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.
Zooming for Challah
Thank you to The Jewish Week’s Food and Wine for running my story, “Zooming for Challah.” The internet has been popping with real-time challah baking sessions since shelter in place began. These free pre-Shabbat meet ups nourish a hunger for recipes, relief, rituals, and relationships. Despite nationwide yeast and flour shortages, longtime bakers and novicesRead more ›
Celebrate the First Shabbat After Passover with a Shlissel Challah
Hasidic communities mark the first Shabbat after Passover with a special challah as they transition back to the world of chametz. They shape the first post-Passover Shabbat challah into a key. The key, or shlissel as it is called in Yiddish, is meant to symbolize openings, passageways, and transition. Rabbi Pinchas Shapiro of Kovitz (b.Read more ›
Atayef: Double Fried Filled Pancakes for Chanukah
Aka Ataïf, atayif, qata’if, qatayif, katayef, these pancakes may be filled with nuts or also prepared with cheese fillings for Chanukah or Shavuot. They are also popular at weddings spread with cream and rose petal jam or simply topped with pistachios or almonds. This recipe guides you through a nut stuffed option. Read my storyRead more ›
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 ›
Some Previous Posts
(in alphabetical order)
- Ambasha (aka Himbasha, Hambasha) Ethiopian Wedding Bread
- Boulou: North African Orange Bread
- Challah Dough for Shaping
- Cheese Babka Recipe
- Chocolate Chip Cookie Chronicles: Inventions & Elections
- Kaak: Recipe for Crunchy Yeast Biscuits
- Lachuch (aka Lahoh or Lahuh): A Yemenite Flatbread for Shabbat
- Los Siete Cielos or Seven Heaven Challah Recipe
- Other Wedding Bread Customs
- Pan de Calabaza: Pumpkin Challah
- Panettone for Breakfast?
- 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
- Seeking A Shikker Challah
- 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