Challah… traditional tasting, vegan made.
From around the mid-’90s to ‘03, this is how I spent my summertimes:
I lived nestled in the backwoods of Plymouth, MA in a little one-room cabin on the edge of a deep, beautifully clear pond. Most years, June rained days and days without end, hanging a constant grey across the sky and pitter-pattering droplets endlessly on the cold pond. The newly-leafed spring branches drank up their fill to prepare for the sunny days of July and August. I would bundle in layers of blankets and fall asleep in the darkness to the song of the rain. That sound of the rain on Long Pond is still one of the dearest to my ears.
And then, just when we couldn’t take another day of rain, June would end. The sun would come out, the melacholy-tinged mood would lift and the pond would warm to perfect night swimming temperatures. The pine trees dropped soft needles on the forest floor and once the summer warmth came I’d run around barefoot over moss and mulch or spend long afternoons dangling my feet from the dock strumming my guitar.
(Long Pond photo by Jeremy Morrison)
In the middle of those Pinewoods years a some-times attendee at the dance and music retreat, author Jane Hamilton, published her book “Disobedience” which described my summer home as “a place that seemed to have fallen out of time”. In the book she called it Silverpines, but those of us who were familiar with the magical place knew where she was describing:
The camp was in an old-growth pine forest on a spit of land between two very deep and very clear lakes. There were small cabins among the trees, a carpet of last year’s needles underfoot, needles that had softened in the rain. All day and much of the night music drifted through the trees, and although I did not admit to listening, I actually thought that, in a way, there was nothing quite like the quaint melodies, the two violins, an oboe, weaving in and out of my mother’s rhapsodic interpretations of the old tunes. Now and then it made me wish I’d been born in a quieter era, if there was such a thing.
(fairy house photos courtesy of the facebook group “Pinewoods Camp”)
Now that Bad*ss Bassman, the girls and I are mostly settled into our new house, I’ve been getting back to bread-making. There’s nothing like rolling 15 or 20 loaves everyday for lunch (and sometimes helping the dinner cook with her batch as well) for a few summers in a row to get you pretty good at bread-baking.
The thing is, to really understand bread you just have to dive right in. Ideally you have someone who can show you the gluten as it develops, “window-paning”, and rolling loaves, but even without a home mentor, you can get a very good loaf. Folks have been doing this for thousands of years. I think we have bread-making written in our genetic code.
Without more delay… on to the bread!
(Wait, didn’t I tell you? Bad*ss Bassman, the girls and I moved into a sweet new home. It’s a little pink and blue cottage, with a magical birdsnest room upstairs for the girls, an old griddle-in-the-middle Wedgewood oven, an orange tree, a fireplace and plenty of room for a garden.)
Okay, now, without more delay!
This is a traditional Jewish egg-bread, but of course this version is veganized. I grew up eating Challah almost every Friday night, and if we didn’t finish it all we’d get French Toast the next morning. This makes very good French Toast…. if you have any left over. Or, dare I suggest, Bread Pudding??? More on that another day…
This makes 3 loaves. As long as you’re going through the trouble to make it, may as well have one for Friday night, one for the aforementioned yummies, and one to give away to your new neighbors.
1 3/4 Cups water (lukewarm - test it against your wrist)
1 1/2 Tbls instant yeast
1 Cup + 2 Tbls unsweetened soymilk - [I use Westsoy from Trader Joes]
1/2 Cup agave syrup
1/2 C Earth Balance butter (melted and slightly cooled) - [available at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, etc]
1 1/2 Tsp sea salt
5 Cups all-purpose or bread flour - [I love King Arthur flours]
2 Cups whole wheat flour
1/4 Cup poppy seeds (optional)
Proof the yeast: In a large mixing bowl, mix the yeast in with the water. Let it sit for a few minutes.
Prep the “egg”: In a small bowl, mix 1 C of soymilk with the Egg Replacer. Let sit for a few minutes.
Meanwhile, combine both flours and salt in a bowl.
Add “egg”, melted butter and agave to yeast mixture. Stir till well combined. Add flour and mix till well combined. Knead dough with hands or dough hooks (I use dough hooks on my KitchenAid mixer) until the dough is smooth and feels stretchy when you tear it apart.
Coat the ball of dough with olive oil and let rise in a bowl covered with a damp cloth or plastic wrap. I put mine in a warm corner of the kitchen. let rise till doubled in size, then punch it down. At this point you can shape it or let it rise in the bowl another time.
To shape, divide the dough into 3 equal parts for the 3 loaves. Then, divide each loaf into 3 equal parts for braiding. Stretch each of the 3 braiding strands into snakes* (*the little one helped me with the braiding and she knew exactly what to do) and braid. Tuck each end under the loaf.
Set each loaf to rise one last time on a parchment-covered cookie sheet and cover with a damp cloth or plastic wrap till it is doubled in size. Pre-heat the oven to 400°F. When the loaves have doubled, brush with the remaining soymilk and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Place loaves in the oven and lower the temperature to 350°F.
Bake for approximately 40-60 minutes ~ check after 40 min for browning. And you know the knock-on-the-bottom trick, right? When you think it’s done, flip it over (hot!) and knock the bottom. If it sounds hollow, get that puppy out!
Enjoy! I love hearing when folks try out these recipes. If you do this one, let me know how it turns out!