A Jewish holiday staple reimagined for vegan tastes

by Virginia Lee
Posted 12/23/22

Jewish families throughout northwest Philadelphia are celebrating Hanukkah this week. One holiday staple that’s found on every table is Challah.

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A Jewish holiday staple reimagined for vegan tastes


Jewish families throughout northwest Philadelphia are celebrating Hanukkah this week, commemorating the victory of the Maccabees who ousted their Greek and Syrian occupiers from the land of Israel in the second century B.C. and the re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem. 

The story goes that the temple’s liberators found just one day’s supply of holy oil on the premises, but it lasted miraculously for eight days until a new shipment arrived from the sea coast. Hence, the eight day celebration, enjoyed with deep-fried foods like potato pancakes (latkes) now that oil is plentiful.

But another holiday staple — one that’s found on every Sabbath table and served at every holiday, including Hanukkah — is Challah. And it sometimes takes a miracle to secure one during the holiday rush at Baker Street or Weavers Way — and forget about finding one that meets a vegan’s standards. But take heart, this is an easy bread to bake at home. You can even make your own vegan “butter” to spread on every slice.

Challah can be sweet or savory, and leftovers can make for a delicious French toast base for breakfasts and brunches. Anyone can learn how to make challah for their holiday celebrations. Traditional challah is made with eggs and a shiny egg wash, but this plant-based version uses potato water starch in the recipe. Bake up a loaf or two with this recipe, courtesy of “Plant-Based Gourmet: Vegan Cuisine for the Home Chef” (Apollo Publishers) by chef Suzi Gerber.



Makes 2 loaves

3 Yukon Gold potatoes or other butter potatoes (about 11⁄2 pounds), peeled and cubed

1⁄3 cup safflower oil or avocado oil

1⁄3 cup sugar

5 cups all-purpose flour or gluten-free all-purpose flour

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1 teaspoon kala namak (Indian black salt)

1 teaspoon turmeric powder

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 packet active instant dry yeast (approximately 1⁄4 ounce)

1⁄2 cup Homemade Butter (see below), softened and cut into cubes

1⁄3 cup oat milk

  1. To make “potato water,” combine the potatoes with 31⁄2 cups cold water in a large pot, bring to a boil, and keep at a boil for 20 minutes, uncovered. The liquid level should reduce to about 2 cups.
  2. Drain the potatoes, and reserve the liquid.
  3. Combine 11⁄2 cups of the potato water with the safflower oil and sugar in a mixing bowl or a large measuring cup with a pour spout (reserve the remaining potato water). Whisk until sugar is completely dissolved.
  4. Combine the flour, cornstarch, kala namak, turmeric, and sea salt in a stand mixer and whisk to combine. Make sure there are no salt clusters for the yeast to come in contact with, then slowly add the yeast.
  5. Change the mixer attachment to a dough hook, and slowly add the potato-water mixture to the dry ingredients while mixing. This slow pour should take about a minute.
  6. Add in the softened butter, 1 cube at a time, until fully incorporated.
  7. Knead the dough hook on medium-high (number 6 on standard home machines) for 10 minutes, keeping an eye on the elasticity of the dough. Pinch and pull the dough to check its elasticity: When ready, it should stretch like a rubber band and reach about 10 inches without breaking.
  8. Let the dough rise, covered, for 45 minutes at room temperature. It should double in size.
  9. Portion the dough into 2 equal blocks. Divide each block into thirds to form a traditional straight braid, or into 4 sections to form a round braid. Roll the pieces into equal-sized ribbons that are at least 18 inches long. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and braid the ribbons directly on the parchment, tucking the ends under and pinching them together.
  10. Cover again and let rise a second time, for 30 to 45 minutes. The dough should dramatically increase in size, eliminating any gaps in the braid.
  11. Preheat the oven to 375 F. 
  12. While the bread rises, combine the remaining potato water (about 1⁄2 cup) with the cornstarch in a small saucepan. Bring to a simmer, whisk often until a thick gel forms, and then remove from the heat.
  13. Slowly add the oat milk to the gel, whisking until the gel is thin enough to paint.
  14. Brush a generous and even amount of the starch-and-oat-milk wash onto the risen bread right before placing in the oven.
  15. Bake for 40 to 45 minutes, rotating once halfway through. Remove once the crust is smooth and dark and the bottom is strong. When you thump the bottom with your finger, it should sound hollow. The internal temperature should be 190 to 200 F.
  16. Paint the loaves again with more of the wash and let cool. Store in zip-top bags. Keep for 3 to 5 days (if they last you that long!) at room temperature, or up to 6 months if frozen.
  17. If you over-proof or let the finished loaves sit out uncovered or past 5 days and they get hard, it’s French toast time.


Homemade Butter

Makes approximately 21⁄2 cups

1 cup hempseed milk or full-fat canned coconut milk

1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1 teaspoon salt

13⁄4 cups melted refined coconut oil (the kind that is solid at room temperature)

3 tablespoons safflower oil, avocado oil, or sunflower oil

1 tablespoon sunflower lecithin powder or 11⁄2 teaspoons liquid lecithin

1⁄2 teaspoon arrowroot powder

  1. Combine the hempseed milk, apple cider vinegar, and salt and stir. Allow to curdle for 5 to 10 minutes.
  2. In a blender or food processor, combine the milk mixture with the remaining ingredients and blend for 2 minutes on high.
  3. Pour the mixture into a stick mold or any shape tub and freeze for at least 3 hours.
  4. Keeps for up to 1 month in the fridge or up to 6 months in the freezer.

Tip: Use the boiled potatoes from making the potato water and turn into mashed potatoes or potato pancakes.