Armenian Easter Bread
Yields 3 loaves
This Armenian Easter Bread, called “choereg” or sometimes “choreg” is a buttery sweet bread, fragrant with spices called “mahleb” or sometimes “mahlab” along with nigella seeds. I have also seen recipes with just the ground mahleb seeds added. It is a delicious bread that will be devoured in minutes and is wonderful to make any time of year. My husband loved it so much when I first started to make it, that he wanted me to open a bakery just to sell the bread! Best of all, this bread can be made in advance and even keeps beautifully frozen.
Sweet bread is popular in many cultures around the world, with many variations. This original recipe is Armenian which includes the ground mahleb and nigella seeds as well as the sesame seeds added at the end to the top of the bread, but I typically omit the seeds for my family due to allergies, so it tends to taste more like the ever-popular Challah bread. Either way you make it, you are sure to love it. Feel free to experiment.
- 6 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ sticks salted butter, softened
- 1 cup whole milk or 2%
- ½ cup white granulated sugar
- 3 whole eggs, large
- 1 ½ teaspoons table salt
- 2 ¼ teaspoon yeast (dissolve in ½ cup warm water, then stir)
- 3 yolks (for outside of bread)
- Olive oil
- 1 teaspoon Mahleb, ground -optional
- 1 teaspoon Nigella, ground – optional
- Sesame seeds (poppy seeds, optional)
First, start by dissolving the 2 1/4 teaspoons of yeast (or you can use 2 packets to nudge along the rising), dissolve in 1/2 cup of warm water and give it a stir. It should look like this. Let it rest a minute.
Then measure 1 cup of whole milk (or 2%) and warm in the microwave for 30 seconds. Also, measure out 1/2 cup of white sugar and 1 1/2 teaspoons of table salt. Place 1 1/2 sticks of butter in the microwave for 30 seconds. You can also leave it out at room temperature to let it soften. Then using a large bowl, mix in the water with yeast, stir in the sugar, salt, the warmed milk, and the softened (not melted) butter. Mix 3 whole eggs and toss them in as well. You may add in the ground nigella and mahleb seeds at this time or you may omit this step. Mix well. Then one-cup-at-at-time add in the flour.
Please note: You may use a hand mixer for the wet ingredients. Once I mix the wet ingredients and dry ingredients together, I use a spoon and keep mixing by hand until everything is well incorporated. It’s easier this way. It’s a lot of dough!
This dough will be very sticky. Knead the dough on a clean and lightly floured work surface. I use a pastry mat. After about 10 minutes of kneading, toss it back into the bowl and lightly grease the bottom of the bowl with olive oil and then the top of the ball of dough, cover and put in a warm place to rise. Maybe a sunny spot. Since this contains egg, I do not let the dough sit out at room temperature for too long. After roughly 1.5 hours I will check it, and it usually has doubled in size.
Once it has doubled in size, cut the loaf into 3 sections using a pastry cutter. Working with one section at a time, divide it into 3 pieces. Then roll out each piece into a long rope. Combine the three ropes together at one end and tuck it under, then braid the pieces like you would a braid, and seal the other end and tuck that under as well. I promise it’s not that difficult. You will make 3 loaves or if you wish 2 larger ones.
Place each braided loaf onto a baking sheet lined with aluminum foil. Be sure to spread some olive oil on it. Then cover each loaf until it puffs up, roughly 30 minutes. I will place these on my stove top and turn my oven on. The heat from the oven helps the bread to expand. Once the loaf has roughly doubled, brush on the egg yolk wash, and add the sesame seeds. (you can experiment with both sesame and poppy seeds on top).
For the egg wash: separate the white of the egg from the yolk. Mix the 3 yolks with a fork and evenly spread onto the bread using a pastry brush or clean hands. Be generous. If you need more yolks you may add.
Then place in the oven at 350 degrees for roughly 20 minutes. The bread will be a rich, deep golden, brown color when it is down. Let it cool on a cooling rack for 5 minutes. Also, you may bake 3 loaves at a time if you have a convection fan in your oven to circulate the air around. I have done that but move the bread onto different racks at least one time so they bake evenly. I do prefer baking 1 loaf at a time, albeit tedious.
This bread has become a family favorite, not just at Easter time, but anytime of the year. Enjoy!
Other Cultures Sweet Breads
- Greek Easter Bread (TSOURÉKI) is also made with ground Mahleb seeds, and baked to golden, sweet perfection usually with a red hard-boiled egg.
- Italian Easter bread is a traditional light, fluffy sweet bread which was made by my Italian grandmother – it tastes like brioche and flavored with lemon zest and ground aniseed. She would always place colorful hard-boiled eggs amidst the braided ring or one long braid.
- Lithuanian fruit bread or Vaisiu Pyragas features a sweet bread chock-full of chopped dried fruits traditionally yellow raisins. It is not as dense as the ever-popular fruit cake made in America at Christmas.
- Slovakian Sweet Bread known as Vianočka is a traditional holiday sweet bread prepared for Easter and Christmas. It is made with dark raisins.
- Challah bread is common in the Jewish culture and traditionally eaten during Jewish holidays like Passover. It is a beautifully brown braided sweet bread which tastes a lot like this Armenian Sweet bread.
Fun fact: We did our DNA testing, and my family had some Armenian descent (a small trace), so I decided to explore their culture and traditions and make this delicious, mouth-watering bread. One bite and you will be hooked!
This recipe is from my blog marioochskitchen.com where you can find other creative and healthy recipes for the family. My cookbook Mariooch’s Kitchen Food That Will Gather Your Family is available on Amazon.