The name “shlissel” means “key” in Yiddish, and the tradition of baking a key into the Challah symbolizes opening the gates of heaven for blessings and prosperity. Some also believe that the key is a symbol of the Exodus from Egypt, where the Israelites were freed from slavery and received the keys to their own destiny.
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*The full recipe is in the recipe card below!
Before you start baking using this Challah Recipe, measure and prepare your ingredients so the cooking process will go smoothly and easily.
All-purpose flour: I use all-purpose flour, but you could use bread flour or a combination of bread and all-purpose. Remember that bread flour has a higher protein content and will give your bread more structure. I strongly recommend sifting the flour; it will result in a more delicate dough with a more significant volume.
Water: It’s best to use water between 100°F and 110°F (38°C- 43°C); it helps to activate the yeast. If you don’t have a thermometer, don’t overthink the water temperature. You want the water warm. Not hot. Not cold. Not freezing. Just warm. The proportion of water in bread dough corresponds to how hydrated, or wet, it is.
Yeast (active dry yeast ): Active dry yeast needs to be bloomed in liquid before being used to make dough. However, it is not necessary to bloom newly purchased yeast. Instead, they can be added directly to the dry ingredients.
Oil: Canola, vegetable, or Avocado oil can also work here.
Maple Syrup: Real maple syrup — not just maple-flavored syrup, which can be loaded with refined sugar or high-fructose corn syrup.
I Don’t Have a Mixer. Can I Knead Challah by Hand?
There is no reason not to make Challah because you don’t have a mixer. Kneading by hand will yield wonderful results; it will just take a little more time. The advantage of using a mixer is saving (human) energy and multitasking while the mixer works. For making Challah, we will be using the hook attachment.
How to Make Shlissel Challah (Key Challah)?
Bloom the yeast: Subtract about ¼ cup of warm water called for in the recipe. Add one teaspoon of sugar and the yeast, and gently stir with a spoon. Allow the yeast to feed off the sugar and begin to bubble (If it doesn’t bubble after 5 minutes, your yeast may be expired) let it bloom for about 10 minutes.
It is not necessary to bloom newly purchased yeast. Instead, they can be added directly to the dry ingredients.
Prepare the flour: Sift the flour and measure 3 ½ cups (500 grams). Always measure flour AFTER sifting.
Make the dough: In the bowl of a standing mixer with a dough hook, put flour and yeast (or in a large mixing bowl if kneading by hand) and mix/stir for one minute. Add sugar and oil, and mix for one minute. Gradually add water, I always like to start with 1/2 cup and add as needed to form a dough. Add the salt and knead for 2-3 minutes. If the dough hasn’t come together, add a few drops of water. The dough will smooth out during kneading. Scrap the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to ensure all ingredients are incorporated, and knead for 8-10 minutes. Challah dough should be soft and stretchy.
If the dough feels sticky, grease it with a little bit of oil instead of adding more flour.
Let the dough rise: Place the dough into a greased bowl and cover it with a towel. Let it rise in a warm place until it has doubled in size.
Shape the dough: Sprinkle a little bit of flour on your work surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions.
Roll one part into a long rope. Spiral it around itself until you reach the end, and tuck the end under.
Divide the second part into 3 equal portions.
Roll each part into a long rope.
Use two ropes as the “key body.”
Divide the third rope into 3 parts.
Form two pieces to be the “key teeth” and place the third stripe in the center of the “key body” in a perpendicular position to it.
Let the dough rise again: Place the loaf on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Cover loosely with a towel and let it rise for about an hour at room temperature.
Prepare your oven: Preheat your oven to 400°F/200°C.
Prepare to bake your Challah: Once the dough is proofed for the second time, brush the top of the loaf with maple syrup mixed with a little bit of water. Bake the loaf for about 25 minutes or until golden brown.
Let it cool before enjoying: Remove from the oven and allow it to cool completely.
- Weigh all your ingredients and get everything in order so you can follow the recipe exactly.
- Mixing the dough: Scrap the sides of the bowl occasionally with a rubber spatula to ensure all ingredients are incorporated.
- Water: Because each flour is different, stored differently, and has different absorption capacities, the amount of liquid will almost always change. Even if you always use the same flour, it may be that the flour will absorb more liquid on different days. So, start with half a cup of water and add as needed gradually. The dough should be very soft but not sticky. Dough lacking in liquid will be stiffer and less comfortable to work with.
- The first rise: About an hour and a half or until the dough doubles. But that figure can also change radically, especially if it’s particularly cold weather, which will then require a few hours for the dough to increase in size. In summer, it can be much shorter.
Allow Challah to cool completely before storing it. Challah is always best when eaten within the same day of baking. Place in a plastic bag for up to 3 days.
Challah freezes beautifully, and you can freeze a whole loaf or slices. If you are going to freeze your bread, do so on the first day when it is fresh.
Wrap the loaf tightly in two layers of plastic wrap before placing it in a large resealable freezer bag. Press out as much air as possible and stow it in the freezer for up to 3 months.
To defrost, leave the bread out at room temperature. When it has thawed, remove the plastic wrap and rewrap it in foil. If you like your bread warm, pop it into the oven at 350°F/180°C for 10-15 minutes.
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Shlissel Challah (Key Challah)Print Pin Recipe
- 3 1/2 cups (500 grams) all-purpose flour + a little more for dusting I strongly recommend sifting the flour; it will result in a more delicate dough with a more significant volume.
- 1 tablespoon (10 grams) active dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (60 ml) canola oil plus a little more for greasing
- 3 tablespoons (30 grams) granulated sugar
- 1 1/4-1 1/2 cups (300-360 ml) lukewarm water
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) real maple syrup
- In the bowl of a standing mixer, put flour and yeast (or in a large mixing bowl if kneading by hand) and mix/stir for one minute.
- Add oil and sugar and mix for about one minute.
- Slowly add water and mix to form the dough.*Because each flour is different, stored differently, and has different absorption capacities, the amount of liquid will almost always change. Even if you always use the same flour, it may be that on different days, the flour will absorb more liquid than before. So, start with half a cup of water and gradually add enough until the dough is soft but not sticky. Dough that lacks liquid will be stiffer and much less comfortable to work with. The water temperature should be warm.
- Add the salt and knead for 8-12 minutes (It helps the gluten form and the dough to be elastic with better structure).
- Grease the dough with a little bit of oil, cover with a kitchen towel or loosely with saran wrap and let the dough rise until doubled (place the bowl somewhere warm).
- Sprinkle a little bit of flour on your work surface. Divide the dough into 3 equal portions.
- Roll each piece of dough into a long rope.
- Roll one part into a long rope. Spiral it around itself until you reach the end, and tuck the end under.
- Divide the second part into 3 equal portions.
- Roll each part into a long rope.
- Use two ropes as the “key body.”
- Divide the third rope into 3 parts.
- Form two pieces to be the “key teeth” and place the third stripe in the center of the “key body” in a perpendicular position to it.
The second rise:
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and place the Challah on it.
- Place the pan somewhere warm, cover with a towel, and let it rise until puffed, about an hour.
- Heat the oven to 400°F/200°C.
- Whisk the maple syrup with a tablespoon of water when ready to bake and brush it all over the Challah.
- Slide the Challah on its baking sheet into the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes. The Challah is done when it is a rich golden brown and registers 190°F/90°C in the very middle with an instant-read thermometer.
- Let the Challah cool on a cooling rack.