Choreg is an Armenian sweet bread typically made for Easter. This year, I’m teaching Pumpkin how to make it. Find the recipe below!
As a third-generation (half) Armenian American who grew up in a small town with virtually no other Armenians (except for my sister), my main connection to Armenian culture was through the food we’d eat at my grandparents’ on summer vacations and every other holiday. My sister and I loved being in the kitchen with our grandma and helping her cook.
As the girls and I have been attending Armenian church here in Arizona, and as I’ve been able to learn more about our culture through the magic of the Internet and social media, I’m learning there’s a lot more I don’t know about Armenian culture than I realized. I’m all at once feeling more connected and disconnected than ever. But the connection through food is powerful, and for me evokes childhood memories of my family all gathered together, eating traditional recipes prepared by my grandma. (Dining in Diaspora delves into the relationship between food and culture a lot deeper.)
We moved back to Arizona five years ago this week, and it was Easter week that year, too. Pumpkin and I attended Easter service at the Armenian church and bought a bag of choreg – an Armenian sweet bread traditionally made for Easter – to bring home, and then did the same the next year. The taste always takes me back to my grandma’s kitchen. I’d never made choreg myself until two years ago, when I decided I wanted to eat it Easter morning rather than wait until after church, and dug out my grandma’s recipes and another cookbook of Armenian recipes my grandpa gave me after she passed away.
Funny sidenote: one of the key ingredients to choreg is the spice mahlab. During my first attempt two years ago, having never made choreg before, I didn’t know what I was looking for other than what it was called when I stopped at a Middle Eastern market to look for it. I didn’t see it with the other spices, so I asked at the counter. The guy went to the back, and came out holding a huge plastic bag of a mysterious spice, where a word was written that started with “M” but was otherwise illegible. “Is this it?” he asked. “We can’t figure it out what it is.” I texted a picture to my sister, and she said it looked right but that I should be able to tell by the smell. I still wasn’t sure, but I gave it a shot, and that was it! My dad was visiting that Easter and confirmed everything tasted just as he remembered it. Success!
For Arizonans looking for mahlab, I’ve seen it at the Middle Eastern Bakery & Deli in Phoenix, and at the Princess Mediterranean Market & Deli in Mesa.
This year, I got Pumpkin in the kitchen to give it a go with me. She loved punching and twisting the dough! I can only hope for many more years of making Easter choreg together with my girls, and that they one day pass it down, too.
This recipe is adapted from “The Cuisine of Armenia” by Sonia Uvezian, which has an inscription in the front to my grandparents from a friend who gave it to them. The ingredients in this version are basically the same as my grandma’s version, but my grandma’s recipes were all taken down by memory, and often missing a key ingredient or step. Her choreg recipe, as written, leaves out the mahlab, for instance, and surprisingly includes margarine instead of butter. All other ingredients are the same, but in slightly larger quantities. Here is an excerpt from Uvezian’s book:
“A delicious roll known as choereg or keghkeh is served at breakfast or with afternoon tea or coffee. There are many variations of choereg which are shaped into breads or rolls and flavored with mahlab, an unusual spice with a wonderful aroma and taste. Other flavorings for choereg include grated lemon or orange rind and ground aniseed. Choeregs are traditionally baked during holidays, especially at Easter.”
- 1/4 cup warm water*
- 1 package active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk*
- 2 eggs, beaten
- 1 cup melted butter, cooled to lukewarm
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground mahlab or ground aniseed
- 1 1/2 tsp. baking powder
- 6 cups sifted all-purpose flour
- 1 egg, beaten
- Sesame seeds (optional)
*Note, in a variation from the recipe below, my grandmother’s version calls for the milk to be scalded in a saucepan, removed from heat, and then the margarine (or butter), sugar and salt is mixed in. Additionally, my grandma did not dissolve the yeast in water, but mixed it in with the flour instead.
Pour the warm water into a large bowl and sprinkle in the yeast. Let it stand a few minutes to dissolve. Add milk, eggs, melted butter, sugar, salt, mahlab and baking powder. Blend well. Add flour a little at a time. Knead dough on a slightly floured surface 3-4 minutes until smooth. Place dough in lightly oiled bowl, turning it over to grease the top. Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm place free from drafts (such as an unlit oven with a pan of hot water on the bottom rack) about 2 hours or until doubled in bulk.
Punch down dough and transfer it to lightly floured surface. Divide into 32 equal pieces (slightly larger than a golf ball size). Dough can shaped a variety of ways. Roll with palms of hands to form a rope-like shape – these can be combined and braided, or individually rolled into snail shapes. Another option is to make a hole in the ball and work the dough to form circle, then twist a couple times.
Arrange rolls 2 inches apart on a greased or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise an additional 50-60 minutes. Brush the tops with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden brown.
We love to eat our choreg for Easter breakfast, with hard-boiled eggs (because we always have so many that the girls have decorated) and a side of fruit. Sometimes we eat the choreg as-is; Sometimes we slice it, toast it, and add cream cheese.
All photos by B Hansen Studios.