Wholesome Is the Key

Age-old traditions, once closely held by small communities, have been introduced throughout the Jewish world, and shlissel challah is no exception. Just as there are now Ashkenazim celebrating the end of Pesach with Mimouna, many Sephardim and even unaffiliated Jews have begun baking key-shaped challos the Shabbos after Pesach.

There is no rule as to how the challah should look. And tradition does not even tell us if the challah should be shaped like a key or should just have a key tucked into it. Should it be a real key? Or maybe a piece of challah dough cut with a key-shaped cookie cutter? (Yes, this is a plug for those, since we sell the cookie cutter!) The key to this tradition — pardon the pun — is actually just baking a challah! How you chose to decorate it is up to you.

In the past we’ve written about shlissel challah and always included a traditional white flour recipe. Lately, folks have been leaning toward a healthier version. Our whole wheat challah does not have any sweetening agent in it at all, but you will find it is not missing the sugar or honey or even the sugar substitute. It’s got a bread-like taste and using instant — not active, dry — yeast ensures a beautiful rise. The only difference is using hot water, not warm. Instant yeast requires hotter temperatures to revive the freeze-drying process. Tap water is fine, no need to boil. Plus, you will be amazed at how quickly the dough rises.

The best part: It’s a simple recipe with easy instructions, the kind even a first-time baker will not find intimidating. Go ahead and try!

Sugar-Free Whole Wheat Challah

5 lbs white whole wheat flour (I like Grain Brain)
3 1/3 tablespoons instant yeast (I’m a Fleischman’s yeast snob)
6 cups HOT tap water
4 eggs
1 cup canola oil
3 heaping tablespoons kosher salt

2 egg yolks, beaten

Poppy seeds or sesame seeds for sprinkling

Place flour into mixer bowl, but sift first (whole wheat flour is hard to sift). Add all remaining ingredients in order. Knead at lowest speed for 10 minutes. Remove from the mixer and place in a large bowl or on a plastic-covered work space.

  1. Let the dough rest 10 minutes.
  2. Take challah. Divide and braid. This recipe will make 5 challahs approximately 10-11 inches long. Alternatively, it will be enough for 15 baalebatische bilkelach. Make the challahs smaller than the pans, as this recipe will rise well.
  3. Let them rise 30-40 minutes in a warm area.
  4. Brush with egg wash. Sprinkle with your favorite toppings. I usually use both poppy and sesame seeds.

Put into a cold oven set to 350. Bake 40 minutes to an hour, depending on the size of the challahs or until lightly browned. Challah with no sugar will never get very dark.
Remove and cool.

If you would like to make one large key-shaped challah, use a disposable tube pan with the hole in the center. Make 2 cuts on one side of the pan about 2” apart. Cut from the top edge down to the bottom of the pan and flatten the cut strip of foil outward. Make the same type of cuts at one short end of a medium disposable rectangular loaf pan and flatten the cut edge outward as well.

Fit the two pans together by tucking each open flap into the other pan. Using about half the recipe above, divide the dough in half, with one half larger than the other; about a 60/40 ratio. Make a simple 3-strand braid from each part. Place the larger braid in the tube pan and the smaller braid in the loaf pan.

Allow the challah to rise until the braids meet. Brush with egg wash and bake as directed above.