Recipe by Ben Kiely – Armenian Easter bread recipe

Baking Choereg. | Photo by Ben Kielya

Choereg is a traditional, slightly sweet bread, especially made for Easter time.

It is delicious for breakfast with a nice cup of coffee, similar to a French brioche bread. Choereg can be made individually or as a large braided loaf of bread.

One of the ingredients is a spice called Malheb, which is used in cooking throughout the Middle East, Turkey and, of course, Armenia. It is dried cherry stone that is ground into a powder and used mainly in breads and sweet baked items. Malheb can be found at most Middle Eastern food stores.

Ingredients

• 1 cup whole milk

• 2 cups unsalted butter

• 1 cup white sugar

• 1/2 cup lukewarm water

• 2 tsp white sugar (for yeast)

• 2 (0.25 ounce) envelopes active dry yeast

• 5 free range eggs

• 6 cups all-purpose flour

• 1-1/2 tsp baking powder

• 1-1/2 tbsp ground mahleb

• 1-1/2 tsp salt

• 1 egg, beaten

• 1 tbsp sesame seeds

Method

1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk and butter. Heat until the butter is melted, but do not let it boil. Stir in one cup of sugar until dissolved, then set aside to cool to lukewarm.

2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dissolve two teaspoons of sugar in warm water. Sprinkle the yeast over the surface and let stand until frothy, about 10 minutes.

3. Crack the eggs into a large bowl, and stir a little to break up the yolks. Slowly pour in the heated milk mixture while whisking constantly, so as to temper the eggs and not cook them. Add the yeast mixture, and stir just until blended.

4. In a large bowl, combine the flour, baking powder, mahleb and salt. Make a well in the centre, and pour in the wet mixture. Stir until it forms a sticky dough. Pour onto a floured surface and knead in additional flour as needed to make a more substantial dough. Knead for about 10 minutes. Place in an oiled bowl, and set in a warm place to rise for about two hours, or until doubled in size.

5. When the dough has doubled, punch down, and let rise until doubled. It will only take about half as long this time.

6. Separate the dough into five even portions (if making buns take 2 oz portions and roll them into bun shapes), then separate each of those into thirds. Roll each of those into ropes about 12 inches long. Braid sets of three ropes together, pinching the ends to seal, and tucking them under for a better presentation. Place the loaves onto baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Loaves should be spaced four inches apart. Set in a warm place to rise until your finger leaves an impression behind when you poke the loaf gently.

7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Brush the loaves with the beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

8. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until nicely golden brown all over.

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