The Shabbat table – It’s shlissel challah time!

A key-shaped challah baked. (NORENE GILLETZ PHOTO)

Good Shabbos, Shabbat Shalom! No matter what else is on the Shabbat table, challah always takes centre stage! The first Shabbat after Passover, there is an Ashkenaz Jewish custom to bake a key-shaped challah for Shabbos, sprinkling it with sesame seeds. It is also known as shlissel challah. (Shlissel is the Yiddish word for key.) Shlissel challah is believed to be a good omen (segula) for livelihood (parnassa).

There are many creative ways to do this. Some people shape the challah dough into the shape of a key, while others prefer to place a foil-wrapped key into their challah dough before baking it. Just remember to remove the key before biting into it!

Another method is to place a metal key on top of the unbaked loaf, then just before baking the challah, press down on the key, making a key-shaped indentation. Another technique is to form a small piece of challah dough into a key-shape, then place it on top of the unbaked challah. An easy option is to sprinkle sesame seeds in the shape of a key on top of the challah.

For helpful information on making a key-shaped pan and excellent how-to photos, see Sarah Bokshin’s garlic-stuffed shlissel challah:

Israeli cookbook author, Tamar Ansh, explains the custom of serving shlissel challah, providing tips and tricks and sharing several shaping techniques:

Food blogger, photographer, and recipe developer, Melinda Strauss, uses her regular challah dough which she makes in a stand mixer, then shapes it into shlissel challah. Check out her website for her recipe and how-to photos:

Also see how to make Melinda Strauss’ chocolate challah here:



Challah, a delectable braided bread, is served all over the world on Shabbat, Jewish holidays, and special ceremonial occasions. This recipe is a winner!


1 tsp sugar

1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115°F)

1 pkg regular or quick-rising yeast (1 Tbsp)

1/2 cup canola or grapeseed oil

1/2 cup warm water

1/4 cup sugar

2 tsp salt

2 large eggs

3 1/2–4 cups all-purpose flour (part whole wheat or spelt flour can be used)

1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tsp water (for glazing)

Sesame seeds (for sprinkling)


  1. Dissolve sugar in 1/2 cup warm water in a large mixing bowl which has first been rinsed with hot water. Sprinkle yeast on top and let stand for 10 minutes. Stir to dissolve.
  2. Add oil, warm water, sugar, salt, eggs, and half the flour. Beat well. Gradually stir in most of the remaining flour – you probably won’t need it all. Dough should be slightly sticky to the touch.
  3. Turn out onto a floured work surface and knead for 10 minutes, until smooth and elastic, adding just enough flour as needed to prevent dough from sticking to your hands or the work surface.
  4. Place dough into a large greased bowl; turn dough over so all surfaces are lightly greased. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. (Dough may also rise in the refrigerator; it will keep up to 3 days before shaping and baking.)
  5. Punch down dough. For a lighter texture, cover and let rise again until doubled, about 45 minutes. (I usually don’t bother.) To shape: Divide dough into three equal parts. (Note: To make two smaller challahs, first divide dough in half, then divide each half into three equal parts.) Shape into long strands. Place on a parchment-lined baking sheet and braid loosely. Fasten ends securely, tucking them under. (Shaped loaf/loaves can be frozen at this point. When needed, thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then continue as directed.)
  1. Cover with a towel and let rise until doubled, 45–60 minutes. Brush with egg glaze; sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  2. Bake in a preheated 400°F oven for 30 minutes, until golden brown. (If making two smaller challahs, baking time will be about 25 minutes.) Dough will sound hollow when tapped with your fingers. Cool away from drafts.

Yield: One large or two small challahs. Freezes well.


HONEY RAISIN CHALLAH: Use 1/4 cup honey instead of sugar. In Step 3, knead 3/4 cup raisins into dough.