It’s hard to imagine a Jewish New Year (Rosh Hashanah) celebration or Shabbat dinner without challah. And it’s surprisingly easy to make egg-free vegan challah, a bread traditionally made with eggs for tenderness and golden hue.
Making vegan challah is quite a challenge, since it’s the egg in this traditional Jewish bread that gives it a pale golden color and a tender, pull-apart texture. My first couple of attempts fell flat, almost literally.
Then I remembered a recipe by Alisa Fleming of Go Dairy-Free, in her book of the same title. Her recipe for Tender Squash Dinner Rolls, which extols their soft, pull-apart texture, adds a bit of pureed squash. So it’s with a big thanks to Alisa for the inspiration for my most successful attempt at vegan challah.
Braiding the dough is what gives challah its distinctive character. Traditional challah is brushed with an egg or milk wash; here we use plant-based milk or aquafaba.
Admittedly, this vegan challah isn’t exactly like the egg bread, but it comes closer than any vegan versions I’ve tried, and is beautiful to behold. It may not be the challah that the Eastern European bubbe in your life might have made, but it comes close enough.
This challah is delicious fresh and warm served with your favorite honey substitute for the Rosh Hashanah celebration, and vegan butter any other time.
Tip: The dough spreads quite a bit on the baking sheet, so you may need to use two baking sheets if yours are small. To make a stronger loaf that rises a bit higher, add 2 tablespoons of vital wheat gluten to the flour mixture.
Yield: This recipe makes 2 large loaves with about 12 slices each, a generous amount for your Shabbat dinner or holiday table. If you’d like, you can portion this into 3 smaller loaves.
Spreading chunks of challah with honey, along with the honey-dipped apple slices, are central to the celebration of the Jewish New Year. Obviously, this part of the ritual needs tweaking for committed vegans (who don’t use honey), but it doesn’t take much more than swapping in maple syrup, agave, or date caramel, as shown above.
All photos above by Hannah Kaminsky, BittersweetBlog.com.
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 cups warm water, divided
- 2 tablespoons natural granulated sugar
- 1/3 cup safflower or other neutral vegetable oil
- 2 tablespoons agave nectar
- 1 cup well-cooked pureed winter squash (any golden-orange variety) or canned pumpkin puree
- 6 cups unbleached white flour, plus more, as needed (see Note)
- 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten, optional (see Note)
- 2 teaspoons salt
- Unsweetened plant-based milk for brushing loaves (see note)
- Sesame or poppy or sesame seeds for topping
- In a medium bowl, combine the yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water and the sugar. Let stand for 5 to 10 minutes, or until dissolved. Stir in the oil, agave nectar and the remaining cup of warm water.
- Combine the flours and salt in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the wet mixture and squash puree. Work together, first with a large spoon, then with hands. Add more flour until the dough loses its stickiness; you’ll probably need about 1/2 cup more, depending on how tightly you packed the measured flour.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured board. Knead for 6 to 8 minutes. Place in a floured bowl, cover with a tea towel, and put in a warm place to rise until doubled in bulk, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. I like to turn the oven on, and just as it starts to heat up, turn it off. This seems to be a perfect spot for letting the dough rise.
- Punch the dough down, then turn back out onto the board, once again well floured.
- Divide the dough into two parts, then divide each of those into three parts, for a total of six. Make long strands, about 1 1/2 inches in diameter, from each part.
- Attach three strands at one end by pinching together. Braid the strands and pinch together at the bottom. Repeat with the remaining three strands of dough.
- Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and let rise until in the same warm place doubled in bulk again, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350º F.
- Brush the tops of the braids with a tiny amount of plant-based milk and sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds. Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes, or until the tops are golden and the loaves feel hollow when tapped. Cool on a rack until at room temperature before serving.
- To serve, cut into slices or just pull apart into chunks.
If you’d like a bit more wholesomeness to this loaf, go ahead and use 1 cup whole wheat bread flour or light spelt flour in place of 1 cup of the unbleached white flour. If you use more than than this, it will change the texture of the challah, making it more of a “health loaf” than a holiday bread.
Add this small amount of wheat gluten if you'd like a slightly stronger loaf that rises higher rather than spreading.
In place of plant-based milk, you can also use aquafaba (the liquid in canned chickpeas).
See lots more traditional Jewish recipes made vegan