Makes 2 really big loaves
Total time: 3 hours || Active time: 45 minutes
In some ways, Jewish cuisine is the ultimate comfort food. Even the words can be comfort to my ears; matzoh, babka, cholent. Ahhhh. On the other hand, vegans aren’t exactly clamoring for gefilte fish recipes. But no one will argue with a bowl of matzoh ball soup or some fresh baked challah. I know I wouldn’t!
As a vegan, you get a lot of questions. And most of them I like to answer. Except two. The first being: if you were stuck on a desert island with only a cow, blah blah blah. And the second. Grrr, the second!
“What foods do you miss?”
Nails on a chalkboard! I guess, my main gripe, is that it is so besides the point. Let’s talk about all of the wonderful things we do eat. Sacrifice has never entered the equation for me. In fact, I even have a little rule for myself; if I ever feel like I’m missing something so greatly I can’t stand it, I can go ahead and eat it. And guess what? I’ve never had to use it!
I think there are two reasons. Firstly, being vegan isn’t a diet. Not for me. It’s my belief system. And unless some day I decide that it’s okay to eat my cat, I won’t be eating animals any time soon.
Secondly, let’s have some perspective. Even a vegan in the most rural area of America has about a million more choices than a huge majority of earth’s population. And I don’t mean to get all global about it, but damn I’m a vegan and a Jew and that’s what we do.
So there really isn’t much that I “miss.” I mean, yes, I wish life was more convenient on the road. I wish that I had a gazillion vegan ice cream parlors on my block. (I also wish that Bobby Flay would bring me breakfast in bed every morning.) However, I can’t really say I miss any of that.
But [dramatic blogger pause]
I miss challah.
I miss challah so bad. I’m only human! But it isn’t any old challah, it’s the kind I grew up with. Not fresh baked at home, but from any number of the Jewish bakeries deep in the heart of Brooklyn. My family were not the types to make their own, and why should we; does anyone make better challah than Leon’s Bake Shop in Marine Park? Lines were long, cookies were by the pound, everything was tied together with a humble string in a humble box, because what counted was inside.
And the challah. Oh, the challah!
So fluffy and doughy. So cuddly and perfect that it even looks like a hug. Fun to say, fun to eat and such an inviting golden amber with that gorgeous yolky yellow poking through.
But honestly, even if Leon’s weren’t long gone, I’d still want to create my own vegan version. And this one satisfies every nook and cranny of my memory. The original idea to use bananas was actually from an old user-submitted recipe on the website, but it’s undergone a million alterations in the past decade or so. The end result is..challah! Crusty and toasty on the outside, buttery and soft inside, and, yes, that beautiful yolky yellow.
What gives this challah its, uh, challyness, is a few factors. For the color, a little turmeric does the trick. Don’t worry, you can’t taste it! Coconut oil is the magic that brings butteriness. And bananas add a slight sweetness, as well as standing in for the leavening of the eggs, producing a beautiful puffy loaf. It’s a modern miracle!
I hope you’ll give these loaves a shot! They’re definitely a bit of work for a special occasion, but they are so very worth it, whether you grew up with challah or not. Shana tova, everyone!
~ The bananas don’t taste make the challah taste banana-y exactly. They’re really just replacing the eggs for texture. I don’t know why bananas work…but they do. Make sure yours are nice and over-ripe, with plenty of black spots.
~ Making a braid isn’t hard, but definitely youtube “3-strand challah braid” if that part scares you. I know, it’s so lazy for me to tell you to look it up. But really, a video is going to help more than my writing will. I also made this silly little video on Instagram, which is probably not helpful at all.
~ Instead of egg wash, we’re glazing the bread with a mix of maple syrup and non-dairy milk. It’s a little tip I picked up from the fabulous cookbook Voluptuous Vegan. It doesn’t get quite as shiny as an egg wash, but it gets the job done.
~ This works well in a large stand mixer, if you’d prefer!
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 cup refined coconut oil
1/2 cup sugar
1/3 cup warm water
1 additional tablespoon sugar
2 1/2 tablespoons dry active yeast
2 very overripe bananas
7 cups all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup
2 tablespoons plain non-dairy milk (I used almond)
2 teaspoons poppy seeds
Add water and turmeric to a small sauce pot. Bring to a boil. Keep an eye so that it doesn’t boil too long and evaporate. Immediately turn off the heat. Add the coconut oil and 1/2 cup sugar to the pot, and stir to melt coconut oil. You want the mixture to cool so that it isn’t hot to the touch, but is still warm. So let it sit while you work on the rest of the recipe.
In a very large mixing bowl, mix together the warm water and 1 tablespoon sugar. Sprinkle in the yeast and set aside to get all yeasty. Note: make sure that the mixing bowl is large enough to hold all of the flour and additional ingredients for this recipe, because this is where you’ll be mixing everything.
In a separate bowl, mash the bananas very well, until they appear pureed. The coconut oil mixture should be cooled enough now, so proceed with the recipe.
Add the mashed banana to the yeast bowl, along with the coconut oil mixture. Give a stir just to combine. Begin adding the flour a cup at a time, adding the salt along with the first cup. Mix after each addition, and begin to knead with your hands when a dough starts to form. Once all 7 cups have been added, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter, and begin to knead like crazy for 10 minutes or so, or until dough is nice and smooth. Add up to another 1/2 cup of flour as needed, until the dough is no longer tacky. Form dough into a ball.
Clean the mixing bowl, and lightly grease it with some canola oil. Add the ball of dough, spinning it into the bowl to get it lightly coated in oil. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel, and set aside to rise for about an hour and a half. It should double in size.
Grease two baking sheets and set them aside. Also, make sure you have plenty of space for rolling out the ropes to create the braids.
When dough has doubled, punch it down, knead lightly and divide in half. Take one half and divide it into thirds. Roll each third into a long rope, 18 inches or so.
Now place the three ropes on the baking sheet the long way, and…braid! Pinch the ends together to form butts.
Ok, now create the second loaf in the same way. Let the loaves rise for about 30 minutes. They should get nice and puffy. No need to cover them for this part.
When loaves have risen, preheat oven to 375 F. Mix together maple syrup and milk in a small container. Brush loaves with the mixture and sprinkle with poppyseeds.
Bake breads on separate racks for about 40 minutes, rotating the pans between racks halfway through. Bread should be browned and golden outside. If you tap them, they should sound hollow.
Let cool for a bit, maybe 30 minutes or so, and then they are ready to slice and serve! I love them warm and doughy like that.
If not using immediately, wrap well in plastic and keep stored at room temperature for up to 2 days.