Pascale’s Kitchen: Key challah

Every year, on the week after Passover, I always share special stories and recipes with my readers about the key challah, which I equate with the qualities of being a queen.

 Key challah (photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
Key challah
(photo credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

It is customary to prepare a schlissel (Yiddish for “key”) challah in the shape of a key for the first Shabbat after Passover, which in mystical teachings is meant to be the key that opens us up to receive God’s blessings of good health, livelihood, finding a loving partner, fertility, peace in the home and happiness.

Some people have a custom of hiding an actual key inside the challah dough (wrapped inside aluminum foil). 

Every year, on the week after Passover, I always share special stories and recipes with my readers about the key challah, which I equate with the qualities of being a queen: It is larger than life, tall and majestic. It arrives with a golden-brown crown and is adorned with shimmering sesame seeds. 

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The key challah should be the most elaborate dish served at Shabbat dinner this week. It can be placed in the center of the table, raised high on a silver platter or on a special Shabbat challah cutting board, and covered with a beautiful challah cover with the words “Shabbat Shalom” or “Shabbat Kodesh” printed or embroidered on it. 

 Key challah (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Key challah (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)

Each family has its own special recipe for preparing challot.

Hafrashat challah, or setting aside a small portion of the dough and saying a special blessing, is a very important mitzvah that Jewish women can do each week. A small piece of the dough is either burned, or wrapped well and then disposed of, when more than 1.2 kilograms of dough is prepared. If over 1.67 kilograms of dough is prepared, then the woman also says the blessing. Some people believe that this blessing helps protect a person’s family. 

Below, you will find two of my most treasured challah recipes. You are welcome to add raisins, nuts, pistachio paste or beet puree to add fun textures and colors. 

May we all be blessed with good things and much happiness in our homes in the year to come. 

Shabbat shalom.

Challah designs

  • To make a three-strand challah, separate your dough into three balls and roll them out into log shapes. Connect them all at one end, then braid them. Press down at the other end to seal. Place the challah on a tray covered with baking paper and let it rise. Then, brush on egg wash, sprinkle seeds on top and bake. 
  • To make a four-strand challah, separate the dough into four balls, then shape them into logs. Connect all the strands at one end, then begin the braid with the strand on the far right, and place it over strand No. 2. Next, take strand No. 3 and place it over strand No. 1. Continue the same actions from the left side, then the right side until the end, then secure the ends together. Let the challah rise again. 
  • To make a six-strand challah, separate the dough into six balls, then shape them into logs. Connect all the strands at one end, then begin with strand No. 2 and fold it over all the rest of the strands. Make space between the four inner strands. Next, take strand No. 1 and place it between strand No. 4 and No. 5. Now, do the same thing, but starting from the other side. Keep alternating sides until the braid is complete. 
  • To make a double-layer challah, prepare one large three-strand braided challah, and one small three-strand braided challah. Place the large challah on a baking tray and place the small one on top of the large one. Let them rise, then brush with egg wash, sprinkle seeds on top and bake. 
  • To prepare a flower challah, separate the dough into three or four pieces and form log shapes that are 25 centimeters long. Gently flatten each strand, then make diagonal slices in the dough. Wrap up each log into a snail shape and place the logs on a baking tray. Let them rise, then brush with egg wash. Sprinkle seeds on top and bake. 
  • To prepare a crown-shaped challah, separate the dough into two or three sections and form long, thin logs. Roll up each log into a snail shape, and press up in the center of each spiral so that the middle juts out a little. Place them on a baking tray. Let them rise, then brush with egg wash. Sprinkle seeds on top and bake. 
  • To prepare a twisted challah, separate the dough into four sections and roll them out into log shapes. Connect two of the strands at the tip, and twist them around each other, first to the right, then to the left. You can leave them as a straight line, or connect the tips to form a ring shape. Place them on a baking tray. Let them rise, then brush with egg wash. Sprinkle seeds on top and bake.

CHALLAH FOR SHABBAT

Makes 2 medium challot.

  • 460 ml. (2¼ cups) water
  • 2½ Tbsp. dry yeast
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 kg. flour, sifted
  • 5 Tbsp. sugar or honey
  • 4 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 Tbsp. salt

Egg wash: 

  • 1 egg, beaten, with 1 or 2 drops of oil

Add the water, yeast and eggs to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. In a separate bowl, mix the flour together with the sugar, then add to the mixer bowl. Mix for 2 minutes, then add the oil and salt and mix for another 8 minutes until well mixed. 

Remove the dough, grease the bowl and then return the dough to the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 1 hour. 

Punch the air out of the dough, then cover again with plastic and let the dough rise another 40 minutes. 

Form 2 loaves of dough in the shape of keys and place them on a tray lined with baking paper. Let them rise another 30 minutes until they’ve doubled in volume. Brush a generous amount of egg wash on them and bake them in an oven that has been preheated to 200° for 20 minutes. Then, lower the temperature to 180° and bake another 20 minutes. 

Level of difficulty: Medium.Time: 2 hours. Status: Parve. 

 Key challah (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN) Key challah (credit: PASCALE PEREZ-RUBIN)
SWEET CHALLAH

Makes 2 medium challot.

  • 1 kg. flour, sifted
  • 3 Tbsp. oil
  • 1 egg
  • 50 gr. margarine
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 50 gr. fresh yeast
  • 5 Tbsp. sugar
  • 2-2½ cups water

Egg wash:

  • 1 egg, beaten 
  • ½ cup sesame or poppy seeds

Add the flour to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Form a well in the center and add the oil, egg, margarine and salt. Sprinkle the yeast and the sugar all around. Mix on medium speed, then add the water while continuing to mix and increasing the speed, until the dough begins to fall away from the side of the bowl. 

Transfer the dough to a bowl that has been greased and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough rise for 90 minutes or until it has doubled in volume. 

Punch out the air and form the dough into two challot. Let the dough rise for another 20 minutes. 

Brush with egg wash and sprinkle seeds on top. Bake for 25-30 minutes in an oven that has been preheated to 180 degrees, until the crust has turned golden brown. Let cool on a wire rack. 

Level of difficulty: Medium.Time: 2.5 hours. Status: Parve.

Translated by Hannah Hochner.