When I was a little kid, I used to make challah with my mother. This was a big deal. My mother didn’t let anyone help in the kitchen – we just got in the way and would do everything wrong anyway. But making challah was something she and I did together.
She would rip open paper bags from the grocery store and line the table with them. I could smell the yeast as it developed in the water. Making the well was the big challenge. Mom didn’t use a mixing bowl. She taught me to just pile the flour on the paper-lined table, make a well out of it and add the liquids to the middle without breaking the wall of flour. That was how her mother did it so that was how she did it and that was how I was to do it.
Then came the kneading. Mom taught me to put all my strength into it. And then the waiting while the dough would rise. It was like magic to me. We would leave this small ball of dough and return to this huge balloon it became. Then more kneading, more rising and finally, my favorite part: braiding. It was just like braiding my hair.
We made some braided loaves, some non-braided loaves, and even some rolls. We didn’t do this very often so when we made challah, we made a lot. By the time it was in the oven, it was late in the afternoon. Then the beautiful breads would sit on the table cooling while I anxiously waited to try a piece. In the evening, Mom would slice one of the loaves, slather it in butter and we would eat the rewards of our day-long project.
It was delicious – light, airy, and soft with a tender crust. But the very best part was when my mother would tell me that my challah tasted just like my grandmother’s. I never knew my grandmother; she died when I was just 6 months old. But I knew the compliment was huge – maybe the biggest one my mother ever gave me.
When we didn’t make our own, we got challah from the Kosher restaurant on Lydig Ave. It was a dairy restaurant (no meat allowed). I would always get a big bowl of vegetable soup. It was really split pea but they called it vegetable soup. Alongside I would have fresh warm challah with pats of butter to melt on top. It was one of my favorite meals.
When Tom and I got married, we started observing Shabbos and every Friday night I lit candles while Tom said prayers over the wine and the challah. My favorite part of that was when he would read “A Woman of Valor” to me.
But when we became vegan, challah wasn’t an option anymore. Eggless bread without the eggs? In following our new vegan path, we kind of let go of our religious one. Baking is not my thing but as I attempted to become less baking-challenged, I knew I had to master the art of vegan challah.
Then a dear friend gave us a beautiful challah board for Chanukah and it motivated me to learn how to bake my own vegan challah. And after 2 failed attempts, I did it. I baked a beautiful, delicious loaf of vegan challah. It tasted just like the challah I remembered: light, airy, soft with a tender crust. Tom and I put it on our beautiful new challah board, cut some slices, slathered them in vegan butter and…WOW! It was incredible. It was nostalgic. You might say it was a religious experience.
This recipe is NOT gluten-free. First I wanted to learn how to make vegan challah. Making gluten-free, vegan challah will be my next attempt. You can’t just swap out the flours. It’s a different process. But I will do that soon, I promise. After all, I am a woman of valor. I keep my word.
I did use a combination of all-purpose flour and whole-wheat pastry flour, about 1/3 all-purpose to 2/3 whole wheat. I try to avoide white, refined flours but I didn’t have enough to just us whole-wheat. I also used Ener-G egg replacer. Usually, I replace eggs with a flaxseed/water mix and that would work here too. I used enough to replace 4 eggs.
Some of my best childhood memories involve challah. Some of my favorite adult memories involve challah. I’m pretty sure some of my best future memories will involve challah too. I hope my Vegan Challah recipe helps you relive your memories too. Enjoy!
Note: to make 2 loaves, double the recipe. Since I make the bread by hand, I prefer to make each loaf individually as it’s easier to handle.
2 packets or 1 1/2 Tbs. dry active yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
2 tsp. + ¼ cup sugar
6 tsp. Ener-G egg replacer + 8 Tbs. water
¼ cup olive oil + more for brushing
1 ½ tsp. Kosher salt
¼ tsp. turmeric
4 cups flour (all-purpose, whole wheat pastry, or a combination of both) + more for dusting
Poppy seeds or sesame seeds (optional)
In a mug or small bowl, mix the yeast into the warm water. Make sure the water is warm, not cold and not hot. If the water is too cold, the yeast won’t activate and if it’s too hot, the yeast will die. Add 2 tsp. of sugar to feed the yeast. Let it sit for 5 minutes. It should get very frothy. In another mug or small bowl, mix the Ener-G egg replacer and the water.
Transfer the frothy yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl. Add the olive oil to the yeast and mix. Add the egg replacer to the large bowl and mix. Mix in the remaining ¼ cup sugar, salt and turmeric. Whisk until it’s all combined.
Gradually add the flour until the dough begins to come together. It should be soft but not sticky. When you have the texture you want, turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead it for 10 long minutes. It will feel like forever so put on some music to sing along to or have some company to talk with to make the time go by faster. If the dough still feels sticky, add more flour. If it feels too dry, add water. When you are done kneading, put the ball of dough into a greased bowl, roll it around so it gets covered in oil, cover it with a damp cloth and put it in a warm place to rise. Let it rise until it doubles in size, about 1 ½ – 2 hours. When it has doubled in size, punch the dough down, cover it again and let it rise another 30 – 45 minutes until it has risen again. Don’t worry as much about the time but whether the dough has risen. If it takes longer, that doesn’t mean anything is wrong. If it doesn’t rise at al, that’s a problem.
Place the dough on a floured surface. If you are making a double batch, divide the dough into 2 equal parts and continue with the rest of the steps. Cut the dough (or each half) into 3 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a ball, and then roll each ball into a long strand. Let the strands rest for 5 minutes. Transfer the strands to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Join the 3 strands at the top by pinching them together and turning them under. Braid the strands (cross the outer right strand over to the middle position, cross the outer left strand over to the middle position and repeat until you reach the end) and join the ends at the bottom, pinching them together and turning them under. Brush the dough with olive oil. Cover the dough again and let it rise for another hour.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the dough with olive oil again, sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, if desired, and bake for 35 minutes. The challah should be golden brown with a firm crust. It should sound hollow when you tap it. Let cool before slicing.
The “V” Word: Say it. Eat it. Live it.
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do you think I could use a flax-egg in this recipe? I cant find Ener-G egg replacer in stores where I love.
Hi, I replaced 6 eggs worth in that recipes. If you don’t have any egg replacer (Ener-G, The Vegg Baking Mix), I would use more than one replacement method or else it will be way too much flax. When I made gluten-free challah, I used 2 Tbs. flax with 1/3 cup water and I also used Ener-G for 2 eggs worth and 1/4 cup vegan mayonnaise. You could use the vegan mayo (1/4 cup equals 1 egg) or fruit/pumpkin puree (also 1/4 cup for 1 egg). I have to tell you that I made challah using The Vegg Baking Mix and it was the best of all my attempts so if you can order that, you should. Check out my article on One Green Planet “How to Cook and Bake Without Eggs.” http://www.onegreenplanet.org/vegan-food/how-to-cook-and-bake-without-eggs/
Do you think this can be used to work in the dough-making cycle on a bread machine?
Hi Nick, I have never used a bread machine so I don’t know. If you try it, please let me know.
i am making this as we speak for the first time!! can’t wait! thanks for much for this. Challah is one of my favs 🙂
Hope you liked it!
I will definitely be trying this recipe! I had to go searching all over for eggless challah for stuffing so I can’t wait to make this! I may try this with The Vegg though. I find that it lends an eggy taste to things and might do well with this recipe.
Marcia, once you make your own, you’ll never buy it again. I’m sure it will come out fine with the Vegg. I’m not a fan of it myself, it has an aftertaste I don’t like but Tom likes it. And I’m for any product that gives people an alternative to eggs. Let me know how it comes out and Happy new Year!
I’m actually going to use the Vegg for matza balls today, too! I’ve never noticed an aftertaste but I didn’t like it in my tofu scramble so maybe that was it! I’ll let you know how it goes! Shana Tova
Thank you, Rhea, for the post. I now know there are alternatives. Perhaps >100 years ago I would have been fine with the traditional recipe, but today 99.9% of all chickens are treated inhumanely, including organic/pastured-raised that like their caged brethren lay 3 to 4 times more eggs per year than in the early 1900s. I look forward to trying out your recipe!
Thank you Anonymous. That’s great that vegan Challah is readily available in Israel. The only place I ever saw it was in Whole Foods. I hope you find a lot of recipes you like here. Shalom!
I just found your blog–it’s so beautiful! I love the gefilte fish recipe and can’t wait to make it! I’m so proud of you for making vegan challah despite the challenges that I’m kvelling 🙂 I believe that the more effort that we put into making Shabbot beautiful, the more Hashem will bless us.
I wanted to let you know that in Israel, finding vegan challah is EXTREMELY easy! According to Sephardic Jewish customs, “bread” cannot have “extras” in it (like sugar, eggs, ect). There are also some bakeries that sell vegan challah for people with egg allergies.
Thank you so much for this great blog. Looking forward to getting many, many more recipes from you.
Thanks Marcos. I have been making some GF Challah myself. It’s pretty good but like you said, I’m continuing to try and improve it but I don’t think it’s ever going to taste like regular Challah.
Rhea, I have a recipe for gluten free challah. I had been making a vegan recipe and then I discovered my gluten allergy and had to swear off of this yummy bread. Oh, and my challah was outstanding. I had perfected it over ten years of testing. Now I have a gluten free recipe. I’m still playing and modifying it. I have one that includes gm free oatmeal and one without because I know some people who suffer cannot tolerate oatmeal either. If you want, I’m happy to share it with you on fb. 🙂
I just stumbled upon your blog and read your post about breaking up with Richard Gere which I thoroughly enjoyed! Keep up the great work! This vegan challah looks great!
Thank you Marla 🙂
Beautiful, Rhea! I make vegan challah for my son’s class every year for Hanukkah. They love it! I can’t wait to try out this lovely looking recipe.