One day, I reached into the fridge to get eggs to add to the challah dough and there were none. That's when I discovered there was such a thing as water challah, or challah made without eggs.
Approximately half a decade later, the same thing happened. NBD, I dragged out the water challah recipe I'd used last time. That Shabbat my sister and brother-in-law happened to be over for dinner. My sister bites into the challah and says: The challah is extra good this week, what did you differently?!
Yep, this water challah inadvertently passed the gold-standard, double-blind vegan taste test (subject has no idea recipe is vegan; subject spontaneously compares recipe favorably with non-vegan version). It is ethereally soft, beautifully billowed, and tastes just like rich challah dough should. In lieu of egg wash, this challah gets its golden crust from a brushing of non-dairy milk mixed with a glug of maple syrup.
It can be a little harder to tell when a water challah is ready to be pulled out of the oven, because it's not brushed with egg wash that browns up. If in doubt, stick an instant-read thermometer in the thickest part of your challah and look for a temp over 170F / 75C. As you can see, at 35 minutes my challah looks a bit pale where the braids meet, but it's completely baked at over 200F / 90C (and got favorable reviews from my stable of zero-BS taste-testers, otherwise known as my kids).\
For more details on the challah-making process, including shaping the challah, see my Perfect Challah post. As with the master recipe, this vegan challah does not use enough flour to qualify for the mitzvah of separating challah, but you can double the recipe if you'd like to perform the mitzvah. You'll have enough to separate challah, but depending on how you hold, may or may not have enough flour/dough to make the bracha.
Soft Vegan Challah (Water Challah)
- Stand mixer fitted with a dough hook
- ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 1 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 Tbsp neutral-flavored oil - I use avocado
- 1 ½ tsp kosher salt
For the wash:
- ¼ cup non-dairy milk - I use almond
- 1 Tbsp maple syrup
Activate the yeast:
- Add the sugar to the stand mixer bowl. Pour the warm water over it and stir; the sugar won't dissolve completely. Add the yeast and set aside for 5 minutes to get foamy.
Mix the dough and leave to rise:
- When the yeast is foamy, add the flour, oil, and salt to the stand mixer bowl. Mix with the dough hook on the lowest setting until the dough comes together, 5 minutes or so.
- Once the dough forms a ball, you can increase the speed to the next setting and knead the dough for another 5 minutes or so. The dough will be elastic and silky, softer and a bit stickier than challah dough made with eggs.
- Carefully lift out the ball of dough, gently shaping into a ball. Mist the mixer bowl with oil, place the ball of dough back inside, and mist the top of the dough with a little more oil. Cover the mixer bowl and leave in a warm place to rise for about 2 hours---I like to place it inside my (turned off) oven.
Shape and bake:
- After 2 hours, your dough will have risen substantially, and it will deflate a lot when you handle it, so not to worry. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Using a bench knife or other large knife, divide the dough in half. Next, divide each half into even thirds (for a three-stranded braid).
- Working with three balls of dough at a time, roll out each ball, using your hands, into a snake, about 1" / 2.5cm in diameter and 16" / 40cm long and tapered at the ends.
- Arrange the three snakes side by side and squish together the tapered ends farthest from you. Form the braid by first crossing the right-hand strand over the center strand, then the left-hand strand over the center strand. You'll continue with whichever strand is on the right, then left again, until you reach the end of the dough. Squish the ends together, tuck both both ends of the challah under the loaf, and place on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat or parchment paper.
- Repeat with the remaining three balls of dough, shaping a second challah, and place it on the same baking sheet to the side of the first loaf. Cover the loaves with a dish towel, then preheat your oven to 350°F / 180°C. Leave the covered challahs to rise a second time while the oven heats up, 20-30 minutes.
- Before baking, whisk together the non-dairy milk and maple syrup in a small bowl. With a pastry brush, brush thoroughly over the challahs. Bake for 35 minutes, until slightly browned.