Yes, such a beast exists.
I have been fascinated by challah for a long, long time. It has to be one of the most beautiful breads out there, and most bread baking books are full of praises for the rich festival bread.
Or it could just be that I wanted to braid dough. 🙂
I found Maggie Glezer's sourdough challah recipe at The Fresh Loaf. It is a comprehensive recipe with detailed instructions, which makes it so much easier to follow.
To make it vegan, I replaced the eggs with a flax seed emulsion and the honey with agave nectar. Here is the recipe with my modifications.
For the starter:
2 tablespoons (1.2 ounces) active firm sourdough starter
1/3 cup (2.8 ounces) warm water
1 cup (4.8 ounces) bread flour
For final dough:
1/4 cup warm water
3 large eggs, plus 1 for glazing I replaced the three eggs with 3 tbsp of powdered flax seed plus 9 tbsp water. For the glaze, I used 1/4 tsp cornstarch and 1/4 cup water.
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil
3 tablespoons agave nectar
About 3 cups (14 ounces) bread flour
Fully fermented sourdough starter
Evening before baking:
Knead starter into water until it is partially dissolved, then stir in the flour. Knead this firm dough until it is smooth. Let the starter ferment until it has tripled in volume, 8 to 12 hours.
In a large bowl, beat together the water, powdered flax seeds plus the additional water, salt, oil, and nectar until well combined. With your hands or a wooden spoon, mix in the bread flour. When the mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto your work surface, add the starter, and knead until the dough is smooth, no more than 10 minutes. If the dough is too firm to knead easily, add a tablespoon or two of water to it; if it seems too wet, add a few tablespoons flour.
The dough should feel smooth and very firm but be easy to knead.
Fermenting the dough:
Place the dough in the warm cleaned bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment for about 2 hours. It will probably not rise much.
Shaping and proofing the dough:
Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Braid the dough as desired, position the loaf on the prepared sheet, and cover with plastic wrap. Let proof until tripled in size, about 5 hours.
30 minutes before baking, arrange one rack in the upper third position . Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the glaze for the loaf. (Vegan glazes- soymilk, cornstarch and water, baking soda and water.) I microwaved 1/2 tsp cornstarch with 1/4 cup water for three minutes. Online forums suggested that it would give the bread that eggy shine. Unfortunately it did not quite work out that way. 🙂
Baking the loaves:
When the loaf has tripled and does not push back when gently pressed with your finger, brush with the glaze. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until very well browned. If the loaf is browning too quickly, tent it with foil. When done, remove the loaf from the oven and let cool on a rack.
I have not had regular challah, but this version was delightful. Not very soft, but a rich, sweet flavor- the crust was especially delicious. The crumb is light, soft and moist. I will be making this challah again.
The vegan sourdough challah goes to the weekly Yeastspotting over at the Wild Yeast blog.