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Pan de siete cielos for Shavuot

The Jews of Salonika used to bake el pan de siete cielos – the bread of the seven heavens – as part of their Shavuot celebrations.

El pan de siete cielos is a rich fatty bread, flavoured with anise extract or arak. It is sculpted into shapes connected to Shavuot. Traditional shapes included some or all of the following: 

  • Mount Sinai
  • The Torah
  • 7 rungs of clouds, to represent the seven levels of heaven (hence, “the bread of the seven heavens”)
  • Miriam’s Well
  • Jacob’s Ladder
  • A snake (because of the plague of snakes suffered by the Israelites in the wilderness, Numbers 21:6)

In this recipe, Kohenet Yael also adds:

This recipe is a vegan version by Kohenet Yael Tischler, who was inspired by this article in The Times of Israel. You can read more about Kohenet Yael’s journey with el pan de siete cielos here.



For the dough

4 cups flour

1 cup sugar

.5 oz dry yeast (approx 2.5 tsp)

⅝ cup veg oil

⅙ cup warm water

2.5 tbsp vegan butter

½ tsp anise extract, arak or other anise-flavoured alcohol (if none available, you can make your own with the recipe included below)

¼ cup soy milk (or whatever vegan milk you prefer)

(optional) 2 whole cloves (or something else that can be used to make the snake’s eyes – seeds, for example)

For the glaze

1 tbsp agave or maple syrup

1 tbsp water

To make your own anise extract (if needed)

1 tbsp water

1 tbsp whiskey, vodka or other strong alcohol

1 star anise

1 tbsp agave or maple syrup



First, if you haven’t been able to find anise extract, arak, or another suitable alcohol, make the “anise extract.” Put the water, whisky, star anise and agave into a small saucepan. Cook it on medium-low heat for approximately 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove it from the heat to allow it to cool. Keep the star anise inside, so it can continue to emit flavours. If you have been successful in locating anise extract or a suitable alcohol, you can skip this step.



Then, it’s time for the dough! Dissolve ¼ teaspoon of sugar in the warm water. Mix in the yeast, and allow to rest for 15 minutes.


Add the flour and mix well. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and allow the dough to rise for 30 minutes.


Whisk together the sugar, the anise extract and the oil.



Melt the vegan butter on low heat. (If you have made your own anise extract, and you still have your star anise, you can add it to the vegan butter to soak out the remains of the anise flavour.)


Add the sugar/anise/oil mixture, vegan butter and soymilk into the dough. Knead well.


Cover the bowl with a towel and allow to double in size.


Preheat your oven to 200 degrees celsius and line your baking tray with parchment paper or aluminium foil.


Now it’s time to shape your bread. Start with a ball of dough in the centre – that’s Mount Sinai.



Shape 7 ropes of dough, each one slightly longer than the last. Wrap them one at a time around Mount Sinai – these are the clouds, the seven heavens.

Mount Sinai surrounded by the 7 heavens


Shape the Torah on top of Sinai – two miniature rolls for the atzei chayim (the Trees of Life – that’s what the wooden handles are called) and a small rectangle for the scroll.



Make Miriam’s Well – this one is a few small concentric circles.



The snake is a rope of bread, curved about. If you like, you can give it eyes made of cloves or something else, like seeds.



Then, Jacob’s ladder. This can be made by laying two longer ropes of bread and then shorter ones to be the rungs.



If you have any extra dough left, feel free to add other shapes that speak to you! Here are my renditions of a sheaf of wheat, in honour of Ruth and the harvest, as well as the Wings of Shekhinah. Other shapes that could be fun for Shavuot, connecting to Shavuot’s themes of Divine Revelation and Prophecy (that is, receiving messages from G-d/dess): the Burning Bush, Balaam’s talking donkey, or a palm tree for Deborah the Prophetess. Feel free to be creative.



Once you’re happy with your shapes, make the glaze by mixing together the agave and water. Brush your bread with the glaze delicately, so as not to disturb your artwork.


Bake for 10 minutes at 200 degrees celsius. Then, lower the temperature to 175 degrees celsius. Bake for an additional 20 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown on top.


Allow to cool just enough so that you won’t burn your mouth on it. Remember to take a picture for posterity – you’re about to eat a work of art!



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