And why would I be attempting to shape my challah into a key? I'll explain. It is a segula for parnassah, or livelihood, to bake schlissel challah this first Shabbos after Pesach. Schlissel literally means key in Yiddish - and so challah is baked either in the shape of a key or with your actual house key (covered in foil please, cause who knows what kind of dirt and dirt's friend, the germ, live inside your keyhole) baked right into the challah. And so I hedged my bets and did both. My house key is now baked into my challah and we also have that other challah, the arrow shaped one that is pretending to look like a key.
And now, back to the beginning - why a key? And why in challah? And what does a key have to do with money? I am not a rabbi, but I will share my own insights - and will try to answer the last question first. At first glance, a key and money don't reaaly seem to be related but if you sit and think about it while the dough is rising, you, like me, might see that a key really does have a lot to do with money. For example, if we had no money, we would not have a house and by extension, would have no house key. And so we bake a key into the challah, the epitome of Shabbos and the anchor of the week in our home. You know when you've hit on a good thing when your kids ask when kiddush and challah time is - all week long.
Another thought that I had while trying to shape my challah is that a key, obviously, opens up locked doors. And sometimes it might seem that the door to heaven is locked and that G-d just might not be hearing out prayers. But then, the mitzvot or good deeds that we perform - such a baking challah for Shabbos - combined with the silent and very personal prayers said over the Shabbos candles, right before we eat the challah, might be the key to opening to the gates of heaven, allowing our prayers to ascend and thereby having goodness and blessings rain down upon us, and the world. Maybe that's why my challah came out looking like an arrow pointing up - to help us (me) remember that everything good comes from up there.
For more explanations and for some very interesting insight into why we bake schlissel challah click here. This comes from my Josh's longtime friend, also named Josh (we are lucky to have many many beloved Joshes in our lives), who made some very delicious looking schlissel challah of his own this week.
Because I have talked many times about baking challah, and I am not at all sure I ever shared the recipe, here it is, straight from my cousin Chanie, in Israel:
2 packets of yeast
2.5 cups warm water
3/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup oil
1 tsp salt
7 cups of flour
Pour the yeast into the bowl of your standing mixer. Add the warm water and let it sit for about five minutes. Add the sugar, oil and salt and mix, using the dough attachment. While the mixer is on, add the flour one cup at a time, until it is all incorporated. Mix the dough on medium (level 2 or 3) for 5-7 minutes.
The dough can rise in the mixer bowl, or if, like me, you need the bowl to keep cooking, place the dough in another bowl and cover with a damp hand towel.
Allow the dough to rise until it is doubled in size - between 2 and 3 hours, depending on the weather.
Shape the challah (I usually get four or five nice sized three-braid challahs from this recipe) and let it sit for about 30 minutes, rising again. Brush the challah dough with a beaten egg yolk mixed with a tablespoon of water and bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for about 25 minutes, checking the challah for doneness after 20 minutes. I can't explain it, but sometimes they are done after 20 minutes and sometimes they need to stay in for a full 30 minutes. Who knows.
Let the challah cool and then wrap them in foil. They can either be frozen, or if it is already Thursday or Friday, just place them in a ziploc bag and they will keep for Shabbos. We like to rewarm ours on the blech on Friday night and Shabbos day but it is not needed - they are delicious as is.
(Just as an aside, this recipe only uses 7 cups of flour. The dough is usually not very sticky and thus requires hardly any extra flour at all when shaping the dough. Therefore this recipe does not require that the baker make a bracha when "taking challah". However, if you find that the dough is very sticky, measure out the extra flour you are using because you may reach a level of flour where a bracha is needed. Either way, according to my husband's rabbi, the baker should "take challah" when baking this recipe, but no bracha is needed for this small amount of flour. Of course, to avoid all this trouble, the answer would be to double the recipe, "take" challah, make a bracha, and freeze half the challah for next Shabbos. Just a thought.)