When we make the shift to gluten-free, we discover there is a lot we can do that is surprising, and wonderful, and delicious. Maybe we had an assumption that our food, or at least our baked goods, would have to be kind of gross from here on out, and that just is not true. And this is very good.
But…well, living GF, we also learn to live with a fairly liberal use of air-quotes. Certain things, particularly older, more traditional bread recipes, can be mimicked, but without gluten, they aren’t quite the same. This doesn’t have to be a negative, just a place where we can adjust our expectations a little bit. I find this comes up in my life when I strive to match some traditional Jewish foods. For some things, like, say, matzo balls, my efforts have been so short of the mark that I don’t even really bother anymore (and, to be honest, matzo balls aren’t really that high on my list, so I actually haven’t tried all that hard). Other things, like challah, the traditional Sabbath bread, I have actually faked my way into something that works.
Recently, I had a question from a mom whose 4-year-old daughter, newly gluten-free, really misses having challah with her family, and she had heard that the Cooqi bakery used to sell a version of GF challah. In fact, I’ll let you in on a secret: our challah was nothing more than Ellie bread in a different shape. With its eggy, slightly sweet flavors, Ellie bread always reminded me of the challah I ate as a kid, and it seemed a natural to try to coax it into a facsimile of the braided bread for those who wanted something a little special on Fridays.
Probably the hardest thing about making GF challah this way is that you really can’t braid any GF bread dough that I’ve ever found edible at the end of the process. So, you have to fake it. Ideally, there would exist some sort of oblong pan, with sides, which you could use to shape your bread to look like the traditional Friday braid. I never found a good pan for that, and so at the bakery, we actually used a round cake pan, which ends up looking like the round challah you’ll see at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur (which is round to symbolize the circle of life, and of the new year, and I figure that’s a symbol we can embrace any time of the year). The trick I use to get the effect of braiding is simply to use an ice-cream scoop to layer plops of bread dough to fill the pan, and as it rises and bakes, the surface has hills and valleys akin to what braided bread looks like. You can also brush the bread surface, about 15 minutes before it’s done, with a wash of egg white and a little water, to get that shiny, golden appearance of challah.
And voila! Challah. Sort of. “Challah.” The important thing is that it’s really yummy, especially when it’s fresh from the oven. And gluten-free. Give it a try. And, when you find yourself in need of some traditional recipe of your own modified into gluten-free, remember that intention is really what matters, and that trial and error may well lead you to something not quite the same, but maybe even better! Or, as my friend Tina quoted to me today, "unexpected happenings provide the most gratifying results."