Challah is one of my favorite breads. A kind of butterless brioche, it has the same flaky texture and lightness as brioche minus the butter. It also has a gorgeous braided look that's pretty easy to achieve with just a tiny bit more effort than is required to shape any old bread.
For a vegan, the chief challenge in baking a perfect challah tends to be the eggs that are such a predominant part of any challah recipe. Tastewise, I had always detested the eggy smell. But the eggs also help form the bread's delicate structure, which made it just a tad scary to contemplate baking a challah without them.
By now, though, I've veganized enough baked goods to never say die. So onward I pressed with my most trusted egg substitute, flax seed powder, which I thought would perform well in this bread because it is rich in fats, like eggs, but also has a deep nuttiness that would go well with the whole wheat I was planning to use in place of all-purpose flour which, to me, tastes like chalk.
I did use some bread flour, which is also refined, mainly because using only whole wheat would make the bread too dense and heavy, which, in a challah, would be self-defeating.
The result was beyond my expectations. Not only was the challah extremely flaky and delicious, but it looked absolutely gorgeous with a golden-crisp crust.
In fact, it was a small miracle.
(Adapted from the Joy of Cooking)
2 1/4 tsp or 1 package active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
Mix the yeast and the warm water in a mixing bowl and leave alone for five minutes to ensure the yeast is alive. If it froths and bubbles, it is!
Add to the bowl:
1/2 cup whole-wheat pastry flour
4 tbsp ground flax seed + 6 tbsp water, whisked together
3 tbsp canola oil
3 tbsp sugar
1 tsp sea salt
Mix on medium-low speed until blended. Add:
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cup bread flour
Knead on medium low speed in a stand mixer for about 5 minutes or about 10 minutes by hand. The dough should be elastic and smooth.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turn it once to coat the top with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 2 1/2 hours in a warm place.
Punch down the dough, knead a bit, and then refrigerate for about 4-5 hours until the dough has doubled.
Divide the dough into three balls and let them rest, covered with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, for about 15 minutes.
Roll each ball into a rope about 12 inches in length. Dust with flour.
Place the three ropes side-by-side. Now pinch together the top ends and carefully braid the three, like you'd braid your hair. For instance, pick the left rope and place it between the right and the middle rope, then pick the right rope and place it between the left and middle ropes, and so on.
Pinch together the ends and tuck them under the bread.
Transfer the loaf to a baking sheet dusted with cornmeal.
Brush the top of the loaf with some olive oil which will give it a lovely glaze after baking.
Cover the loaf with oiled plastic wrap and set it in a warm place to rise. In about an hour, it would have nearly doubled in size.
Brush the loaf again with olive oil, sprinkle some sesame seeds over it, then place it in a preheated 375-degree oven and bake for 30 minutes.
Cool the loaf on a rack before cutting in.
I am sending this vegan challah recipe over to Mansi's Weekend Breakfast Blogging: Balanced Breakfast event. Thanks, Mansi, for hosting this!
For another great eggless, dairyless bread, try my Whole Wheat French Bread, which includes a step-by-step guide, or my butterless Avocado Brioche.