It all started with a craving for some really comforting brunch food. Pancakes. Or French toast. Something I could luxuriate in over a cup (or four) of black coffee. Then a friend mentioned offhand that challah bread makes superior French toast. That was all it took. Though I had neither made challah before nor even had the inclination to make it, I set out to make the vegan challah bread that would allow me to craft the perfect French toast.
Armed with this Classic Challah recipe from King Arthur as my inspiration and guide, I set out on my quest. Would vegan challah bread live up to it’s eggy counterpart?
I am going to say yes.
This bread is more involved that most things I work on, but it is so fluffy and delicious, that I think many of you will agree that the time invested is 110% worth it. The dough is simple in that all of the ingredients can be mixed together at the same time, but more complicated when we get to the eventual challah braiding.
But First, A Disclaimer:
I am not Jewish. I did not grow up with challah bread in my life, and when I began this challah journey I had little basis for nonvegan comparison. But do not fret, as I was given some feedback on my braiding from several dear Jewish friends that proved to be invaluable (and giggle-worthy) to me. I will share their bread braiding wisdom below!
But What About The Eggs?
Much like my chocolate chip cookie recipe, we will be using aquafaba instead of eggs in this vegan challah recipe. Aquafaba has a consistency similar to egg whites, and can mimic many of the properties in egg baking, giving these bread doughs a similar lift and height to that of their eggy counterparts.
In my cookies, however, which are more of a “dump the aquafaba and go” situation, we will whisk our aquafaba until it is generously frothy this time around. We are not looking for the stiff peaks of meringue, nor do we want a few fork stirred bubbles on top. A light froth is what I like to say. Whip them with a fork until there is a layer of froth covering the remaining liquid. This puts air into the aquafaba, which will in turn introduce air into your dough.
Getting Started With Vegan Challah
This dough utilizes instant yeast, which means it can be mixed directly into the dry ingredients without having the bloom the yeast in warm water first.
My preference for starting this dough is putting the aquafaba into the bowl of a stand mixer, whipping it until fluffy, then simply adding the remaining ingredients to the bowl and mixing with a dough hook. It really is that easy!
How To Braid Vegan Challah Bread
Once your dough has come together and rested for two hours, divide it into four equal pieces. This is where things go from simple to a wee bit more complex, but don’t freak out. We are going with a four strand challah braid (though there are tutorials online for three, four, five, and six strands. Baker’s choice!) because it was the simplest one for me to figure out and I think it looks lovely!
We start with rolling our four pieces into four equal strands, approximately 18 inches in length. Pinch them together at the top and lay them out as you see pictured above.
The Key: When I first learned how to do a traditional, three-strand friendship bracelet braid as a Girl Scout, I recall my mother telling me, “If you can say the phrase ‘right over left, left over right,’ then you can braid.” Now, I am going to say something very similar:
If you can say the phrase “over, under, over,” then you can braid a four-strand challah loaf.
Starting with the dough strand furthest to the right, weave it through the remaining three strands, working towards the left. Go OVER the first strand, UNDER the second strand, and OVER the third strand. This is the pattern we will always start with. Take the rightmost strand and go OVER, UNDER, and OVER again.
See? Repeating the same pattern over and over starts to give us the braided look we are aiming for. Just keep saying to yourself, “over, under, over” and you will get the hang of it quickly!
You will eventually wind up with a loaf:
For neatness sake, I ticked the top and bottom ends of my loaf under, and placed on a baking sheet lined with a silicone baking mat to rise for another two hours. The dough expands significantly during the second rise.
Using the lines on my silicone baking mat, I was able to splice the above images together to give you a sense of just how much the bread expands and rises during the second two hours of rest. The righthand image is not zoomed in at all- the bread really does expand that much!
Then we brush with a wash (I use a mix of nondairy milk and maple syrup) and bake at 375 for 18-20 minutes. To check for doneness, lift the bread off the pan and give it a knock. If it sounds hollow inside, you are golden!
Hah. Bread puns.
I snapped the above photo and sent it off to my Jewish friends, excited to get feedback regarding the legitimacy of my bread. Yes, during quarantine, they could not taste the bread, so this feedback is about aesthetics only:
“That is WAY too pretty.”
“Mel. You tried way too hard. Everybody knows you are only supposed try for the first third of the loaf and then give up.”
“You tucked the ends under…but why though?”
The general consensus seems to be- pretty loaf, definitely doesn’t need to be so pretty to taste good, but nice. I’ll take it as a win! And I will also definitely take it as a lesson in calming down and not panicking so much about the meticulous details of a loaf of bread that is going to come apart for French toast anyway.
Vegan Challah Bread
- Two aluminum baking pans
- Silicone baking mat or parchment paper
- Stand Mixer (with dough hook and whisk attachments)
- Pastry Cutter or large knife
- Plastic wrap
For the challah dough:
- 6 tablespoons aquafaba whisked until frothy
- ½ cup tap water (118 grams)
- ½ cup canola oil (110 grams)
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (450 grams)
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt (8 grams)
- 1 tablespoon instant yeast (9.5 grams)
For the egg wash:
- 2 tablespoons nondairy milk unsweetened
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- Pour aquafaba into the bowl of a stand mixer and whip on medium speed until lightly frothy using the whisk attachment.
- Once frothy, add remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl* and mix with the dough hook attachment until dough comes together and forms a smooth ball. This should take approximately 8-10 minutes on medium speed.
- Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave in a warm area of your kitchen to rise for two hours. The dough will not double in size, and this is okay!
- After two hours, once the dough has puffed up a little, transfer it to a cutting board and separate into four equal pieces. Roll each piece into a long, 18-20 inch long rope.
- Pinch the four strands together at the top and begin to braid:Working from right to left, take the rightmost strand and weave it over, under, and over each of the three subsequent strands. This is the method that we will use for every braid. The rightmost strand goes over the next strand over to the left, under the next, and over the next.
- If you desire, tuck the top and bottom ends of each braid under the loaf.
- Cover the loaf gently with lightly oiled platic wrap and leave in a warm place to rise for another two hours. The braided dough should expand significantly.
- During the last twenty minutes or rising, preheat your oven to 375° and whisk the 'egg wash' ingredients together in a shall bowl.
- When the oven has preheated, stack the baking sheet with the bread on top of another baking sheet of the same size. This double layering will prevent the bottom of the bread from burning while allowing the interior to cook through.
- Remove the plastic wrap from the bread and generously brush the loaf with the egg wash mixture. Be sure to get the egg wash into every crevice of the loaf, as this will help ensure even browning.
- Bake for 18-20 minutes, or until the loaf is golden brown.
- Let the bread cool for ten minutes before transferring to a wire cooling rack. Allow to cool for at least 30 minute before slicing.