By: Angelique Ghazarian
Is there one special meal or dessert that you prepare for a certain occasion every year? In my family, there is. It’s called the “choereg” which we make every Easter. This delicious Armenian pastry is a tradition that has been passed down from generation to generation. Every Armenian knows what choereg is. If not, then they probably aren’t fully into their culture. In English, choereg could be translated to “Armenian Easter bread”. The most important ingredient found in this pastry is the “mahleb”. This is what gives it its distinctive flavour and aroma. It can be found in Middle Eastern grocery stores, such as Adonis, in the spices section. The beautiful aspect of this dessert is the way it’s prepared: the dough is in fact braided. I remember as a child, I would always want to help my mother braid the dough. Although it's not such a hard process, I was never able to get a good looking braid like my mom did. As the years passed by, I improved, and today, I am much better at braiding the choereg.
There are several traditions that Armenians follow when preparing choereg. Some of them put red painted eggs in the dough while braiding it to give a pretty allure. However, in my family, we put a one dollar coin in the dough before baking it, and whoever gets the piece of this sweet bread with the coin is said to be the lucky one and that he/she will encounter something special. Even though the ways to prepare it might be slightly different, the choereg is considered to be one of the most popular Armenian desserts. It has been a tradition for Armenian families, and I definitely believe it will stay one in the years to come.
Next time you meet an Armenian, ask them what’s the dessert they prepare during Easter time. Chances are “choereg” will be their response!
- 1 cup whole milk
- 1 cup unsalted butter
- 1 cup margarine
- 1 cup white sugar
- ½ cup lukewarm water
- 2 teaspoons white sugar
- 2 (¼ ounce) envelopes active dry yeast
- 5 eggs
- 6 cups all-purpose flour, or as needed
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ tablespoons ground mahleb
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt
- 1 egg, beaten
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
1. In a saucepan over medium heat, combine the milk, butter and margarine. Heat until butter and margarine are melted, but do not let it boil. Stir in 1 cup of sugar until dissolved, then set aside to cool to lukewarm.
2. Meanwhile, in a small bowl, dissolve 2 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.
4. Add the yeast mixture, and stir just until blended.
5. 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 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
6. When the dough has doubled, punch down again, and let rise until doubled. It will only take about half as long this time.
7. Separate the dough into 5 even portions, 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 4 inches apart. Set in a warm place to rise until your finger leaves an impression behind when you poke the loaf gently.
8. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Brush the loaves with beaten egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired.
9. Bake for 25 minutes in the preheated oven, or until nicely golden brown all over.