Baking a “schlissel challah” for the first Shabbos after Pesach is a beloved Hassidic custom. Surprisingly, it’s been ardently disputed by one online author as to the custom’s Jewish bona fides. His schlissel dismissal has been challenged.
Scroll down for Spelt Schlissel Challah recipe.
Schlissel means “key” in Yiddish and the schlissel challah is either shaped like a key, baked with a key inside, or impressed with a key before baking. I wonder if it’d be more timely to make the challah in the shape of a keypad or remote. After all, how many young children have even seen a key? Many cars and homes are locked, unlocked, and started without them.
The schlissel challah is a segula for blessings in the home, specifically the blessing of bounty and plenty, apparently represented by a key. For me it is a comfortable reminder that the key to a good life begins in the peaceful spiritual atmosphere a woman creates in her home, one which is tangible, but is also achieved, in part, by prayer, meditations, and loving thoughts she has, while baking and serving challah. Even the irresistible fragrance of baking challah is both spiritual and physical, a link between our earthly lives and the sublime.
Thinking about making challah? In case you need more convincing, remember: challah isn’t ordinary bread. In fact, challah doesn’t mean bread. Lechem is the Hebrew word for bread. Challah is really the portion of dough that was separated out and consecrated for the kohanim during the existence of the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Today, when we are longing for the world to reach it’s highest purpose and are waiting for this exile to be over, we can’t give the challah to the kohanim. We simply burn the separated portion, instead.
The centrality of bread to life and it’s many meanings, semantic, cultural, psychological, and of course, spiritual, are well-known to professional and home-bakers. In her must-read article about challah, Challah: The Divine Dough, Rebbetzin Heller says that challah is one of the three things for which G-d created the world. It is even said to come first in importance.
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov frequently explains how important proper eating is to spiritual health (not to mention physical health). During the week, one goes gently, eating with the aim of ensuring the health of the soul and body. But on Shabbos, when challah’s role is significant, even supreme, (you can make the Kiddush, the sanctification-blessing on the wine with just challah if you have no wine, but you cannot make the blessing for bread, which includes the entire meal, on wine, if you have no challah), eating with enjoyment, for the sake of the Shabbos can accomplish more spiritually, says the Rebbe, than fasting!
You can use any favorite challah recipe to prepare a schlissel challah. To my taste, either a sourdough or a lightly-yeasted, water and flour dough are the most digestible and delectable. But, my recipe for a mostly spelt, traditionally-sweet, schlissel challah is published, below (per husband’s request).
Regular readers know I am not a fan of highly-yeasted breads. When using yeast (as opposed to natural or “sourdough” starters or sprouting instead), I generally prefer to do a very long, slow rise with as little yeast as possible, sometimes as little as a teaspoon or two in a 5 or 6 pound dough (standard recipes use as many as 5 tablespoons!)
But spelt flour dough, which many people prefer, doesn’t do well with the long developing time which benefits wheat-based breads. It also doesn’t need a lot of kneading. It does, however, benefit from the addition of fresh, pastured eggs, honey or Sucanat, and oil, none of which I generally use in my “regular” challah.
Don’t balk, healthy people. These ingredients are traditional and you’ll only be eating a couple of slices. The ingredients themselves are imbued with the spiritual, through the challah-making and taking process. They are metaphors, even catalysts, for meditation and prayer and redemption. And somehow, seeing two loaves of challas (they are always served in pairs) on my Shabbos table always makes me smile.
A Gut Shabbos!
HJC’s Mostly Spelt, Sweet Schlissel Challah
5 pounds white spelt flour or mixture of white and whole spelt (100 percent whole spelt does not work in this recipe)
4 cups all-purpose or high-gluten white flour (very fresh and preferably organic)
3 packets of yeast (7.5 teaspoons)
1 cup alfala, clover, orange blossom or other light-tasting honey or 1 1/2 cups Sucanat (or less, to taste)
6-7 cups medium-warm water (depending on the moisture content of the flour, which varies widely on brand, time of year, etc.)
3/4 cup oil (extra virgin olive oil, virgin coconut oil-which creates a buttery texture, or other oil)
6 eggs, room-temperature, cracked into bowl and beaten before using
2 tablespoons unrefined sea salt, Celtic salt, or Himalayan salt
2 eggs beaten with 2 teaspoons water
In small bowl, mix 3 cups warm water, yeast, and 2 tablespoons honey or Sucanat. Pour into larger bowl containing 4 cups wheat flour, and mix well. Cover and let starter sit until bubbly and slightly risen, at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours at room temperature. When bubbly and risen, add 3 cups warm water and the rest of the honey or Sucanat, mix well.
Meanwhile, in larger bowl, pour out half a bag of spelt flour. Do not worry about exact measurements. Pour starter mixture into spelt flour, mix well with hands (or mixer) and let sit for 30 minutes to one hour at room temperature, up to two hours. Sponge should be bubbly and risen slightly.
Stir in eggs, oil, salt, oil (minus 2 tablespoons) and remaining spelt flour. If necessary, add more water. Incorporate all ingredients until well mixed. Knead lightly for three or four minutes maximum, (don’t forget, this is a time for prayerful meditation) until a smooth, loose ball of dough is formed.
Pour the remaining oil in large bowl, then lift dough into this bowl, rolling it around until all surfaces are covered lightly with oil. Cover with plate or plastic wrap and let rise for 45 minutes to 1 1/2 hours, which will depend on room temperature.
Form into 4 large loaves, 6 medium loaves, or 10 small braided loaves (you can make one key-shaped, the rest braided, if you like). Now is the time to insert a key into a loaf, if you are using one. Please: sterilize it first.
Let loaves rise (uncovered is fine if they don’t seem too dry to you) for 30 minutes or more. You want it fully risen, when fingerprint stays in dough when pressed on.
Preheat oven to 450. Gently brush (fingertips work even better than a brush) the loaves with the beaten egg, reserving the rest. For a key-impression schlissel challah, now is the time to wrap a key in one layer of plastic wrap and press into loaf until impression remains.
Place challah in oven and immediately turn oven down to 400. Bake for 15-20 minutes. Brush again with remaining egg for a richer color, turn oven down to 350, and bake for an additional 30-45 minutes depending on the size of the loaves.
Loaves are done when hollow sound is made when bottom of loaf is tapped. Or, test internal temperature with a thermometer. It should be around 200 degrees. But most people don’t mind a well-done loaf.
Freeze excess in freezer-bags or double-wrapped in parchment paper and foil. They keep well, up to 6 weeks. After defrosting, and before serving, sprinkle very lightly with water and crisp in 350 degree oven for 12-15 minutes.
This post was sponsored by Dina bas Malka Leah in the memory of Malka Leah bas Dov Aryeh. She made Jeremy, Shana, and Danielle’s favorite challah.
Other challah and bread-related posts:
Gluten and Challah (with recipe)
Real Rye Bread (with recipe)
Sourdough: The Longer, Shorter Path (with method)
Check out the master-list of HJC posts
Note to newbies: I’ve kind of decided to stop embedding translations in the sentences in which they are used, unless the term is unusual. Now I’ll try doing it at the end of each blog post. Here goes:
Challah-the braided bread traditionally served in pairs for each Shabbos meal from the original Hebrew “Challah” which meant the portion separated and given to the holy kohanim (Jewish priests). Today, Torah observant Jews still separate the “challah” from qualifying doughs and batters and burn it so it will not be used or eaten. In order to take challah, and make the appropriate blessing, a certain minimum amount of flour must be used.
Shabbos-aka Shabbat, the Sabbath in the original Hebrew
Segula-here, charm, but also similarly, amulet and also treasure
Kohanim, pl. (Kohen, singular)-priests descended from Aharon, who served in the holy Temple in Jerusalem. Today, Kohanim, whose lineage can be traced back millenia, have special roles, and abide by some additional laws.