Thanks to food bloggers and social media, the tradition of ‘shlissel challah’ has become a modern sensation.
Come the Shabbat after Passover, and Jewish women from the around the world partake in a modern Ashkenazi custom to place a key, inside their challah dough. The word shlissel comes from the German language shlüssel (key).
Women gather together either with family or friends to partake in this tradition that is famous for bringing blessings into the home, with a particular highlight on ‘parnassah,’ livelihood.
I took a quick poll to see how my family and friends actually make their shlissel challah:
65% told me they bake their dough in the shape of key, 11% bake the key into the challah (I got a few that said “never, very unhealthy to bake metal!”) 7% said ‘other,’ (not sure how else you can celebrate this tradition, but ok) and of course there was the 5% that haven’t caught on to the trend just yet.
There is definitely an art to challah baking. Most people think the secret lies in the recipe; I believe it’s all in the technique. Feeding your yeast matters, as does letting it rise for a second time after it’s braided.
When it comes to the shlissel challah in particular, it’s essential to remember to go easy on the flour. Because of the intricate shape and detail that people love to add to their key, the amount of flour used in the kneading process will determine the fluffiness.
When choosing a challah recipe you want to make sure that it has lower moisture content. This is simply because it makes it much easier to shape the dough into a more definitive key. The less puffy the dough comes out, the better the shape of the key will stick. You can use your favorite challah recipe (if you don’t have a favorite here are some handpicked favorites!)
Once your dough has risen, divide your dough into equally sized balls. The amount of dough you generally use for a large braided challah will be the same for a shlissel challah.
Some of the prettiest shlissel challahs I’ve seen have been in the shape of a key that resembles tumbler lock keys. The small decorative details will make the key look that much better. Don’t be afraid to get creative and use the leftover dough for tiny embellishments like miniature roses and vine patterns.
Here’s another easy, great way you can make schlissel challah by Tamar Ansch with step-by-step instructions.
Traditions represent a critical piece of our culture. They help form the structure and foundation of our families and our community. Bake a challah in shape of a key this week. It will help remind you of who you are and where you came from.
Be a part of the chain. Keep the tradition alive.