Saturday, November 17, 2007

Gluten-Free Challah

As Gluten Free Bay recently mentioned, gluten-free challah represents somewhat of a Holy Grail for gluten-free Jews. There’s no obvious substitute for tearing apart and sharing bread with your friends and family, and that not-so-gentle reminder arrives each Friday at sundown when you hover for Shabbat prayers around a cutting board bearing a braided challah. The first time I had to sing the hamotzi over a rice cracker while everyone else ripped apart the bread, I cried.

And I’m not even Jewish. The Science Teacher is, though, and we have blessed candles, wine, and challah more or less every Friday since we started dating. Sometimes I would make the challah, other times we would buy buttery, sesame challahs from our favorite local bakery, Manghi’s, but regardless we always had bread to share. Even more than the flavor or feel of bread, I missed participating in a ritual I’d adopted. I never fully understood the cultural importance of breaking bread until I couldn’t do it.

For about six months after my diagnosis, I googled “gluten free challah” repeatedly, hoping that someone in the blogosphere had solved my problem already. Pretty soon I came across Sara Nussbaum’s recipe on the forums and references to Bette Hagman’s recipe for “New Challah” in the Gluten Free Gourmet Bakes Bread, but I was reluctant to test them. Why? For starters, I was afraid of disappointment. Challah is a specific bread that I associated with a specific taste and texture. What if it tasted like starch, a flavor I loathe? What if it crumbled or wouldn’t rip apart satisfactorily? Also, neither recipe tackled the problem of the braided loaf, a characteristic I considered aesthetically, if not symbolically, critical.

But right before Passover last year—admittedly, an ironic time to be test-driving challah recipes—I decided I couldn’t face another rice cracker Shabbat. I took out Sara’s and Bette’s recipes and decided to get baking. Neither seemed exactly right, so I decided to combine them from the start. I knew I wanted to reduce the starch in the recipes I had, and I knew the challah had to be braided and rippable.

Both Bette’s and Sara’s recipes call for a large proportion of starch. One of my gluten-free baking goals is to pare down the starch in favor of whole grain flours, so I decided to use 1 part starch to 3 parts “regular” flour. Because both Bette’s and Sara’s recipes call for the same amount of liquid (I use two cups of flour which raises to fill the pan), I decided to follow Sara’s recipe for the wet ingredients. Bette’s calls for orange juice, honey, and brown sugar, which I thought might be too sweet for my taste. I used to use oil and honey in my gluten-containing challah, so I thought those ingredients might help make the flavor closer to that of the bread I used to make.

After scouring posts looking for someone who successfully braided a gluten-free challah, I only found one person who suggested piping the dough from a plastic bag with the corner cut off. As I couldn’t figure out exactly how that might work, I decided to do the next best thing: order a braided loaf pan. My version of these recipes doesn’t call for the additional egg yolk because the top of the bread bakes on the bottom of the pan, making it impossible to do the egg wash. I do spray the pan with cooking spray and sprinkle it liberally with sesame seeds.

The result? My gluten-eating father-in-law, who has definitely sampled a large range of challahs in his lifetime, declared it a success and even used some for toast on day 2. It even tastes good untoasted the next day—I actually prefer it untoasted. And the best part? You can rip it apart with your hands.

With all of the gluten-free challah experimentation happening in ovens and being blogged about, I’ll never spend another Shabbat breaking rice crackers! Here’s my recipe. I’m working on reducing the starch even more and on creating a cholesterol free version. Last night I only used two eggs with success. Let me know how it works for you…

Gluten-Free Challah

I regularly halve this recipe successfully—since I make it each Friday and only the Science Teacher and I are eating it, I don’t want tons of leftovers in the freezer—to fill half of the braided pan.

½ cup tapioca flour
½ cup sorghum flour
½ cup brown rice flour
½ cup white rice flour
1 tsp. salt
1 tbsp. yeast
1 tbsp. xanthum gum
2 tbsp. dried milk powder or almond meal

2 tbsp. potato flakes
1 cup warm water
¼ cup oil
¼ cup honey
3 eggs

cooking spray
sesame or poppy seeds

Turn the oven to 200. Spray the pan (I use a Kaiser Bakeware Laforme Braided Loaf Pan) with cooking spray and sprinkle with your seeds of choice.

Combine all of the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Dissolve the potato flakes in the water. Add the water/potato mixture, oil, honey, and eggs to the dry ingredients. Mix on medium for 2 minutes, until the batter looks like pudding. Transfer to the baking pan. Put the pan in the oven and turn the oven off. Let the dough rise until it reaches the top of the pan, about 30-35 min.

Turn the oven to 350 and bake for 50 min. Enjoy warm or at room temperature. Freeze leftovers, if you don’t finish the loaf within 2-3 days.


Anonymous said...

This looks delicious!

madre-terra said...

I have been eating gluten-free for a while and challah has eluded me. I think I gotta try this one!

Shauna said...

Congratulations! This looks fantastic. And you certainly have the right gluten-free spirit -- experimenting with passion. Great job.

Gluten Free Steve said...

I am going to have to try this. I miss challah so much, having grown up with it. I make a killer (no pun intended!) gluten filled challah that I can no longer eat. Thanks for sharing this recipe.

~M said...

This looks great and I love that it can be made pareve (dairy-free) with almond meal. Also, thanks for the link to the braided loaf pans!

jill elise said...

I've been looking for a gf challah recipe, I've tried three other that haven't worked to my liking, I can't wait to try yours!

Unknown said...

I made my first gluten free challah tonight. I, too, need the it to be braided. Anyway, it wasn't a success but trying to make a challah made me more determined than ever to find a way to bring challah back into my life. I never was much of a bread eater, but challah was a special way to begin shabbat with my children and I miss it. SO IT WAS SO WONDERFUL TO FIND YOUR POST AND my BRAIDED CHALLAH PAN WILL BE HERE ON MONDAY. I can't wait for Friday to try the recipe! THANK YOU!

~M said...

Hi again,

I just found this pan in a local store and bought it! I can't wait to make Shabbat dinner for my family, complete with Challah. Next up I need to find a way to make cinnamon raisin challah, which used be my favorite. My mom would buy a round one, year-round, and my brother and I would give a bit of crust to my crust-loving grandparents while we scooped out the sweet, cinnamonny interior.

As I review your recipe more closely, I am so glad to see that you took out most of the starch and refined flours. I think I'm going to try using brown rice flour for all of the rice flour since I don't have white rice flour; do you think this would work? If not, I'll just substitute the 1/2 cup white rice flour with Pamela's. Also, what brand of potato flakes do you use?

Todah Rabbah (thank you very much) and Shabbat Shalom!

Anonymous said...

Nice to see positive comments on a wonderful looking recipe, but one issue which hasn't been addressed is that according to Jewish law this technically is not bread, and thus one cannot make the bracha "ha-motzi" over it.

Bread is defined as coming from one of the "five species" - wheat, spelt, barley, oats, and rye. Oat in an of itself has no gluten, but there are cross-contamination issues during harvesting.

Over 20 years ago, a rabbi in England began producing gluten-free kosher for Passover oat matzah (from exclusively oat fields). I'd like to find a gluten-free bread recipe (challah or not) on which one can make ha-motzi.

Anonymous said...

Have you tried it with a store bought gluten free flour (such as Sylvan Farms)? I got tired of having all the different flours (rice, etc.), and ended up with just the Sylvan Farms. I WANT CHALLAH!!!! Thanks!

Gluten Free In the Greens said...

Anon: It is definitely possible to make bread out of only GF oat flour if what you want is something that can be biblically defined as "bread." It won't look or taste like challah and it will be incredibly dense, but it won't fall apart either.

I'd actually recommend making a flatbread out of some oat flour, water/yogurt/milk, a little sweetener, maybe an egg, and some baking soda and salt. Sort of like an Irish soda bread. That might work for you. Good luck!

Teresa: Definitely give your flour mix a shot! I think the honey and egg actually give it the challahy flavor. I hope you try it out for Shabbat!

Unknown said...

When you rise in the warm oven, do you remove the loaf to preheat for baking or do you leave it in and simply turn the oven on? I've been playing with gf challah and this looks like a good variation!

david said...

I saw this recipe and like others thought this looks great. Mine turned out to be a disaster. I found I didn't have potato flakes so I substituted potato starch. This should not have caused my problem. When I finished the recipe, I had a batter like thick pancake batter. VERY runny for a bread. For the next I added more rice flour and finally got a bread batter. It rose in the oven a bit. When I cooked it, it came out very dense and had deflated. I reviewed the ingredients I had used before adding the rice flour and I think I followed the recipe. Any idea what I may have done wrong?

Tamara said...

Thanks for the recipe: I tried it and it came out wonderful! Thanks for sharing. The only tweak I might suggest is a pinch of salt... as is, it is a very sweet challah.

Regarding the comment by David: Potato flakes are what instant mashed potatoes are made from. Look for a brand of instant mashed potatoes whose only ingredient is "dehydrated potatoes" and there you have your flakes. Hope you try the recipe again... it's worth it!

Unknown said...

I'm so excited to try this! My husband loves Challah and hasn't been able to have any in ages. We do friday night dinner every week and this would be SUCH a welcome addition. When I saw this recipe, I almost cried, because most "gluten free" recipes have either corn or sugar - 2 things he can't have. This sounds perfect! Thanks!

Judy said...

Is there a reason your Challah recipe doesn't have salt? It tastes like it could use some -- my thoughts anyway. I made a double recipe, but I think it needs to bake longer because after I took it out, it fell and parts were not light. However, the potential is really there. I will try again very soon. Thank you so very much.

Gluten Free In the Greens said...

Yes, it needs 1 tsp. of salt. Sorry for the omission!