Today I am making chorek, traditional Armenian Easter Bread. My aunt Victoria, who we all call Viki, always makes chorek and gives it away as a gift for Easter. The recipe was passed down, and now I am here to share it.
Chronicles and Memoirs
As a little girl I used to make this with my mom. She would give us a piece of dough and we would shape them into flowers, letters, birds or most of the time some abstract figures. My mom would make the braids and roulades filled with walnuts or apricot preserves, sprinkled with poppy or sesame seeds.
The aroma of the baked chorek was sweet and enticing, lingering in the kitchen for days. It penetrated into all the nooks and crannies of my senses and became engraved in my memory.
Recently I came across an article which had a small excerpt from Fethiye Cetin‘s autobiographical book, entitled “My Grandmother: An Armenian Turkish Memoir“. The book is about her grandmother, one of the many Armenian women who were forced to became Muslims to survive and escape the death march during the horrendous events of the Armenian genocide of 1915-1922.
This small passage tells a story of Chorek and how it was a secret message between the Islamized women who had the same fate. Women who tried to hide their identities from their children and grandchildren but hold on to a sting of their roots by sharing their customs with one another.
“Do you know that when I was a child, my grandmother and I came to your house? My grandmother baked chorek all day. After sitting for a while, after tasting my grandmother’s chorek, we also visited Shasho Ibrahim’s wife, Aunt Seher, and Tatuml, aunt. It caught my attention that day that all the people we went to had a served chorek. The choreks we tasted in other houses were like the ones we made in your house. When I was expecting a different kind of hospitality and was always disappointed to see the same pastry. My grandmother ate and drank tea in the homes of all the people we visited. It was only years later that my attention was drawn to the hospitality of that day and the community of homes we visited. “Shasho Ibrahim’s wife, Aunt Seher, was Armenian, and Aunt Tatiml later converted to Islam, like my grandmother.”
What’s special about Zatiki Chorek – Armenian Easter Bread?
Easter heralds the end of lent and celebration of new beginning, awakening and rebirth. The enriched bread chorek, is loaded with eggs and butter, milk and sugar, similar to brioche, challah, pana pasquale.
What makes chorek so different and memorable is the unique spice called mahleb. It gives chorek its distinctive taste and enchanting aroma. Mahleb is the wild cherry stone kernels that are not as bitter as ordinary cherry’s but have very delicate and exquisite flavor. Known for its medicinal properties mahleb was used since ancient times, and eventually made it’s way into the kitchen as one of the spices prevalent in countries around the Mediterranean.
Specialty spice stores and Middle Eastern markets usually carry mahleb and they come either whole, like the picture above, or ground into powder. The whole kernels can be easily ground in a mortal and pestle.
Making the Bread
The first step is to make the starter. To activate the yeast, dilute with ¼ cup lukewarm milk, add 1 tablespoon sugar and 2-3 tablespoon of flour. Cover, and let it sit on the counter for 10-15 minutes. It will become frothy and double in volume.
Meantime, start making the dough either in a stand mixer with a paddle attachment, or in a big mixing bowl using a whisk. Mix the butter with a cup of flour until well combined. Then add the eggs, one by one, and incorporate with the butter. Gradually add the sugar, milk, and the activated starter. Once everything is well mixed, start adding the flour. If using a stand mixer, replace the paddle attachment with a dough hook.
This enriched dough will require a good 10-15 minutes of kneading to develop the gluten and create the elasticity.
After kneading, cover the dough and place in a warm location (~ 75°F for 2-3 hours.) I like to put it in the oven (which is turned off), since it has more controlled temperature.
Check the dough, it should have doubled by now.
Punch it down and do a couple of folds by pulling the dough underneath and pulling it over and across. Rotate, and do a few similar folds. Cover the dough and let it rise for the second time for 1-hour.
After the dough rises the second time, divide the dough into desire portions; and begin to give each piece it’s initial shape. Cover the portioned dough with a towel or a plastic wrap (it needs to rest before final shaping.)
Shaping ideas and options
Braids: I typically make the braids with 500-600 grams of dough. I use three strips. There are move elaborate braids, but I am sticking to the traditional one. I divide the dough into three equal parts, knead each piece, and give each an initial sausage shape.
Roulades: To make a roulade with the walnuts or jam, I portion ~400 grams of dough. No initial shaping required; I simply knead and ball the dough and set it aside covered.
Chevron: For small chevron shaped rolls, I portion 70-100 grams of dough, knead them into the little balls and set them aside covered.
Baking the bread
Preheat the oven to 350°F .
After I shape all of the pieces, I let rise one last time (approximately 15-30 minutes.) The kitchen now is much warmer (with the preheated oven), so the bread will rise more quickly. To ensure the bread is ready for baking, give it a poke test by firmly pressing on to the dough with your knuckle or finger. If the dough springs back rapidly, it needs more proofing. If it leaves a small indentation (which slowly fills), it’s ready to bake. Beat one egg with a little bit of a water and brush each piece with an egg-wash. Sprinkle seeds on top and place into oven for 30 minutes. If you have two trays in the oven you can flip and rotate the them halfway through.
By the time I finish baking, the warm and sweet smell of the bread has permeated the house; it’s so cozy and inviting.
Zatiki Chorek – Armenian Easter Bread
- 300 gram Butter melted
- 6 eggs roughly 300 gram
- 1.5 cups sugar + 1 Tbs for starter
- 1.5 cups milk+ ¼ milk for starter
- 900 gram Flour
- 1 teaspoon Yeast Active Dry Yeast (not instant/rapid rise)
- 1 teaspoon Mahleb
- 1 egg for eggwash
- sesame seeds
- poppy seeds
- nigella seeds
- Mix 1 teaspoon of yeast with 1/4 cup of lukewarm milk. Add 1 tablespoon of sugar and flour to make a creamy consistency. Cover and let rise for 15-30 minutes.1 teaspoon Yeast
- Start mixing the melted butter with one cup of flour in a standing mixer with paddle attachment.300 gram Butter melted
- Then add the eggs and sugar and beat well.6 eggs roughly 300 gram, 1.5 cups sugar + 1 Tbs for starter
- Add the milk followed by the starter.1.5 cups milk+ ¼ milk for starter
- Sprinkle the ground Mahleb.1 teaspoon Mahleb
- Replace the mixer with the dough hook.
- Gradually add the flour. After adding 8 cups, scrape the mixing bowl from the bottom and continue kneading (8-10 minutes).900 gram Flour
- The dough should feel smooth and elastic but not sticky. If it feels sticky add more flour until it no longer sticks.
- Once the dough is kneaded and glossy, place an a bowl that has room to rise, cover and place in a warm place.
- Let it rise for 2-hours. It should double in volume. The ideal temperature is 75°F (24°C).
- Punch the dough down and make a couple of folds by bringing the dough from the bottom across diagonally over. Repeat for all sides. Cover and let it rise a second time.
- Once the dough rises the second time, divide it into portions.
- Preheat the oven to 350° F, while you shape and make the breads.
- Make the braids, rolls, any shapes you want.
- Beat the whole egg with a little bit of water and brush it on the ready breads.1 egg
- Let them rise for 15-20 minutes. Sprinkle with the seeds and bake for 20-40 minutes.sesame seeds, poppy seeds, nigella seeds
- The smaller breads will bake quicker. The thicker braids will require 40 minutes.