I’ve been a bit bread-obsessed lately – well, I always am, just more so at the moment. I find myself opting for lightly-sweetened bready goods over dessert come winter. Popping a slice of challah into the toaster and catching it a few minutes later at that caramelised but aaaaaalmost burnt stage, and slathering it in peanut butter is my post-uni snack of choice.
This loaf is cloud-like in texture and shape! Just look at those little slices – they seem as if they’re about to drift away…. (directly into my mouth..). That’s the bonus you get when you make a plaited loaf – it can seem a bit daunting to do, but if you eff it up you can always squish the dough back into one big ball and start again. The squishing of the dough is especially cathartic if, like me, you get stressed out by things like plaiting challah or decorating cakes. So squish away! The bread dough will be no worse off, you might just need to let it sit for a bit before trying again as working the dough tightens the gluten up which makes it harder to shape. My biggest tip is to just watch a bunch of youtube videos on how to shape a challah plait and you’ll be a pro in no time. If you’re really not committed to the 6-stranded plait, just bash out a wicked 3-stranded plait and boom, ur done.
From what I’ve seen/read, challah is usually made without dairy (so no butter or milk) but I also managed to wangle my way out of using eggs. I incorporated my favourite method for making fluffy breads – the tang zhong – where you heat a mix of water and flour until you get something like veeeery thick wallpaper paste. This is cooled and incorporated into the normal dough recipe. It seems to work super duper well at keeping bread ethereally light even when there’s no eggs and/or I use wholemeal flour – I’ve used it before in my hot cross bun loaf.
An added extra that I used in this recipe is gram flour which I’m preeeetty obsessed with – it’s made of ground chickpeas and thus is high in protein and fibre. It has a soft yellow colour and I’ve used it in a vegan scrambled egg replacement at a brunch pop-up I did in May in Leeds – it kind if coagulates into a silken-tofu like block when cooked and cooled as you would polenta. Anywho, I chucked some of that into the loaf for a slightly more yellow colour (mimicking egg yolks) – I have tested the recipe using extra wholemeal flour instead of the gram flour though and it was just as tasty, but slightly paler in colour.
One last thing – I shaped my challah into one very long plait but as this is a 500g (of flour) loaf, the dough can be divided into two so you can make 2 smaller, cuter loaves.
- 100g (1/3 cup + 1 tbsp + 1 tsp) lukewarm water
- 2 tsp fast action dried yeast
- 100g (3/4 cup + 1 tbsp) strong white flour
- 20g (2½ tbsp) strong white flour
- 50g (1/4 cup) water
- all of the sponge
- all of the paste
- 50g (1/4 cup) rapeseed oil, plus a little more for the bowl
- 150g lukewarm water
- 85g granulated sugar or demerara sugar
- 150g strong white flour
- 200g strong wholemeal (wholewheat) flour
- 30g gram (chickpea) flour (a.k.a. besan)
- OR an extra 30g strong wholemeal flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 100g dark chocolate chips
- Mix the water and yeast in a medium bowl until dissolved. Stir in the flour, cover with a clean towel or piece of clingfilm and set aside for an hour in a warm place.
- Combine the water and flour in a small pot over a medium heat. Stir constantly until you get a very thick paste - around 3-5 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool completely.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, combine the sponge, paste, oil, water and sugar. Mix on a low speed for a few minutes to start breaking up the paste.
- Add the flours and salt and mix on a medium speed for 10 minutes until smooth and slightly tacky. Remove the bowl from the mixer, lift the dough up and pour a little extra oil into the bowl. Turn the dough in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or piece of clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours until more than doubled in volume.
- Place the paste into a large bowl. Gradually stir in the sponge until relatively smooth. Mix in the oil, water and sugar until combined. Add the wholemeal flour, chickpea flour and salt (but not the white flour) and mix to make a wet dough.
- Dust a clean work surface with some of the strong white flour, tip the dough out onto it, and dust the dough with some of the strong white flour too. Knead the dough, gradually adding in the remaining strong white flour until it is all incorporated and you have a smooth dough. If it isn't quite smooth and is still quite sticky, rub some rapeseed oil onto your hands and over your work surface. Continue to knead on the oiled surface until smooth.
- Pour a little extra oil into the bowl you were using. Turn the dough in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or piece of clingfilm and leave in a warm place for 1.5 to 2 hours until more than doubled in volume.
- Pour the chocolate chips over the risen dough in the bowl. Knock down the dough as you knead the chocolate chips in by hand in the bowl. Once mixed, divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal balls and dust with flour. Roll each ball out into a snake about 40cm long. Pinch the ends of each snake together and plait together (I just watched youtube videos of people plaiting 6 stranded challah to see how to do it). At the end of the plait, pinch the ends together and tuck the top and bottom end of the plait under the loaf. Lift the plait up and onto a baking tray which is either brushed with oil or lined with a non-stick baking mat. Cover the loaf with a piece of oiled clingfilm and leave in warm place to rise for 30-40 minutes until almost doubled in volume.
- Preheat the oven to 180 C (350 F). Once the loaf has risen, remove the clingfilm. Brush the loaf with non-dairy milk (see notes) and bake for 30-40 minutes - it'll be done when it's dark-golden and the whole kitchen smells INCREDIBLE. Leave to cool before slicing and eating. The next day, the loaf is best sliced, toasted and eaten with nut butter/butter/jam OR turned into French toast!
- if needed, ensure the chocolate chips you're using are certified vegan as sometimes dark chocolate can still contain dairy. If you can't find vegan chocolate chips, just chop up a bar of vegan-friendly dark chocolate into small chunks.
- I egg washed the loaf in the pictures. Of course this is more of an aesthetic thing than a something you 'have' to do.
- you can swap in 100g of raisins instead of the chocolate chips for a different flavour