Try this recipe and you'll see for yourself that a dough free of animal products can indeed produce a fragrant, satisfying loaf of bread. This recipe can be made with or without flax seeds, which give the loaves more of an eggy quality.
This eggless challah recipe is a creation of Jewish Veg Rabbinic Council member Rabbi Jonathan Rubenstein. He is the founder of Slice of Heaven Breads.
3 hours, 30 minutes
1. Mixing the dough: If using flax seeds, add them to the water and stir. Let stand at least 30 minutes or overnight. Heat water and flax seed mixture until warm, but not hot. If using active dry yeast, add yeast, let stand for a few minutes. Add the rest of the ingredients, and then start adding flour. Continue to add flour until the dough is too stiff to mix in the bowl.
2. Kneading: Spread some flour on the countertop, turn dough onto counter, and start kneading. Continue kneading and adding flour until the dough is not sticky but not too dry. This should take about 10 minutes.
You may perform the ritual of separating the challah at this point. Separate an olive size piece of dough and say the blessing for separating the challah; wrap this piece in a paper towel and burn it to ash on a gas or electric burner.
3. First Rising: Very lightly grease a bowl with oil, form the dough into a smooth ball, place the dough in the bowl smooth side down and rotate so the dough is coated with oil on the top and bottom. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Let the dough rise about an hour, or until doubled in size.
4. Forming the Loaves: (This is when the six-strand braid video above or others in the Slice of Heaven collection come in handy.) Deflate the dough and gently form into a smooth ball again. Divide the dough into three parts for large loaves or four parts for smaller ones. Then divide each loaf into the desired number of strands. Roll each strand individually, then join the top ends and pinch together.
5. Second Rising: Grease a baking sheet or line it with parchment paper. Place the loaves on the baking sheet, leaving a few inches between them for rising. Cover with plastic wrap or a damp dishtowel. Let rise until doubled in size, 30–40 minutes. Preheat oven to 350˚ F.
6. Glazing and Baking: Mix a few tablespoons water with ground flaxseeds. Using a pastry brush, glaze the top of each loaf. Sprinkle the loaves with poppy or sesame seeds if desired. Bake the loaves for 30–35 minutes until golden brown and the bottom of the loaves sound hollow when tapped.
For whole wheat challah: Replace some of the unbleached white flour with whole wheat flour, according to your taste. It is recommended to use 5 to 6 cups whole wheat flour and 2 to 3 cups white, and replace the sugar with maple syrup. If using maple syrup, reduce the amount of water by ¼ cup.