I used to be afraid of baking, especially bread baking. I distanced myself from any recipe that required yeast or kneading. The idea that baking is a science, only accessible to those with the innate ability to understand that science and its nuances, discouraged me. I was never very good at science. But as someone who loves Jewish food, I knew I wanted to learn how to make homemade challah. The moment after I made my first challah I wondered: “What took me so long?”
Once I got into challah-baking I couldn’t stop. To my surprise, challah isn’t all that hard to make, the dough is very forgiving, and it comes together relatively quickly. There’s no three-day proofing required. I tried countless recipes and decided I needed to develop one that would make my own ideal loaf. I like my challah with a little chew, not too yeast-flavored, not too sweet. Once I got a basic recipe down, it was easy to start playing around with flavors and ingredients.
During the High Holidays, when entertaining and round challahs abound, this recipe offers a celebratory animal-friendly offering. I love being able to make dishes that any guest at my table can eat, and it’s great to have an option for folks with plant-based diets. Vegan challah is as easy to make as egg-based challah, and tastes just as good. In these loaves, the maple replaces honey, and the fig and rosemary bring extra sweetness and fall flavor into the mix. If you’re not feeling fig and rosemary, you can easily skip out on either or both and still make a delicious vegan loaf.
If you’ve ever been curious about baking challah, Rosh Hashanah is a great time to give it a go. I can safely predict that your friends and family will be very happy you did.
Vegan Maple Fig Rosemary Challah
Makes 2 loaves
2 cups warm water (between 105°F-110°F, warm but not too hot to the touch)
4½ teaspoons (2 packets) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
⅓ cup oil (olive, canola, sunflower)
¼ cup maple syrup (Grade B or Grade A dark amber)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Egg replacer mixture (see below)
7½ cups (1185 g) bread flour, plus more for dusting and as needed
⅓ cup fig preserves or jam
⅓ cup roughly chopped rosemary, plus more for garnish
½ cup warm water
½ cup oil
2 tablespoons aluminum free baking powder
Vegan egg wash:
¼ cup unsweetened almond or soy milk
1 tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons maple syrup
Start by adding the yeast and sugar to warm water. Stir, and then allow the yeast to activate for 5 minutes or until it looks thick and foamy at the top. If your yeast remains in clumps then it is not properly activated.
In a small bowl combine the oil, maple syrup, and salt. Reserve.
In a separate small bowl, make the egg replacer mixture by combining the water, oil, and baking powder. The baking powder will cause the mixture to fizz.
Once the yeast is activated, add the flour to a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the maple syrup mixture and the egg replacer mixture to the well. Add the activated yeast with warm water to the well. Begin to combine everything together; it is easiest to use your hands. Once the mixture forms a ball, begin to knead the dough.
Knead until the dough is mostly smooth and elastic, and doesn’t stick to your hands, about 5-7 minutes (and if it’s not perfectly smooth, don’t worry, it will still work out). If you find the dough is too sticky, add flour a few tablespoons at a time until the dough doesn’t excessively stick to your hands as you knead. The amount of flour that is needed can often depend on the weather, temperature, and the brand of flour.
Lightly grease a large bowl with oil, and then place the dough in the greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp clean kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm (not drafty) part of the kitchen for at least 1 hour or until the dough has about doubled in size. The rate at which the dough rises will depend on the temperature of the kitchen.
After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Lightly dust your work surface with flour, and transfer the dough onto it. Divide the dough into two. Transfer half the dough back to the bowl and cover while you’re braiding the first round of challah. For the High Holidays it’s traditional to make round challahs, but the shape and number of strands is up to you. I like to do a 4-strand round challah, and this demo video from Challah Hub is very helpful!
Divide the dough into 4 evenish-sized pieces, and form and roll each piece out so that it is about 12”-14” long. Take one piece and flatten it out a little so that it is a long rectangular shape. Spread 2 teaspoons of the fig preserves in an even thin layer over the dough. Sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of chopped rosemary. Press the sides together to seal the fig and rosemary inside the dough. It can be a little messy or imperfect. Finally, roll the sealed dough into a rope shape. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.
Braid the challah into a round. Place the challah on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with a very lightly damp towel. Repeat the braiding process for the second half of the dough. Allow the covered braided loaves to rise for another 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350°F.
In a small dish, combine the almond milk, maple syrup, and oil. Brush each loaf of challah with the wash. Bake the challah loaves for 30-40 minutes, or until the challah is a deep golden brown—exact timing will depend on the size of your challah and your oven. Once baked and still hot, brush a second time with the wash mixture. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool.
Extra challah can be frozen, defrosted, and reheated.