Gluten Free Vegan Challah Bread

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My son is in the Waldorf 3rd grade and his class is studying the Old Testament and Judaism.  To celebrate Rosh Hashanah this week, the class is making challah bread to eat on Friday.   Since my son can’t eat gluten and dairy, his teacher asked me if I could provide him with a substitute bread to eat.  It reminds me of when my son was in our Waldorf Kindergarten and I would make gluten and dairy free bread for him each week to eat with his class.  I started looking around for recipes on how to make gluten free vegan challah bread.

Gluten is what makes most bread doughs stretchy and able to be kneaded and shaped.  A standard gluten free dough however is more like a thick batter that is almost impossible to make into any shape.  Looking online, I saw that most gluten free challah bread batter was put into regular loaf pans or even piped (using pastry bags) into the braided shape.  The only “braidable” gluten free challah recipe that I found used A LOT of eggs to bind the dough–and although my son can eat a small amount of egg, he can’t tolerate a lot of eggs.

That’s when it finally dawned on me that I didn’t need to look outside, but instead turn to my own recipe (inspired by a recipe at the Whole Life Nutrition Kitchen) for kneadable whole grain gluten free rolls that uses psyllium husks and chia seeds to bind the dough.  I started to play around and adapted it to be a lighter, slightly more sweet bread.  I made it several times and threw in a couple handfuls of raisins in one batch–which the kids loved.  (my daughter said, “Mom, this doesn’t taste gluten free!)  Although it’s not a “traditional” challah, it’s a decent gluten free version with a lot of whole grains.  What matters most however  is that my son really thinks his gluten free vegan challah is delicious…

And now he can enjoy his challah with his friends in class as they celebrate Rosh Hashanah.  Happy New Year Everyone!

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*  1 package active dry yeast

*  2 1/2 cups warm water (105-110 degrees)

*  1 tablespoon honey

*  1 cup superfine brown rice flour

*  1 cup sorghum flour (or millet, or GF oat)

*  1 cup tapioca starch (or potato, or sweet rice)

*  1 teaspoon salt

*  2 tablespoons olive oil

*  3 tablespoons honey

*  1/3 cup finely ground chia seeds

*  1/4 cup psyllium husks**

1)  Start your liquid ingredients by dissolving yeast and one tablespoon of honey into warm water that is 105-110 degrees.  (I use a thermometer to make sure)  Set aside for ten minutes until bubbly.  if it doesn’t become bubbly your yeast is dead and you need to do this step again.

2)  While waiting for yeast to activate, combine dry ingredients in a large bowl and mix well.

3)  Stir olive oil and additional 3 tablespoons of honey into the yeast liquid.

4)  Stir chia seeds and psyllium husks into yeast liquid and whisk.  Wait 1-2 minutes (NO LONGER) and whisk again.

5)  Immediately pour liquid mixture into the dry ingredients.  Stir and incorporate well.  Dough will be sticky.

6)  Turn dough onto a floured board and begin to knead.  If your dough is too sticky to handle, add up to 1/2 cup of brown rice or sorghum flour to get to a kneadable, but still slightly sticky dough.

7)  Form dough into a ball and place in a large bowl.  Cover and let rise in a warm place for an hour.

8)  Line baking sheet with parchment paper and preheat oven to 400 degrees.

9)  After one hour, cut the dough to create equal portions.  For rolls, divide the dough in half, roll each into a log shape, and cut each log into 8 equal pieces.  For a braided challah bread, cut the dough into equal portions that you desire.  (e.g. 3 equal pieces for a simple braid, 4-6 for more intricate braids)

10)  Rolls: Roll out sixteen 1/2 inch thick tubes and spiral the dough to form a roll.  (see above)  Place on parchment lined baking sheet.  Braided bread:    Roll each portion into a tube about 1 1/2 inches thick.  Place the tubes onto the parchment lined baking sheet.  Pinch the tubes together at the top and start braiding.  Braid as far as you can and then tuck under any excess.  (see above)  Let both rolls and braided bread rise for an additional 30 minutes.

11)  Brush with a little olive oil or melted non dairy butter (if desired )and start baking.  Rolls need to bake for 20 minutes and braided loaf needs to bake 35-40 minutes.  Both rolls and bread should be medium brown in color.

12)  LET COOL SLIGHTLY.  This is very important because the bread needs to “rest” to lose any stickiness.  For rolls, please wait at least 10 minutes and for the bread, please wait 30 minutes.  (And don’t worry, the bread will warm enough for non dairy butter to melt on it…Yum!)

Linking to:  Katherine’s Corner, My Cultured Palate, Allergy Free Wednesdays,Gluten Free Wednesday, Whole Food Fridays, Creative Fridays, Friday Flash

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  1. You are amazing!! And your Waldorf school sounds so, so wonderful.
    I’m currently in love with the gluten-free girl’s newest cookbook, Gluten-Free Everyday. Have you seen it? I’m not gluten-free and don’t really even like to own cookbooks all that much, but I think I may buy this one. I love her blog too.
    Have a great weekend, Lori.
    sheila recently posted..School Room Tour: 2013-2014My Profile

  2. Thank you for this recipe- we tried it out and it is wonderful. My 5 year old son is so excited to be able to make bread at his Waldorf school and “eat it, just like the other kids!” he always brought his bread home to give to daddy as he could not eat it. The preschool and kindergarten teachers are as excited as we are. I would like to include this recipe in our school newsletter- may I have your permission to do so? I love your blog and love this connection from afar with the Waldorf community!

    • Hi Heidi,
      I can SO related to your son’s story! Yes, absolutely you may publish this recipe. I hope that more Waldorf schools start offering gluten and dairy free bread! Much aloha, Lori

  3. This is genius! I’ve been on the hunt for a vegan challah recipe. I’m definitely going to give this a try. Thanks for sharing.

  4. This looks Devine! My daughter is having a bread tasting at her Montessori school, but with all her allergies I have to make her bread…. I can’t wait to make this for her! One question though… Any idea what I can replace the psyllium husk with? My girls are allergic to bananas. Thanks!

    • Hi Jessica,
      Oh, I’m so sorry about your daughter’s allergies! Psyllium husk is made from psyllium seeds and as far as I know (please check) does not contain bananas. For this recipe, I can’t think of anything that will work as well as psyllium. The only thing that you might try is A LOT of eggs. (I haven’t tried it) Good luck and please research psyllium…hopefully your daughter can eat it! Thanks for visiting, Lori

      • Yea, I’ve already researched…it’s the husk of the seed of the plantain plant. Close enough for me. :(
        Unfortunately, eggs are off limits as well. Hmm… I’m determined now! Off to do research! Thanks for the input.

        • Dear Jessica,
          Oh I’m so sorry about the psyllium husk and eggs…But bravo to you “Warrior Mom”! I know that your research will find a great alternative. Best of luck and much aloha, Lori P.S. Please let me know what you find!

        • Connor Joanna says:

          Jessica, obviously it has been a long time since your comment, but you might still want to give this recipe a try. Psyllium husks come from the plantain herb (Plantago ovata), which is not related to the plantain/banana. Its relatives often grow in grassy fields. Confusing that it shares its name with the banana-type plantain!

  5. Hi Lori,
    This is by far one of the prettiest and most impressive looking gluten free/vegan challah breads I’ve ever seen. Wonderful looking recipe – thank you for sharing it on WFF. I’m highlighting it tonight!
    Megan recently posted..Whole Food Fridays 9-6-13My Profile

  6. I also need to avoid yeast…does anyone else know of a substitute that will allow me to be able to consume this type of bread? Thanks.

    • Joel,
      I’m so sorry that you have to avoid yeast. There was a time when my son had to avoid yeast also but thankfully he is able to tolerate it now.
      The only other substitutions I know of are baking powder or baking soda with some sort of acid which will produce quick bread texture.
      Maybe though someone else has a better suggestion?
      Best of luck to you Joel. Please let me know what you find…Much aloha, Lori


    • Hi Jelena,
      Thanks for some great questions! First, the starch. Tapioca (or potato) starch is added to gluten free flour mixes to lighten it up a bit. I have never used flaxseed powder, but I would think that it has gelatinous properties that might make the dough too sticky. If you don’t want to use starch, I would just use more of the other flours (sorghum, rice) instead. Second, the yeast. Although I have not tried it yet, I have found that in general, it is very difficult to substitute baking powder or soda in a yeast recipe–and this recipe was meant to use with yeast. Rather than just following this recipe, you might have more success in playing with the basic ingredients to include ground chia (and flax) seeds that mimic the stretchy properties of gluten–enabling you to knead and shape the dough. If you can eat eggs, I would also try to incorporate eggs to give the dough more “lift” that yeast normally provides.

      I hope this helps you a little. Please let me know how things turn out–I’d love to know.

      Thanks and aloha,


  9. I am really looking forward to trying this! Michaelmas is coming up and my children will be making dragon bread at school. My son is gluten free so this is great!

  10. Hi, I am exited to make this with my daughter for Michaelmas this week! How long do we need to knead the dough?

    • Hi Anne,

      It’s funny but I just made a batch of this today and was thinking that I need to repost the recipe. To answer your question, you just need to knead it for a couple minutes (maybe 20 turns) just until the dough is elastic and is holding together. (but still slightly sticky!) Thanks so much and good luck with your bread–it’s really delicious! Aloha, Lori

  11. Mine came out very runny, like a pancakes batter. I ll just pour it and see. And for the yeast intolerance I can recommend homemade sourdough. Good luck

    • Hi Shirele,
      Oh I’m so sorry that your batter is runny. Did you grind your chia and flax seeds? Also, did you let the chia and flax sit for about a minute in the wet ingredients? It should have gotten VERY gelatinous–making your batter very thick and stretchy. (when mixed with dry ingredients) Please let me know how things turn out…
      Thanks and aloha, Lori

  12. So excited to be trying this recipe now! I didn’t have psyllium husks on hand so I subbed with coconut flour. So far so good! The braided loaf is rising now! I’ll let you know if it turns out. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Lauri,
      Oh I’m sorry that I’m so late in replying! Please let me know how subbing coconut flour turned out. Phylum is used because it is VERY gelatinous and acts “like gluten” in creating stretchiness in the dough–does coconut flour do that also? I’d love to hear back from you…Take care and aloha, Lori

  13. No problem! I didn’t have psyllium and read that the coconut flour would act similarly. The dough was stretchier than other gluten free “dough” I’ve worked with, but it made for a very dense bread. I was able to braid it, and it looked great…but it wasn’t light and airy. I’m going to try it again with psyllium husks. But in a pinch, the coconut flour can be used.

  14. If I’m repeating anyone, I’m sorry to do so, but “honey” isn’t vegan. The recipe looks great otherwise. While I try to avoid yeast, I’m willing to forgo a bit of yeast once in a while. Keeping kosher, living GF, and going vegan has really made avoiding yeast less important somehow. Thanks for sharing!

    • Hi Misty,
      So great that you have such a great diet! Thank you for pointing out that honey isn’t vegan. I wasn’t aware! Thanks and aloha, Lori

  15. Thanks a lot. Great recipe. We do it with a little more than half gfOat flour so it’s technically “challa” according to Jewish law. Thanks to you my DD can bless het own bread AND enjoy its taste too!
    Lots of good things to you.

  16. hi – i have 2 questions – 1st, can i use flax seed rather than chia seed; 2nd, what is psyllium husks? thank you

    • HI Darlene, I’m so sorry for the delayed reply. First, I’ve never tried substituting the whole amount of chia seed, but have tried substituting half of the chia seeds with ground flaxseed and it has worked well. Chia seeds work best however because they retain more water and become almost gelatinous–which helps the texture and “knead ability” of the bread. Psyllium husks (made from seeds of a plantago plant) serve a similar function in the dough. The husks hold moisture which makes the dough stretchy–mimicking gluten. Psyllium husks are critical in this recipe and can be found in the supplement section of a health food store. I hope that helps and I’m very sorry again for my late reply! Much aloha, Lori

  17. my bread came together good, rose well and browned nicely. but after cooling it fell and was a bit gummy.

    • Hi April,
      Thanks for trying the recipe–I’m sorry that it didn’t turn out well. When still VERY warm, the bread has a tendency to be on the gummy side because of the chia and psyllum husks (that try to replicate gluten). When cooler however, the bread should not be gummy. Although your bread was browned, if it was thick, it probably wasn’t cooked long enough. That’s the difficult thing with this recipe. Everyone has varying thickness of their braided bread! I hope that you try it again and bake for at least an additional ten minutes to a medium brown.
      Hope that helps! Thanks and aloha, Lori

      • I will try again….It was not a complete fail, only the bottom third of the loaf was gummy. As we say in our family. TRY FAIL ADJUST TRY AGAIN. My first thought was I did not add enough flour. I am not new to g-free bread or any thing g-free. And My family and I are not intolerant either. I cook for others that are and love the wow factor that it brings.

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