Let's Eat

The key to freedom – a new meaning for the shlissel challah

Two bakers have repurposed a loaf traditionally made for the first post-Pesach Shabbat


Photo: Tami Isaacs

This Shabbat — the one immediately following Pesach — many Jewish bakers will be making their challah in the shape of a key. The loaf is known as a shlissel (pronounced sh-li-zzell) challah — taken from the German word for key: shlüssel.

It’s a custom, created hundreds of years ago, that’s said to be all about good financial fortune. Making the loaf was essentially a prayer for a financially abundant year to come for your family. The key symbolised that our parnassah (livelihood) in in God’s hands.

Its Insta-friendly looks meant that in recent years it has been a popular bake on social media — appearing all over Instagram ahead of the first post-Passover Friday.

For many of us (myself included) praying for wealth does not necessarily sit well and two Jewish bakers have chosen a different focus for their prayers and plaits.

“I wanted to do something for the hostages” said London-based baker and JC recipe writer, Fabienne Viner-Luzzato, who decided to bake shlissel loaves to raise donations for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum. Demand was high she had to close her book when orders hit 60.

Viner-Luzzato’s take on the loaf’s symbolism was that for her the key was to the freedom of the hostages. “Like most of us I’ve been very affected by events since October 7. To me the key not only symbolises the release of the hostages but the rebuilding of the country and a new beginning and hopefully, peace.

Tami Isaacs, owner of Karma Bread in Hampstead Heath and the self-termed ‘challah queen’, had not connnected with the meaning of the shlissel loaf. For her it had held no spiritual meaning, but when she was asked to lead a bake off for the Hostages and Missing Families Forum, she knew she had found a purpose.

“Only now am I interested in it — it has taken on a whole new meaning. This year it has got to be about freedom; it’s got to be done in a mindful way and it has to be about the hostages. That’s why it’s important to me” she said.

“Baking bread is an act of love and that’s the whole point of it this year. It’s all about solidarity and raising awareness.”

She said that she hopes the tradition can be reinvented this year. “I don’t usually like it as it’s a bit of a PR stunt and when I do creative work with challah it has to have personal meaning for me. I’m thrilled to be doing it for these people — it’s a real honour.”

If you want to make your own key-shaped challah, Isaacs has these tips:

  1. Small is best — create all the components as small as possible or it will be a mess. Go too big and the risen version can end up looking like a koala bear.
  2. Thinner and well defined plaits are better — leave plenty of space between the horizontal ‘prongs’ or they will splurge together when the dough rises and expands.
  3. Keep it uncomplicated — simple is best.

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