What’s a Key (shlissel) Challah?
On the first Shabbat following Passover, after a week deprived of yeasty breads, hassidic custom serves up not just any challah, but a shlissel or key challah. About seven weeks or fifty days later at Shavuot, challot boast ladders and other symbols signifying ascension to heaven. This key shaped bread or bread embedded with an actual key suggests such access. It pops out of the oven during the days of the Omer, marking the wilderness trek between the Exodus from Egypt and the gift of Torah at Mount Sinai.
The shlissel has several hassidic sources, including the Belzer and the Satmar rebbes. An early reference, perhaps the first, comes from a student of the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Kovitz (b. 1726). He taught that during Pesach and for a short period following, the gates of heaven are open. In his view, the key challah focuses prayers in that interlude. Another early source, Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heshel, the Apter Rav (b. 1748), refers to it as an ancient custom citing Kabbalistic interpretations about opening the gates of livelihood when manna ceased as the ancient Hebrews entered the Land of Israel (Sefer Ohev Yisrael). There may also be a connection to the reading of Song of Songs for Chol Hamoed (the week of) Pesach, particularly the verse (5:2) “Open for me, my sister.” In addition, some views about the Omer identify each day of the counting with a gate and entrances. Kabbalist Jacob ben Sheshet of Spain connects gates with the five books of Moses as in “Fifty gates consist of five sets of ten gates, each set suggesting one of the five parts of the Pentateuch.”* In the middle of the night of the Shavuot study, the tikkun, the heavens are said to open briefly. The key embodies this heavenly aura.
Here are some tips for implementing a key design in your challah:
1. Find an elegant old key, clean it well, and impress it deeply into the top of the challah, using your favorite challah dough. Bake the challah as usual and serve with the key in place.
2. Shape the challah into a key form using a twisted or braided dough.
3. Create several knots from the dough and align them into the shape of a key.
4. Use a shaping dough recipe to mold a key to place on top of a braided challah.
Guided by the stunning shlissel challah, the spiritual journey of the omer progresses. This expansive season of growing sun and warmth, symbolized by its decorative challot, culminates at Shavuot, promising the opening our minds to Jewish learning and our hearts to God’s presence.
Recipe for Fancy Shapes in Dough
Recipe for Shaping Fancy Symbols from Dough: Shaping Dough INGREDIENTS: (from “Traditional Recipes for Korovai” by The Ukrainian Museum) 4 cups regular flour 2 egg whites 1 cup milk 2 tablespoons oil Mix all the ingredients into a dense dough and knead for about 15-30 minutes. Place in a plastic bag and refrigerate overnight. WhenRead more ›
YEAST RAISED KHACHAPURI Recipe
YEAST RAISED KHACHAPURI Adapted from Darra Goldstein’s The Georgian Feast: The Vibrant Culture and Savory Food of the Republic of Georgia Yield: serves 8 to 12 DOUGH 2 ¼ teaspoons instant yeast ½ cup lukewarm whole milk (about 105º) ½ teaspoon sugar ½ cup lukewarm water 2 teaspoons salt 1 egg, lightly beaten, at roomRead more ›
Los Siete Cielos or Seven Heaven Challah Recipe
Los Siete Cielos or Seven Heaven Bread Adapted from Rabbi Robert Sternberg’s The Sephardic Kitchen: The Healthful Food and Rich Culture of the Mediterranean Jews Yield: one large bread Allow time for the shaping of the various elements of this challah and enjoy the anise flavored liqueur in the dough. INGREDIENTS: 1 teaspoon plus 1Read more ›
Cheese Babka Recipe
CHEESE BABKA RECIPE Adapted from Beth Hensperger’s The Bread Bible: 300 Favorite Recipes Yield: One large cake DOUGH 1 tablespoon active dry yeast Pinch sugar ¼ cup warm water (105º to 115º) ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted ¼ cup sugar 1 ½ teaspoons salt 2 teaspoons vanilla extract ½ teaspoon almond extract ¾Read more ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- A Chocolate Cake for October's Tricks: Devil's Food
- A Shikker Challah
- Celebrating Ice Cream Month with Chocolate
- Choco-Travel Tips
- Chocolate Exhibit Hits the New York Times
- Chocolate Trail Broadens: "Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate" Travels
- How About Some Mindful Chocolate Tasting?
- Is that coffee or chocolate?
- Jews on the Chocolate Trail
- Launching The Chocolate Babka Project
- Lunch & Learn: Central Synagogue
- Lunch and Learn: Tasting the Best Chocolate
- Mothers and Survival by Chocolate
- On the Chocolate Trail in Belize’s Jungle
- Talking Chocolate in February
- Warm Up: 3 Historical Drinking Chocolate Recipes
- What? No Babka at Catskills Hotels? *