Parsnip Parsimony- A vegan baking and science blog.

“You’re crazy, Susie!”

Challah- lab notes from first attempt.

Posted by Susie on November 13, 2007

So I made challah. Here are some pictures of it:


Here’s the nitty-gritty:


This challah was based directly on the challah recipe from Peter Reinhart’s “The Bread Baker’s Apprentice” Its on page 133.

So I’ve been having an interesting conversation over on the PPK today about a thing that has been bothering me more and more lately, which is how little I actually know about what I’m trying to do, and the question of how much I can say about this stuff that I’m not sure about, and what I actually can determine from these experiments I do. This challah recipe is a perfect example to use to try to explain that I don’t really… well, I think Operation Ivy explains it best…

But anyway, there are so many things that are WAY beyond my means of figuring out about egg replacing, and to avoid being an idiot, I HAVE to know what I CAN figure out, and what I CAN’T figure out. And then, after I figure out what it is I don’t know for sure, I have to avoid wording that insinuates to internetland that some guess of mine is anything more than a guess. I used to not realize how important this was, and I also used to think my guesses were better than they probably are, too. I am trying to fix this though, and to change my writing style accordingly. It might take me a bit to get the writing style right, so sorry for that, I am trying though.

So back to the challah. What I did was I took the recipe in Peter Reinhard’s book, figured out how much protein, water, fat and lecithin would have been provided by the two eggs and two egg yolks called for in the recipe, calculated how much tofu, oil, and soy lecithin would give me that much protein, fat, and oil, then reduced the amount of addtional water called for by the original recipe to compensate for the extra water provided by the tofu. What this gave me is a dough which had the same amount of water, fat, lecithin, and non-gluten protein as the dough that the original recipe would have given me. What I was the most concerned about in trying this experiment though, was that non-gluten protein (raw, soluble, egg protein in the original recipe, non-soluble, but pureed soy (tofu) protein in the veganized recipe). Now, just setting the weight of the two proteins as equal IS a little bit arbitrary, I will admit (they very well could have different functionalities, as well as different levels of effectiveness at varying amounts, for all I know), but I think that setting them at equal amounts is at least LESS arbitrary than using any other ratio, because I have nothing to base an alternate ratio on. So with my protein being present in my veganized dough at the same concentration as the protein that would have been in the original dough, and with everything else being more or less the same, I can attribute differences between this veganized challah and it’s non-veganized counterpart (which I did not make, which kind of limits what I can find out, but more on that later…) to the difference between how my tofu protein acts with how the egg would have acted.

Let me talk about what I think it is that eggs do in a relatively lean yeasted dough such as challah. Obviously, they provide water, and water balance is important. So I balanced my water in my veganized recipe. They provide fat, which is a tenderizer in yeasted doughs, and they provide lecithin, which can help emulsify fat in VERY rich doughs, but in this challah, which is not so rich, I think that the lecithin is more useful probably as an anti-staling agent (it does that). So I balanced the fat and lecithin in the veganized recipe. They also provide protein to the dough which is not gluten protein. This protein might do any number of things. This is my theory though: In bread, you have a developed gluten structure, and you have a a pretty high starch to water ratio (as opposed to things like cakes or waffles or starch thickened sauces). In the case of challah, you also don’t have a lot of fat. I think, that because of the presence of that developed gluten, and the high starch and low fat content, your dough isn’t really going to have to rely on egg protein for structure much. Without much fat present, your gluten shouldn’t have too big a problem developing a strong skeleton for your bread, and the starch isn’t exacly going to be swamped with more water than it can hold, so I don’t think that the egg protein functions so much as a structure provider in challah. I think that its actually the opposite, I think that egg protein functions as a tenderizer in challah bread, and I think that it does its tenderizing by acting as a space filler. Its not gluten protein, which toughens dough, and its not starch, so what I think it does is fill space, and put more room between the starch and the gluten, which I imagine is responsible for the tenderizing effect. Right now I am having trouble thinking of how to describe why I think this has a tenderizing effect though, so maybe I need a “this is not only susie’s wacky conjecture, but it’s also a wacky conjecture thats based on susie’s wacky intuition” disclaimer here… However, if my wacky intuition is correct, then the thing I would need to be concerned about when I replace egg in this challah recipe would be simply finding something that was a non-gluten protein to fill space. I wouldn’t need to worry at all about egg protein’s specific foaming properties or stuff like that, or even that it starts off in the raw dough as a soluble protein and coagulates dramatically during baking. It would be nice if the replacement protein bound as much water as egg protein would in the finished bread too (and I am pretty sure that tofu binds at least about as much water as does egg protein, based on my custard experiments). All I would have to do is find a protein to fill as much space as the egg protein would have filled, and if thats really what the egg does in the original recipe, then the veganized recipe should turn out right. So to veganize this recipe, I went to my go-to protein, soy protein (from tofu).


I figured that the 2 eggs and 2 egg yolks contain a total of 3.3 oz water, 0.579 oz protein, 0.5 oz fat (egg fat is mostly unsaturated), and 0.1 oz lecithin.

8.1 oz extra firm silken tofu provides the 0.579 oz protein. It also contains 7.3 oz water, which is 4 more oz than the egg called for in the recipe would have provided, so I subtracted the difference, 4 oz, from the 7-9 oz of water also called for by the original recipe. Then I added the lecithin and oil to the recipe. The final formula I used for my challah was as follows:

18 oz All purpose flour (four cups) (it actually called for bread flour, but I was out.)

1 oz sugar (two tablespoons)

0.25 oz salt (one teaspoon)

0.15 oz dry yeast (one and one third teaspoon)

1.5 oz oil (three tablespoons) (the original recipe called for 1 oz, and this is that 1 oz plus the .5 oz from the egg conversion)

0.1 oz liquid soy lecithin (one half teaspoon)
8.1 oz extra firm silken tofu (mori-nu- its about 3/4 of the 12 oz box)

3-5 oz water (one half-cup, plus or minus two tablespoons) (I ended up using 4.8 oz total)

The tofu, sugar, salt, 3 oz (half cup minus two tablespoons) of the water, oil, and lecithin were pureed in a food processor until they were very smooth. The yeast and flour were added to the food processor and pulsed to combine. The dough was actually pretty dry, so I added the remaining water a little at a time until the dough seemed like it was a nice moistness. After I felt like I had the water content right, I developed the dough by very periodically pulsing the processor (when you make dough in a food processor, it is important not to develop the dough too fast). My final dough was pretty nice, although it seemed a little bit stiff. Maybe it could have used that last .2 oz of water.

The dough fermented for two hours at room temperature, and was punched down halfway through.

I scaled the dough into 10 identical pieces, and made two 5-braids. They got put on individual baking pans with parchment, and I washed them with a mixture of soy creamer, sugar, and xanthan gum (just a tiny bit of xanthan).

They proofed for about 50 minutes, and baked at 350 for about40 minutes. They were nice and brown, and sounded hollow when I thumped the bottom, so I could tell they were done.


Y’know? It kind of tasted like the challah I remember? Even the family, who haven’t been challah-less vegans for the past five years, seem to think it tasted like challah. That doesn’t really prove anything though. I mean- this has water, salt, yeast, and flour in it, so it would have formed some kind of dough that would have baked into some kind of bread in the oven, and that braid shape is kind of suggestive. If it weren’t challah shaped, I wonder how challah-y people would think it is?

Although- it is kind of soft like challah, and its a little sweet like challah, and it is just kind of subtle-y challah-y. Its not, yknow, much like french bread, or even like normal sandwich white bread. The crust is kinda flaky like challah, and it has a pretty rich flavor like challah…

I think I would have to either make the original recipe with eggs (ew!) or veganize the recipe I used to use at baking school (that I know how it turns out with eggs) in order to really tell whats going on here. Or, if someone out there in internet land who knows more about challah than I do tries this recipe, then maybe that would also help…

Even then though, the success of this method of veganization doesn’t necessarily prove the correctness of my original guess of what eggs do in lean yeasted breads… it just proves that tofu protein can do the same thing as egg protein in lean yeasted breads (whatever that thing may be…)

Yeah then. I think I’ve typed all I should probably type, and then some. I hate the sleepy feeling you get all day when you sleep 13 hours. Maybe I should go have more coffee. Anyway, Enjoy the challah recipe! If anyone tries it, I would love your opinion of how well it approximates real challah, because I really kind of don’t know how to tell if it does or not.



24 Responses to “Challah- lab notes from first attempt.”

  1. kittee said

    it’s interesting to read your notes susie. they fascinate me. plus your challah worked, it’s all flakey and stuff.


  2. Susie said

    Yay! Someone read all that! Its now a little bit more worth typing that all up while I put off the math homework I should leave early now to go do…
    Thanks, Kittee -♥♥

  3. emilie said

    This is so insightful and interesting–I’m fascinated and really glad to have found your blog. Thanks for putting all of your notes and thinking up here–it’s such a precise and detailed way of thinking about baking, something I’m trying to do more of, and I really appreciated reading it. Cool! Thanks, Emilie!

  4. bryophyte said

    Hey Susie! This is awesome!

    Anyway, how much flavor does the egg add? I know its not discenrnable, but I wonder if the smallest little pinch of black salt would increase the “closer to eggy challah” flavor? I mean this isn’t gonna taste like scrambled eggs, so not much is needed. I wonder- how much sulphur and how much sodium is found in the average egg.

    Just a random thought.

  5. bryophyte said

    Ok did a little bit of research, but not too much because I need to BE PRODUCTIVE AT WORK today.

    Anyway, there is around 50mg of sulfur in the yolk and 25mg in the albumin (that seems like a lot!) I think on the USDA site there is 70mg of sodium in an egg too. So probably 70mg of black salt would be enough, though maybe you could do more research on that. And then again maybe it would be totally gross.

  6. Susie said

    I really kind of know zip about flavor chemistry. I mean- I know some things… and I know kind of about the correlation between fermentation time and temperature on bread flavors, but mostly I have ignored flavor chemistry in my studies because I’ve just been focused on getting structure right. I should probably start trying to read about flavor chemistry though. It is interesting.

    I don’t know how the sulfur in egg is present, if its part of a protein or other bigger molecule, it may not have the same flavor properties as free sulfur would? I would imagine most of the sodium probably is present as sodium chloride though… which I totally forgot about when I did this conversion. whoops. It seems a little negligible compared to the other salt called for though, so I guess I narrowly escaped this one!

  7. Susie said

    I will totally keep an eye out for black salt though. Just for the hell of it. Its an intriguing idea.

  8. katiejayne said

    You are smart. I found your explanation of how you figured out how to replace the egg amazing. Wow. I haven’t ever had challah, but maybe I’ll make your vegan version!

  9. Dawn said

    Another amazing blog entry. And beautiful challah. I’ve come up with nothing to blog on today so I’m just going to copy and paste yours 😉 I think the fact that it’s not gluten-free would scream plagiarism. Not to mention the fact that I know next to nothing about food chemistry.

    Since bread flour aids the yeast differently from all purpose flour, perhaps you wouldn’t have to change anything else to get a lighter product.

  10. Susie said

    Thanks Dawn,
    The difference between “bread flour” and “all purpose flour” is mostly just gluten content. (sometimes bread flour has malt or something added, but thats not really what makes it bread flour) Bread flour has a couple percentage points more gluten than does all purpose. The yeast doesn’t really feed off of the gluten. In something like a cake, a lower gluten content is needed to prevent the cake from being tough (encouraging “lightness”), but things are different in kneaded breads. The higher gluten content in bread flours allows bread to develop a better crumb, more oven spring, and better volume. Really, I should have used bread flour in this challah, and I would have if I hadn’t been out!

  11. Mihl said

    Wow, I am totally impressed by your scientific approach! Now I crave challah bread very badly. Even though I never had it.

  12. Michelle said

    your challah is awesome.
    you are awesome.

    woh, awesome challah!
    i am speechless, but i tried.


  13. getsconed said

    +1 to everything michelle just said.

  14. bazu said

    I’m so inspired by this post- and your blog, Susie! I’m glad you made the leap and started blogging. mmmmm.

  15. bazu said

    p.s. I just linked to your blog from mine- the world needs vegan challah!

  16. susie!!! i just mentioned this to an omni buddy of mine who i remember having said something about vegan challah 4 years ago. hopefully he can do a side by side comparison for you.

    as for the black salt, e-mail me your address, i’m gonna send you a present. 😀 every good egg replacing genius needs black salt.

  17. […] when I made vegan challah a while ago, I think I got pretty close to determining both what eggs do in a lean yeasted bread, […]

  18. Straw said

    Your site is amazing. I found out about it last week and check in everyday to look for updates. Just curious, though, how do you break down the individual components of an ingedient without having access to a lab centrifuge or something? For example, how are you able to figure out how much water is in silk tofu vs. an egg? Any tricks or sources you’d like to share with a total stranger who shares your curiosity?

  19. LD said

    Great site!
    I worked at a bakery that made challah, (and other bread and pastries) and we let the yeast bud in warm water with the sugar (until it was frothy) before mixing in the rest of the ingredients. The length of time spent kneading the dough was very important (to develop the gluten just right), we used big machines with dough hooks so it was easy to know exactly how much kneading had been done. I recommend potato starch in water as a glaze…though it doesn’t shine like egg.

  20. beckah said

    i just stumbled across this, and i want to say how excited i am at the mere concept of vegan challah! seriously. so stoked. i sent this to my vegan bakestress friend and i am going to make her make it for me 🙂

  21. hey sooz!
    someone over at LJ is asking about the properties of yolks alone. can you pop in and break it down for hir? (if you have the time)

    p.s. i’m totally procrastinating on that black salt present. i asked a friend of mine who lives a few blocks from the store that sells it to get some for me, and she got a different brand. i’m gonna go get the kind i use and then send them both to you.

  22. Ellen said

    Now if this would only work with gluten free flour!!!


  23. miriam said

    If you add orange juice to the dough, it will taste like challah. The orange flavor disappears in the oven, leaving the bread with an egg-y taste.

  24. […] And Susie’s amazingly detailed experiments to find egg replacers for her brioche and challah got me to think about using silken tofu as an egg replacer and a protein source. Hats off to all […]

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