Thursday, September 29, 2011

Gluten-Free Challah

L'shanah tovah! I really should have posted this earlier, but whatever--challah is necessary year-round, right? I also wish I had a picture of this bread for you. Perhaps I'll bake some again soon and take a pretty picture to place riiiiiiiight...


While I don't usually blog about food, it's a pretty big part of my life. I teach cooking classes and have been creating recipes for those classes for over a decade. And this recipe is certainly seasonally appropriate.

I created this challah for one of my gluten-free bread classes. If you're a regular baker of gluten-free bread, do try this trick of adding protein powder to your recipes--about the ratio I use here should do the trick. I happen to use rice protein of this brand, and they happen not to be paying me to say so. You want the plain stuff--not chocolate or vanilla or whatever. You will not believe the difference it makes in your bread recipes. All the structural benefit of the bean flours, without the awful taste! Yay! Softer, lighter, moister, breadier bread.

This particular recipe does rely heavily on starches, and I get questions about that all the time. But my general theory on gluten-free baking is this: Baked goods are a treat. They are not meant to be all-the-time food--not even if you can eat glutenous baked goods. Is it possible to make healthier versions of baked goods? Absolutely, and I do have a lovely seeded teff-buckwheat bread that contains less starch and more whole grain goodness. I'll post that at some point.

But while I don't follow a gluten-free diet myself, I believe it's sometimes important to have a slice of bread/a cookie/a cake that tastes precisely like what you remember from before you went gluten free (and I think that's especially important with a food such as challah, which is so rich in ritual, spiritual, and cultural associations). And so that's what I aim for in my recipes--I want people who don't follow a gluten-free diet to want to eat my food. And they do! But often, in the baking style I generally use, that means adding some starches to get the right texture. This challah is very close to my favorite all-purpose (wheat) flour based challah recipe in both flavor and texture.

You could definitely modify this recipe to include more whole grain flours, or some flax meal, or almond meal, etc. Please feel free to do so! Just understand that your results will be quite different from what this recipe will yield as written.

(And incidentally, if you'd like to be able to take challah and make the blessing when making this bread, or to say hamotzi over it before a meal, technically you'll need to incorporate [certified gluten-free] oat flour into the recipe. My advice would be to substitute the oat flour for both the millet and sorghum, though you'll need to decide for yourself/with your rabbi if that's enough quantity for this recipe to meet the requirement. That one substitution shouldn't change the bread drastically. Again, you can increase the amount of oat flour, but that will change the bread drastically. It's a trade-off. And not to get too halachically specific, but because the texture of this bread "dough" is really much more like a cake or quick bread batter, that may affect your decision on whether or not challah should even be taken. And if I'm forgetting any other critical information people might want to know, do feel free to chime in in the comments.)

Now, if you'd like a great source for entirely wholesome, entirely starch and grain free, and very well-done gluten-free recipes--baked goods and much more--check out Elana's Pantry. Elana's recipes are fantastic, and she has several delicious looking cookbooks out now. (And if you're in need of more holiday recipes, Elana also happens to be Jewish, and she often puts together mouthwatering recipe lists for the holidays. I love to look at her blog for festive inspiration.)

I generally bake this recipe in circular cake pans, though you can, of course, use a loaf pan. Better still, check out this braided loaf pan! And this circular braided pan, perfect for Rosh Hashanah! (Once again, these people don't know me from Eve, and they couldn't care less that I think their loaf pans are adorable.) I haven't got one, but it really is the perfect solution, since it's absolutely impossible to braid this bread for real.

(That, by the way, makes me sad. I get a tremendous amount of pleasure and spiritual sustenance from the kneading and forming of regular challah, and I wish that were an option in the gluten-free world. Alas, it's either edible gluten-free challah, or braidable gluten-free challah, but I'm afraid the two seem to be mutually exclusive.)

If you have questions, do feel free to ask them in the comments. You can certainly also use the blog email there off to the left-hand side, but you're much more likely to get a timely response from the comment section, as I don't check that email every day.

Gluten-Free Challah

1 cup water

a pinch of sugar

2 1/4 teaspoons yeast

1/4 cup sorghum flour

1/4 cup millet flour

1/2 cup plain, unflavored rice (or other) protein powder

2 cups cornstarch

1 cup tapioca starch

1 1/4 teaspoons salt

4 teaspoons xanthan gum

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 eggs (plus an extra to be used as an egg wash)

2 egg yolks

1/4 cup melted butter or Earth Balance Buttery Sticks (for a meat meal, or in case of dairy sensitivity)

5 tablespoons honey

3 tablespoons vinegar

Optional: 2 teaspoons lecithin granules

Optional: a healthy pinch of saffron, crumbled in with wet ingredients

Optional: Raisins, chocolate chips, etc. as you prefer.

Grease and flour two medium-small loaf or cake pans.You can also line the pans with parchment paper cut to fit them--this will guarantee that the bread won't stick, though it's not generally a problem if you've greased and floured them thoroughly.

Stir the pinch of sugar into the water and sprinkle the yeast on top. Set aside to proof for about five to ten minutes. Proofing--or giving the yeast a chance to prove that it's still alive--is important! Make certain that your yeast is bubbly/foamy and alive, or your bread will not rise. I'd encourage you to incorporate this step into all your yeast recipes--some recipes will tell you to stir the dry yeast granules directly into the dry ingredients, but I don't recommend that, since you won't be able to tell if your yeast is dead.

Meanwhile, mix all the dry ingredients together in a small bowl.

Mix the wet ingredients in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer (including lecithin and saffron if using). Add the yeast water, and stir everything together.

Using the paddle attachment, and with the mixer on a LOW speed, begin to add the dry ingredients a little at a time. When you’ve added all the dry ingredients, mix at high speed for two to three minutes. (Add a little more water or flour at this point if you think the bread needs it.) If you’d like to add raisins or other add-ins, now is the time to stir them in.

Spoon the batter into the greased pans and gently smooth the top of the loaf with wet fingers. Brush the top of the loaf with an egg wash—one egg beaten together with a few teaspoons water. (You can also sprinkle the top with sesame seeds if you like.) Cover the bread with well oiled plastic wrap, and allow it to rise until it has almost doubled in bulk—about an hour, but if your house is on the cooler side, it may take longer.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees about five minutes before the bread is ready to go in. Bake the loaf for about 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 375 degrees. Bake the loaf until the crust is nicely browned and the loaf sounds kind of hollow when you tap it on the bottom. If the loaf seems to be browning too much, you can cover it with a piece of aluminum foil. (This loaf may fall slightly in the middle as it cools, but it will still be delicious.)


  1. YUM. :) And happy new year! xox

  2. Thanks for the recipe! I also liked making this vegan (but not GF) challah once - . It felt like a tad more effort/time than I usually go for in my bread, but it's fun to try once.

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