however, so I subbed the banana for another sweet and starchy plant, namely pumpkin. I continued to use that recipe for several years, but nothing about it was even close to the challah I was trying to approximate. Several years later, I adapted a recipe from a friends mother, by merely leaving the egg out. The ratios of sweetness to breadiness was perfect, but it came out as slightly too oily. Still, it was the best challah I’d ever made. Because I didn’t own a blender or food processor when I lived in Manhattan, blended tofu was out as an option, but my other go to egg-replacer–non-dairy yogurt–was still on the table. Before I happened to bring that experiment to fruition, I happened upon the brioche recipe from Bittersweet Blog, which used a chickpea flour based custard as the egg replacer. The sticky sweet brioche dough made a decent braid (and tasted delicious to boot), but it still wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in a challah.
For Rosh Hashanah last year, I decided to embark on yet another challah experiment, drawing inspiration from both the brioche recipe as well as from some of the other recipes I’d liked the best. The chickpea custard gave the dough just the right amount of enrichment, so the crumb was soft and tender, with a sweet almost cake-y, but not overpowering flavor. For the glaze, I mixed together a bit of soymilk with a touch of silan (date syrup), which helped give the loaves a bit of sheen and that same rich color that traditional loaves have. The recipe will either make one large round loaf, or one large braid (which I prefer to bake in a loaf pan in order to retain more height). You can sprinkle the top with traditional toppings like poppy or sesame seeds, or you can have a bit of fun and try za’atar or paprika!
May all our meals be a little sweeter this year! שנה טובה ומתוקה! Have a happy and sweet new year!
- 1/4 c chickpea flour
- 1 c non dairy milk
- 1 packet active dry yeast
- 1/3 c maple syrup or silan
- 1/3 c canola oil
- 1/2 tsp black salt
- 5-6 c all-purpose flour
- 3 tbsp nondairy milk mixed with 1-2 tbsps of silan
- sesame seeds, poppy seeds, zaatar
In a small saucepan, mix chickpea flour with some of the milk to form paste. Whisk in the rest of the milk, and cook on medium heat until significantly thickened and pudding-like, stirring constantly. Let cool until just warm to touch. In a large bowel, stir together the chickpea custard with the yeast and maple syrup or silan. Allow the yeast mixture to rest for a bit. The yeast may start to bubble slightly (which is a good thing). Add in the salt and the oil, and then begin to add flour. I usually start with about 4 cups, then knead it in to see how sticky the dough still is. Add more flour if necessary, a little at a time, until the dough is no longer sticky. Knead about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, and bounces back when lightly pressed. Place the dough in a clean, oiled bowl. Cover with a bit of plastic and a towel and place in the fridge to ride overnight. In the morning, punch down the dough, then preheat the oven to 350F (about 175C). Shape the dough according to your preference. For a round loaf, roll the dough into one long rope. Tie the rope into a regular knot, tucking one end underneath the loaf, while letting the other stick out just a bit. Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size. Brush with milk and silan mixture, then sprinkle the topping over evenly. Bake on a large cookie sheet (for the round loaf) for about 30 minutes. If after that time the top is browning too quickly, cover with a piece of foil and bake for about another 30 minutes. When done, a knife inserted into the center (do it between coils, not in the exact center of the rope) should come back clean, and will slide in easily. You can alternatively check that it sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. If braiding the loaf, it will probably only need to back for about 30 minutes.