Challah is a delicious, delicious bread product that is traditionally associated with Jewish traditions and holidays, from Shabbos dinners on Friday night to the major holidays that come only once a year. It is also made with eggs, which is part of why it’s so delicious but also all of why it’s not vegan. I thought I had basically said goodbye to challah indefinitely, along with goat cheese and ranch dressing. But then way back in September, when I went to a close friend’s for Rosh Hashanah, I was delighted to find that she volunteered to make some vegan challah for me, with olive oil to make it rich instead of egg. And she did! And it was so good! I was the only vegan at the dinner, and felt completely confident in my ability to eat the entire loaf by myself.
We are no longer in the middle of any kind of relevant holiday season to associate this recipe with, but I realized I wanted to eat it again and part of being an adult is getting to eat whatever you want for dinner, so I made some more. In recognition of the fact that I live and will probably die alone, I made six small loaves instead of one or two big ones, and so they’re kind of like large dinner rolls. Also not braided very well because I suck. LIVE AND LEARN, KIDS.
A few notes about this recipe: it’s originally from Maggie Glezer’s A Blessing of Bread, which is kind of a really amazing book, and which if you are interested at all in putting yeasted things into ovens I would really recommend. It’s also available online as part of this really cute article, which I don’t feel bad about providing because reading it will make you want to read the book for sure. Also, I added weight measurements as well as cup measurements for the ingredients, because it makes bread baking so much easier and more reliable, and if you don’t do it already/own a kitchen scale yet I would really recommend starting! Same with, as is mentioned below, oiling your rising container and also oiling some saran wrap to cover it with (or just spraying them down with some Pam). It just makes everything a lot easier! Now, on to some bread!
VEGAN OLIVE OIL CHALLAH
1 teaspoon instant yeast (3 grams)
3 3/4 cups bread flour (500 grams)
1 1/4 cups warm water (280 grams)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (110 grams)
1 tablespoon kosher salt (10 grams)
sesame seeds for sprinkling
1. Mix the instant yeast, water, and 150 grams (1 1/4 cups) of the flour in a bowl. Allow to sit for 10-20 minutes.
2. Add the oil and salt and whisk until smooth, then mix in the remaining flour until the dough could potentially be described as “shaggy.” Then turn out your dough onto the counter (or, if you are truly blessed, use the dough hook on your stand mixer) and knead until smooth and elastic.
3. Put in an oiled container and cover with some lightly oiled saran wrap to rise for 2-3 hours, or until the dough has roughly tripled.
4. Braid into your desired shape/shapes. This can make one REALLY BIG loaf of challah, which is great if you have friends or whatever. It could make two normal-ish loaves, or you can do what I did and make six little loaves. I am just as hopeless at braiding things today as I was when I was six and I couldn’t style Barbie’s hair, but this article with helpful step-by-step photos was super useful in figuring out how to do single and double knots for individual challot. This is a pretty good resource for your other challah braiding needs.
5. After you have everything nicely braided, lay it out on your baking sheet(s), cover with more saran wrap and stick that ish in the fridge. It will sit there for 8-24 hours. That is a really long time, I know! But it will help with flavor development, and also you can take a nap or something.
6. Remove the loaves from the fridge 2.5 hours before you want to put them in the oven, and allow them to continue rising at room temperature. At some point, preheat the oven to 425.
7. It is nice when challah is shiny! You can put some kind of wash on it before it goes in the oven if you want, like water or egg or milk. Alternatively you can use the starch glaze that Maggie Glezer recommends with this recipe. If you are using one of the previously mentioned washes, do that now. If you want to wait for the starch wash, we’ll get to that in a minute.
8. After 2.5 hours and when your oven is preheated, bake those! Bake them. Larger loaves for 40-50 minutes, smaller ones for about 30.
9. If you’re doing the starch wash, make it now, because it goes on the challot after they’re baked. Put 2/3 cup of cold water and 2 tsp cornstarch in a saucepan, and heat until it boils, and gets really thick and hopefully kind of clear. Once your challah is out of the oven, you will brush this weird goopy mixture onto it, and then wait for it to dry, and then brush it on one more time. See how shiny it is? If you’re using sesame seeds, sprinkle them on top while the glaze is still wet.
Good job! You’re done! You can now eat this with delicious honey, or jam, or enjoy the best french toast you’ve ever had. Don’t believe me? You will!