Beat the Wheat: Gluten-Free Challah
AKA Because I Was a Jewish Grandmother in a Previous Life
I have always traveled for good food. And as a college student, one of my most-favorite things to do was go to New York City for the weekend with my college friends, most of who were Jewish. We'd take advantage of the student rate on the Trump Shuttle (RIP) and stay in the city or out on Long Island with whichever set of parents or grandparents would have us. Visiting my college BFF's grandmother was the best because she made challah. Never with raisins (gag) or sesame seeds (eww). Just regular old challah, with a heaping helping of grandmotherly advice and whatever else we needed during our stay. Her challah — and the smell of it baking — cured any college-girl broken hearts or study-related stress.
Since then, I’ve had my fair share of challah at Shabbat dinners, holidays and family celebrations over the years. I was always happy to take home any that was left over because it makes the best French toast. But when I was diagnosed with celiac, I had to press pause on my love affair with challah. Until recently, that is.
I have a pretty solid imprint in my culinary memory of what traditional challah tastes like, even though it's been more than five years since I last had it. This gluten-free challah recipe is the closest I've ever gotten. It's eggy, slightly sweet and salty, and has the most-perfect little air pockets throughout. The only thing missing from this bread is the braid: Gluten-free bread dough has a different texture than dough made with all-purpose flour, so it can't be twisted and formed like regular bread dough can. But this gluten-free challah tastes so much like the real thing, you won't care that it's made in a regular loaf pan.
Eat a few slices when it's fresh out of the oven. Toast a piece and spread your favorite nut butter on it. Use it as sandwich bread. Have any getting-stale bits left over? French toast it on up. Chaallllaaaaahhh!!!
Baking by weight can help gluten-free goods turn out great! Traditional measurements as well as weights are listed below. This particular mix of flours and starch best replicates the taste and structure of traditional challah.
In a small bowl, combine 3 teaspoons sugar in 2/3 cup lukewarm water. Stir to dissolve sugar, then add the yeast. Stir to mix well and let rest at room temperature.
In another small bowl, stir together the melted butter, remaining 1 cup water and vinegar. Let rest at room temperature.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flours, tapioca starch, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, xanthan gum and salt.
Turn the mixer on low for 10 seconds and let the dough hook combine the dry ingredients. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour in the butter mixture and the eggs, 1 at a time.
Stop the mixer and scrape down the inside of the bowl to make sure all the ingredients are being incorporated. With the mixer still off, add the yeast mixture. Then beat on high for 2 minutes.
Remove the bowl from the stand, cover with plastic wrap and a clean dishtowel, and place somewhere warm for 1 hour so the dough can rise.
Place the bowl of dough back on the stand and mix on the highest speed for 2 minutes.
Transfer the dough to a greased 5-by-9-inch loaf pan. It should come 2/3 to 3/4 of the way to the top. Cover with plastic wrap and a clean dishtowel, and place somewhere warm for 1 hour so the dough can rise again. After 45 minutes, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
Bake for 50 minutes on the center rack of your oven.
When done, remove the pan from the oven and let the bread cool for 10 minutes. Then remove the challah from the pan and let it cool on a baking rack for another 10 minutes before serving.