Soft, fluffy, tender, and delicious, this beautiful Vegan Challah is easy to make even if you’ve never baked bread. Jews and non-Jews will enjoy baking and eating this amazing bread that represents a spiritual tradition, part of a rich and vibrant culture, people, and history.
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Hey Internet, I’ve had this recipe under my belt for a while--a recipe for vegan challah. It’s actually very easy to make, but I wanted it to be perfect.
I meant to release it last month, but life got in the way and we didn’t get a chance to photograph it until this past weekend. So here it is, finally!
This challah recipe is simple, vegan, and anyone can make it. Really, don’t be intimidated by the braiding! You actually don’t even need to braid it, but that’s seriously one of the most fun parts of making challah in my opinion.
I have fond memories of making challah with my mom or with the other kids in schul, which is Yiddish for Jewish sunday school. I always made it with egg, so when I went vegan I assumed that was just something I couldn’t have anymore.
For the first year or two after I went vegan, I turned down challah at every Shabbat (sabbath) service I went to, disappointed that I couldn’t consume the eggy bread.
But when I started baking, I wondered. Since I can use flaxseeds to replace the eggs in cake and muffins, can I use it in bread too?
The answer is YES! While the challah won’t be yellow because of egg yolks (if you miss the color and flavor, add a pinch of black salt and turmeric), it is ridiculously fluffy, tender, soft, and still totally delicious.
This challah is perfect to make on a Friday morning or early afternoon. And if you observe Shabbat, you’ll be ready well before sundown, and can enjoy soft challah all throughout the sabbath.
But if you’re not Jewish, Challah can be enjoyed any time of the week. Use it in vegan french toast, vegan grilled cheese, as sandwich bread, avocado toast, or honestly it’s just really good on it’s own.
Challah is a little sweet, super fancy, and totally customizable. Make chocolate challah, cinnamon challah, apple challah (fold diced, cooked apples into your strands!), garlic challah… the list doesn’t end!
With so many delicious options, you’ll want to add challah to your part of your weekly meal prep so you always have tasty bread that YOU know what went into and made all by yourself!
That being said, making challah is a wonderful way to teach your kids about baking and they’ll love designing their own loaves.
Alright, let’s get started. I’m going to try and address every question I can think of so you’ll know exactly what to do.
What You’ll Need
Note that this recipe makes 2 large challah (or challot is technically the plural), but it can be easily halved if you only want to make one.
This recipe uses regular unbleached all purpose flour. Please see the substitutions section if you’d like to use another flour.
This is also a yeasted bread, so you’ll need active dry yeast for this recipe. If you’ve made sourdough before, you could definitely use a starter if you’d like (though the flavor will be different, of course).
To activate the yeast, we’ll just need a touch of cane sugar (I use organic cane sugar since I’m vegan) and warm but not hot water.
Challah is a slightly sweet bread (we toast with challah to a sweet end of our week and new upcoming week), and generally calls for honey in the dough. Since this is a vegan recipe, we’ll use maple syrup instead.
Good quality maple syrup does not taste super maple-y like that stuff from the breakfast aisle generally tastes. I recommend using a Grade A organic maple syrup. I particularly like the ones from Thrive Market or Costco.
You’ll also need some salt, a little more warm water, and a few flax eggs for this recipe. To make a flax egg, simply mix one tablespoon of ground flaxseed with 3 tablespoons of water. Mix it and let it sit until the mixture becomes a gel consistency.
What Substitutions Can I Make?
This recipe uses unbleached all purpose flour, but if you’d like to use another kind you definitely can. Whole wheat flour will work, but you may end up needing more warm water, as whole wheat tends to suck up moisture more than all purpose flour.
Only have bread flour? No problem. Just be prepared that your bread will be a bit more tough. To condition it and make the bread a bit softer, try mixing in some coconut cream or a little oil if you’re cool with that.
I fully intend on trying to make a gluten-free vegan challah at some point, but have not tested it. If I were to try it, I’d probably use King Arthur Measure for Measure Gluten-Free Flour or Bob’s Red Mill 1 to 1 Gluten-Free Flour (both great products), and maybe some extra xanthan gum.
You can substitute the maple syrup in this recipe with agave syrup--that would work fine. Don’t replace it with a dry sweetener, though.
Useful Equipment for Making Challah
You don’t need much more than a bowl, a rolling pin (an empty glass wine bottle will work in a pinch), a work surface, and an oven to make challah. This is all we had back in the olden days.
But to make challah more successful and more efficiently, I’ve found a few items that make the process of challah baking so much easier and enjoyable.
Perhaps the most useful item is a food scale. Between measuring your flour correctly and weighing the dough each time you cut it to keep things neat and even, a simple food scale with a tare function is your best friend. I believe mine cost $12 and is one of my favorite baking tools.
You don’t need a fancy Kitchenaid mixer if that’s out of your price range, but even a less expensive stand mixer that comes with a dough hook attachment will make your dough mixing much faster and easier. Additionally it comes in handy when making any type of dough, batter, frosting, or vegan whipped cream.
A dough scraper makes slicing your dough quick and easy. It’s also not sharp enough to damage your table or work surface. Scrapers are also useful when making other types of bread they may be more wet and hard to work with during the shaping and kneading process.
I have a few of these -- plastic, metal… most from my mom. She used to bake a lot so she had all these neat little tools to give me when I started baking.
If you’d like to make a vegan egg wash to make your challah top golden brown and shiny, you’ll need a basting brush to evenly distribute the wash. I use my basting brush all the time when making marinades, so it’s a useful kitchen implement that’s cheap and doesn’t take up much space in the drawer.
How to Properly Measure Flour
We want to measure our flour by weight, not by volume. When you scoop flour out of a bag or tin with a measuring cup, you're packing it in there and not necessarily getting the same amount each time.
What's better is to use a food scale with a tare function (allowing you to zero out the scale after you've put the bowl on it so your bowl isn't playing a factor in your equation).
Working in grams, put your bowl on the scale and zero it out. Scoop the flour into the bowl until you reach the desired measurement.
Make the Dough
Now that we’ve properly measured our flour let’s assemble the rest of the ingredients and make the dough.
Make your flax eggs by adding 1 part ground flaxseed to 3 parts water. Let it sit in the fridge for a few minutes or on the counter a little longer, about 10 minutes, to gel.
Now let’s activate the yeast with our sugar and some warm water.
When I tell you to use warm water, I mean warm, not hot, and not room temperature or cold. It should feel warm on your skin, but not hurt or be uncomfortable in any way.
Hot water will kill your yeast, so we just want to use a nice gentle warmth to activate it and work with the dough. If you’re worried, use a thermometer to gauge water temperature and shoot for 110-115 degrees Fahrenheit (43-46 degrees Celsius).
Anyway, mix a quarter cup of the warm water with the organic cane sugar and active dry yeast in a small bowl or measuring cup. Use a whisk or fork to mix it well, and let it sit for about 10 minutes.
While your yeast is activating, add your flax eggs, maple syrup, warm water, and salt to your mixing bowl. Mix it gently, and then add the activated--foamy--yeast mixture to the bowl. Mix it again.
Note: You can mix this dough by hand--use a strong wooden spoon--but it’s WAY easier to just use a stand mixer if you have one. If you like to bake or at least want to start making your own bread, I highly recommend the purchase of a stand mixer that has a dough hook attachment.
Start your mixer on a low speed with the paddle attachment installed. Add the flour a half cup at a time. You may need to stop and scrape down the sides a few times with a silicone spatula.
When the mixture becomes too hard to mix (your machine may stall or the dough doesn’t seem to move), you should switch to your dough hook attachment. If doing this by hand, you may want to switch to just your hands to mix and knead the dough.
I ended up using ABOUT 5.5 cups of flour, but it can vary.
Pay attention to the texture of your dough. If it is too dry and crumbly, add a touch more warm water--just a tablespoon at a time. If your dough is too wet, add a tablespoon or two of flour and continue to knead.
Note: Start a small pot of water to boil right now. This will help with keeping the dough moist (and therefore make soft bread) while it rises.
I kneaded my dough at a 4 or 5 on my mixer for just a few minutes, until the dough no longer stuck to the sides of my bowl (it kind of wraps itself around the hook) and it was moist but not too sticky to the touch.
The First Rise
Now, grease a large bowl (should be large enough for more than twice the size of your dough) with coconut cream or oil. Turn out your dough into the bowl and flip it once so that both sides are lightly coated.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel and place it somewhere warm to rise. I like to put it in my oven with the oven light on.
To keep things extra moist, I like to place the pot of freshly boiled water I mentioned earlier right below the bowl of dough. So in the oven: the top rack is your dough, covered, and the pot of water below it.
Close the door and set a timer for 1 hour.
The Second Rise
To allow the gluten to develop, we’re going to rise our dough twice. I know, this is a lot of time, but go read a book, or exercise, or clean the house, or play Animal Crossing (nevermind about that).
Take your bowl out of the oven. The dough will have more than doubled in size. It always surprises me and I always laugh.
Reboil your water. I promise it’s worth the effort.
Punch down the dough a few times, reshape into a ball, cover once again. Place it back in the oven, the same way you had it, with the boiling water below and the oven light on.
Set the timer for another hour.
After the time is up, remove the dough from the oven and punch it down again. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.
Making the Strands
Cut your dough into two equal pieces. I like to use my scale again for this… so if I have total dough that’s, say, 1000 grams, I want each piece to be 500g.
Take the piece you aren’t using, put it back in the bowl, and cover it with a cloth but do not put it back in the oven. We’re not letting it rise again right now--only keeping it from drying out while we work with the other half.
Now that you have your half, cut that into the number of strands you want. I love the look of a 4-strand challah. It’s beautiful but just as easy to do as a 3-braid and looks much more impressive.
When you cut, repeat the process above of weighing each piece. So if I have a 500g ball of dough, and I want 4 strands, then each piece should weigh 125g.
My measurements come out differently depending on how much flour and moisture I add. Sometimes room temperature and humidity can play a factor as well… so make sure you weigh these out every time you make challah.
Now take one of those four pieces. We’re going to make the first strand.
On your work surface, knead the ball gently with your hand for just 30 seconds to work out any air bubbles. Now use a rolling pin to roll out the dough until it’s about ¼ inch thick.
Along the longest side, roll up the dough so it’s a strand shape. You’ll see a little seam on one side--close this seam so it doesn’t come unrolled when we’re shaping the strand.
To close the seam, I like to use a tiny bit of water on my fingers to pinch the seam and “erase it” from the dough. If you add too much water, add a little flour and work it gently to compensate. I like to keep a small bowl of water near me when working for this reason.
Challah dough is rather forgiving, but you don’t want to overwork it since the finished bread is supposed to be soft and fluffy.
Now with the palms of your hands, begin rolling the strand out, lengthening it. Start in the middle and work your way out rolling as you move your hands out.
It’s OK if your strands are thicker in the middle than on the ends. Actually, it’s preferable, as that’s what gives challah its beautiful shape.
Repeat this process with each of your strands. Don’t touch your other ball yet--let’s leave that until we let the braided challah rise for the final time before baking.
Braiding the Challah
This section is about braiding a four-strand challah. There are very helpful videos on YouTube for other types of braids.
Note: Lay your strands on top of parchment paper. It will be much easier to transfer the challah at that point.
Take your four strands and line them up no more than an inch apart on your board. If they’re not all the same length, attempt to make them the same length now by rolling out any overly thick sections.
Start your braid by pinching the four strands together at one end of your challah. You might need a little more water to blend the seam together and enable them to hold. I did, but I just dipped my fingers back in the water for this process.
Now starting with the right-most strand, bring it over the strand directly to its left, then under the next one, and then over the last one.
Repeat that process until you get to the bottom. Keep taking the right strand and weaving it over-under-over.
When you get to the very bottom and you can’t weave the strands anymore, pinch them together like you did the top. Again, you may need a dab of water to accomplish this.
Move the braided challah to your lined baking tray. If you braided your challah on top of parchment paper, just slide the whole paper onto your baking tray. If not, grab someone to help and carefully transfer it with your hands.
Rise the Braided Challah and Prepare for Baking
Now we are going to let that rise on the counter for 45 minutes. The challah will get much puffier and fuller. I recommend setting a timer.
If you are making the full recipe, go ahead and repeat the dough cutting, strand making, and braiding with the other half of the dough.
Set that challah on another lined baking tray and set a separate timer for 45 minutes.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit (177 degrees Celsius) now.
Once the first challah has risen for 45 minutes, test it before baking. Gently poke a finger into the side--if the indentation stays, it is ready to bake. If it bounces back, let it sit another 10-15 minutes.
So now mix together the ingredients for the vegan egg wash if you’re using them. For this much challah, I used 3 tablespoons of maple syrup (agave will work) and 9 tablespoons of non-dairy milk. Make about half of that if you halved the recipe.
Bake the Challah
Brush the vegan egg wash all over the challah. Make sure to get all the crevices and the sides (no need to do the bottom).
Bake your challah in the preheated oven for about 40-45 minutes total.
I recommend removing the pan from the oven halfway through and brushing it again with vegan egg wash. This makes it nice and brown.
You’ll find that some areas look like they never got the wash during this step. That’s because the challah expands in the oven when it’s baking.
Concentrate first on brushing the sections that don’t have the wash, then brush the whole thing again. This is what makes those shiny brown knots on top of the finished challah.
Bake it until it’s a nice golden brown color. You can take a peak at the bottom--it should be nicely browned but not burnt.
If you feel it is browning too much, you may want to tent your challah for the last few minutes of the cooking process.
Take a piece of aluminum foil and crease it down the middle on the longest side. Gently place it over the challah in the oven. This protects it from browning too much while the inside cooks more.
Let the challah fully cool before attempting to slice it. You can either easily pull it apart or slice it using a serrated knife / bread knife.
How to Eat Challah
The Jewish people enjoy challah often on Friday night, blessing it before eating it--much like the grace that Christians say before a meal. We sing a Hebrew prayer called the Hamotzi, along with the Kiddush which we say over wine or grape juice.
But anyone can enjoy the soft, bready goodness of challah. You can use it as toast with jam, nut butter, or vegan butter in the morning if you like.
It also makes great sandwich bread. I love to eat it as avocado toast, with a little Everything but the Bagel seasoning and maybe some sauerkraut (don’t knock it till you’ve tried it!).
You can also use the challah to make grilled cheese, or even french toast (recipe coming soon)!
Getting into Vegan Baking?
I have fallen in love with baking over the past two years, and though I am not good at baking everything yet, I am learning!
I found that the idea of baking challah was way harder than actually baking it. Now I love prepping a challah on Friday mornings.
Here are some of my other popular vegan recipes for baked goods. :)
As always, I hope you love this recipe--I know I do, and Mr. Zardyplants does too.
This vegan Challah is:
- Lightly Sweet
- And perfect for impressing guests or enjoying with the family!
Let me know in the comments below if you make this recipe or tag me @Zardyplants on Instagram so I can see your beautiful recreations! If you tag me on IG, I will share your post in my stories :)
Also, one quick request: if you love how this recipe looks or tastes, please leave me a 5-star rating and a nice comment–ratings help more people find my recipes which helps me keep providing them! Thank you!