Sunday, September 28, 2014

Vegan challah 2014: I think this is the one!

I've posted a few times about baking vegan challah-- a traditional Jewish bread (similar to brioche) that's eaten as part of the Shabbos celebration on Friday evenings, and on holidays. In my family growing up, we didn't observe the weekly Shabbos, and we didn't have challah every week (although I definitely wanted us to!) but we still ate our fair share of challah, and it was an indispensable part of the holiday table, especially at Rosh Hashanah, or Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah is usually right in the beginning of fall. (It was last week! Sorry this post is a week late!) It's one of my favorite holidays, and every year since I went vegan (8 years ago now) I pretty much spend the month of September wondering if this will be the year that I crack the code of the vegan challah.

I'm pretty sure this was the year! I cracked the code! And it's really pretty simple-- no complicated egg substitutes, no weird artificial yellow food coloring, just nice yummy bread. It's lighter than some other challah recipes, and doesn't have that crazy dandelion yellow color, but it's quite good. And if you really want it to be more yellow, you can always add some turmeric or saffron for color-- I've done it both ways with nice results. Just use a tiny pinch though! And keep in mind that it will affect the flavor a little bit.

Vegan Challah, version 3:

3 1/2 cups all purpose flour
1 1/3 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. ground flax seeds
1/2 cup sugar
2 1/4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 c olive oil
1 tsp kosher salt
1 Tbsp. soy or almond milk + 1 tsp oil, for brushing
optional: 1/2 cup currants (or raisins)

1. Whisk the flax seeds with the warm water for 2 minutes, or until the mixture is quite frothy. I like to put the flax-water mixture through a strainer to remove the little bits of flax seed, but that's absolutely optional-- the only difference it makes is in the appearance of the finished bread.

2. Combine the flour, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl (or your stand mixer, if you have one,) and stir just to distribute the ingredients. Add the salt and stir again briefly (you want to do it this way to minimize direct contact between the yeast and salt.)

3. Add the water and oil, and stir with a big sturdy spoon, or with the electric mixer's paddle attachment until everything comes together in a soft dough, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. If necessary, add more water or flour, 1 Tbsp at a time. If using a mixer: Switch to the dough hook and mix on medium-low for 8 minutes. Otherwise, just use your (clean) hands!

4. Turn onto a floured countertop or board, and knead by had, just to finish. The dough should be elastic and smooth. Put in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover. Allow to rise in a warm place for 90 minutes, until it has doubled in size.

5. Turn onto your floured board again, and use a rolling pin to gently roll it out into a big rectangle. If you're adding raisins or currants, sprinkle them evenly across the surface of the rectangle of dough. Roll the dough up (like a jelly roll) and knead a few more times, so that the raisins are distributed evenly. Put back in the bowl and cover. At this point, you can refrigerate it for a day or two until you're ready to bake. Or if you want to bake it now, just let it rest for about 30 minutes before shaping.

6. When it comes to shaping your loaves, you have a few options. You can do braided loaf, which is the normal/traditional shape for challah. This can be a regular 3-stranded braid, or a more elaborate braid with 4 or 6 strands.
For Rosh Hashanah, it's traditional to bake round loaves of challah, to symbolize the circle of life. There are a few ways to shape a round loaf-- you can do a woven round loaf like I did, you can make a regular braid and spiral it into a round shape, or you can even do a plain spiral. Or do one of each, if you really can't decide. This recipe makes two medium-sized loaves, or three petite loaves.
While you're working on your shapes, preheat the oven to 350 F.

7. Once you've gotten the loaves into whatever shapes you like, put them on a parchment-covered baking sheet and brush with the soymilk-oil mixture. Allow to rise for 30 minutes in a nice warm place. They should look nice and puffed up before you put them in the oven.