Challah Bread – gluten and dairy free

12 Nov

I have been working on making a challah bread that isn’t hard and dense like a rock for about 7 months now. 

See, I married a wonderful messianic Jewish man and that equals doing Shabbat every Friday. I have come to love everything about this time: lighting the candles, reciting blessings and prayers that have been said for centuries, singing songs in hebrew, a sip of wine, a taste of bread. The significance of it, once I got past the mental “this is so different to what I grew up with! i can’t learn hebrew!’ , has settled deep in my heart and i now cherish the time. It is the woman of the house’s ‘duty'(read:blessing)  to bake the bread, make the meal and have everything ready for the Shabbat meal and service. This includes baking the challah bread.

Now, having a Culinary background, baking bread is something i love. I love the fact that you have to be just so on the temperature of the water for the yeast; that the order in which you mix the ingredients affects the finished product; the rising time – another thing that has been done for centuries and the smell of it baking. 

That was all before gluten free. And dairy free. Now it is a whole new learning on baking. It is a frustration for me to have to work to learn what all came naturally before. And my poor OH, he came along right before I switched my eating habits so he doesn’t know i really CAN bake. sigh.

I have tried numerous recipes and flour mixes – all to end up with a dense-overdone-on-the-outside-but-undercooked-on-the-inside loaf of bread. (‘bread’ is being generous to describe these weekly mess ups).And none of them were braided loaves, as is traditional. And then, one evening in my frustration, I was talking venting to my OH and he does a google search for gluten free Challah. Pulls up a recipe and finds gold. Pamela’s bread mix (one of our favorites) has a recipe that is simple, far less ingredients than most and has a genius way of still braiding the loaf! I was slightly disgruntled at his finding so perfect a recipe but I agreed to try it the next week. 

It has been three weeks of using this recipe and this past week I think i nailed it…. mostly. I adjusted a bit of the steps and other than it kind of falling apart during baking – so it looked more like a blob than a nicely braided loaf.( But the weeks before it turned out beautiful.)  it tasted like bread! it pulled apart slightly flaky rather than like hacking off a chunk of rock (not exaggerating). I’ll give you the link to send you to the recipe and brilliance of it all and then give you  the changes I made to it.

What is so brilliant about it is that they have you divide your dough into 3 sections and put them each into a bag (i use a gallon size ziploc and cut one corner on each) to pipe-braid! See, if you , as the one reading this blog , don’t bake gluten free than you don’t know that our bread dough isn’t the same as yours. it is far too thin to roll out into strips and braid regular. This recipe is a bit thicker than most dough i have worked with, which is nice, but still too thin. 

The changes I made last week:

1/2 cup of warm water – i try to get my water to about 110 degrees. hotter than ‘warm’ as it calls for. i also add the yeast to it and let it dissolve for a bit before adding it to the dough. One recipe i have tried in the past, suggested covering the bowl with plastic wrap and putting it in the oven with the light on. to really get the ‘most’ out of the yeast, it needs to dissolve before adding.

i also mixed in the milk – i use unsweetened almond milk – with the eggs in a separate bowl from the dry ingredients. it ensures that your eggs are completely mixed in and i think it somehow helped with the lightness of the finished product. as for the eggs themselves, i can’t eat chicken eggs so i use duck eggs. when making this bread, i choose the biggest three out of the dozen and crack those. this is, after all, an egg bread. don’t think just because they are bigger, you don’t need all 3 that is called for (that was part of my problem for a long time). use them, and use the biggest ones. trust me. it helps

I don’t use white sugar anymore so i have started using honey instead. Now, my honey doesn’t stay all nice and ‘runny’ so i started putting it in the pan with the butter to ‘melt’ them at the same time. i make sure and let them cool before mixing in to the dry ingredients though, you don’t want to put hot butter in. not good. 

after mixing, pipe a braid. take your time. yes, it will break a bit as it comes out of the bag but don’t worry about it. let it rise the suggested time, 60 – 90 minutes. The last 10 or so minutes, i put a small pan of water on the shelf below it to start getting the air more humid. The last change i made was instead of baking it at 350degrees, I bumped the temp down to about 320degrees, covered it with foil and checked it about 45 minutes in. Our oven bakes hotter than it should so maybe you won’t have to lower the temperature. but i was having a problem of the inside not getting baked all the way.  

Well! i know it’s a lot of information there, but if you’ve been struggling with gf bread baking, i think these tips might help! I am hoping to sweeten the dough up once i have got the recipe all figured out, since challah bread is supposed to be a sweeter bread. 

Have a great week and let me know of any other tips and tricks of gf and dairy free baking! I am off to visit my parents for lunch =) 

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