Yesterday I facilitated a workshop called Challah Back: A Beit Midrash in the Kitchen for a marvelous group of people. We went through the process of baking challah, step-by-step, and while the dough rose we studied Jewish texts on bread and challah: the Biblical origins of the word challah; why we have two challot on the Shabbat table; why we salt, etc. (interested parties can check out the source sheet here). For this occasion I decided to figure out a gluten free challah that would actually be considered bread.
What do I mean by that? According to Jewish law, bread is only considered bread if it is made from one of the five grains named in the Bible: barley, rye, wheat, oat, spelt. Bread made from other grains can be kosher, but you cannot say hamotzi over it, nor can you take challah from it. And these five grains are precisely the grains that gluten-free eaters avoid. The one exception to this rule is oat, which can be gluten-free for some* if it is grown, harvested, and processed separately from wheat. And that, my friends, is where gluten-free oat challah comes in.
The final step in my research was figuring out exactly how much oat flour I needed to use in order to make this challah worthy of hamotzi and hafrashat challah. A rabbi I consulted suggested that while no teshuva (responsum) has yet been written on this topic, he suggested the oat flour must be at minimum 51% of the total flour in the bread.
(sidenote: I am not a Jewish law scholar by any means. Please consult your rabbi.)
With that, I got to work! I took my standard gluten-free bread recipe and started grinding up some gluten-free oats in my grain grinder. I also increased the honey. By weight, this recipe’s flours are 60% oat. And if I might say so myself, it is mighty delicious and has all the familiar challah tastes and textures: sweet, rich, and just the right amount of chewiness.
Gluten-Free Oat Challah
1 package active dry yeast (about 1 tbsp)
1 1/4 cups warm water
1/4 cup honey (85 grams)
2 eggs (egg-free version: 2 tbsp flax seeds blended with 6 tbsp warm water until frothy)
1/4 cup (50 grams) grapeseed or other vegetable oil
1 tsp cider vinegar
2 tsp sea salt
1 tbsp xanthan gum
1 cup (140 grams) tapioca flour/starch
1 1⁄2 cups (200 grams) gluten-free oat flour (Bob’s Red Mill makes it, as does Cream Hill Estates)
1⁄2 cup (40 grams) coconut, quinoa, brown rice, teff, or other gluten-free flour (note: if you use teff flour, you can reduce your xanthan gum to 2 tsp).
Place the yeast and honey in the bottom of the bowl. Cover with the warm water and whisk for 30 seconds to dissolve the yeast. Let the yeast foam and bubble for a few minute. Mix in wet ingredients first (eggs, oil, vinegar) and then add the flours, salt, and xanthan gum. Mix well. Add raisins if you like. Pour into a lightly oiled 9×5 loaf pan and smooth the top. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. 15 minutes before it’s finished rising, preheat the oven to 375. Remove the dishtowel and bake until golden brown, about 40 to 45 minutes. Let it cool for a few minutes out of the oven in the pan before removing. Remove to a cooling rack and let cool 30 minutes before slicing.
I have this snazzy braided loaf pan to trick people into thinking I actually braided this challah (gluten-free bread dough is a similar texture to cake batter. Very not-braidable). But any loaf pan will do!
*Note: There are some celiacs who cannot digest oats, so I realize this recipe will not work for those folks.