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Gluten-Free Challah

Posted Aug 26 2008 4:40pm

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 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.
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