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 to this challah 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.
Panettone for Breakfast?
While we tend to think of panettone as a Christmas bread, Jewish food writer Edda Servi Machlin shared this version of panettone from her childhood experiences in Italy of eating it for breakfast. She provides an authentic yet simpler process than most panettone recipes and a very tasty one at that. Enjoy it whenever youRead more ›
Kaak: Recipe for Crunchy Yeast Biscuits
Eat kaak all year round or save them for special celebrations, as do many communities of the Middle East and Sephardim (Jews descended from Spain). Kaak (kahk, ka’ak) are ubiquitous, multi-faith and multi-cultural doughy treats eaten throughout the Middle East where they take on regional flavors. In Arabic kaak means cake or baked good.The EgyptianRead more ›
Boulou: North African Orange Bread
Almost cake-like, though not a cake, this orange tinged bread enhances any holiday table. Read my story about diasporic Rosh Hashanah celebratory breads at the Jewish Week, “Beyond Challah and Honey.” Prep time: 2-2.5 hours Rising time: 40-45 minutes Baking time: 30 minutes Yield: 2 small loaves adapted from Jewish Food Experience, Leah Hadad INGREDIENTSRead more ›
Pan de Calabaza: Pumpkin Challah
This bread brings fall ingredients to your festive meals and reflects the longtime usage of pumpkin among Sephardi Jews. See the Jewish Week for my story about unusual Rosh Hashanah breads, “Beyond Challah and Honey: Rosh Hashanah Breads From Around the World.” Prep time: 30 minutes Rising time: 1 hour 45 minutes Baking time: 45Read more ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- A Shikker Challah
- Ambasha (aka Himbasha, Hambasha) Ethiopian Wedding Bread
- Cheese Babka Recipe
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Chronicles: Inventions & Elections
- Is that coffee or chocolate?
- Lachuch (aka Lahoh or Lahuh): A Yemenite Flatbread for Shabbat
- Los Siete Cielos or Seven Heaven Challah Recipe
- Lunch and Learn: Tasting the Best Chocolate
- On the Chocolate Trail in Belize’s Jungle
- Other Wedding Bread Customs
- Pan de Calabaza: Pumpkin Challah
- Recipe for Dabo: Ethiopian Pan Cooked Shabbat Bread
- Recipe for Fancy Shapes in Dough: Shaping Dough
- Saluf (aka Salouf or Saloof): Recipe for a Yemenite Flatbread for Shabbat
- What is the Chocolate Babka Project?
- What's a Key (shlissel) Challah?
- What? No Babka at Catskills Hotels? *
- Yeast Raised Khachapuri Recipe
- Yemarina Yewotet Dabo: Ethiopian Honey Bread