Monthly Archives: March 2021

The Best Choreg Recipe Ever!

Well, maybe not. But these days such headlines always grab the attention of new recipe seekers out there—me included.

I’ve been making choreg now for five years, usually at Easter time. Choreg is a symbol of my childhood, and it has a special significance to my culinary identity. It was always around when I was growing up—both my grandmothers made it, using their own recipes. And my mother experimented with it, as well as gata, and various Armenian cookies, including simit, which is a hard, sweet braided cookie covered in sesame seeds.

The choreg recipe that my mom gave me several years ago was one that apparently was given to my grandmother, probably by her fellow churchgoers who were from Aintab (she was born in Kharpert province).  But I always found it strange that my choreg never came out as dense as my grandmother’s. Hers was a harder roll, delicious of course but not flaky inside, more bread-like, something that was toaster friendly (she would split the choreg horizontally, like a hamburger bun. The bottoms were golden brown or dark, but not burned. This has led me to believe that she didn’t actually follow this recipe and had made changes to suit her own palate. Or else she just used a different recipe altogether. For Easter she would make a large braided loaf and wrap the dough around a boiled onion skin-dyed egg—unpeeled.

In any case, several years ago I wrote about my very first experiment with choreg. I was absolutely clueless at the time, at one point adding flour a heaping tablespoon at a time until the dough thickened properly. I made some of my own changes over the years and finally came up with a recipe that makes a lightly sweet choreg. The aroma is intensified by the percentage of nutty mahleb (which is ground cherry pit) to nigella seeds for the proper balance of flavors (too many nigella seeds can overpowering—my grandmother from Urfa used to load her choreg with them and I remember picking out most of them when I was really young). I also use some high-quality honey to bring out the sweetness of the mahleb. Butter quality is also very important—I’ve found that unsalted French President butter is ideal. Since I’m in Yerevan I either use high-quality Russian flour or else my first choice–T45 all-purpose French flour that’s sold in Carrefour supermarkets. It sells out sometimes so I revert back to a particular Russian brand in a white and yellow paper bag (it just creatively says “flour” in Russian), which is the most expensive at around $1.25 per kilogram.

After all these years I finally learned how to properly knead the dough. You have to knead for a good 10-12 minutes (I do it by hand) or until the dough is workable. How do you know when it’s ready? Well, you can perform the “windowpane test” that’s in vogue these days by flattening out the dough and pulling it apart in front of the light using three fingers on each hand to check for proper elasticity. Or you can just break off an egg-sized clump of dough and roll it out thin to see if it’s workable, meaning there’s some elasticity but the dough doesn’t break when you roll it out and attempt to make a knot by bringing both ends together and looping one end through the circle that’s formed. Then I place the dough in a stainless steel bowl, cover it with a plastic bag, and prove it in a cold oven for 8 hours straight. It doubles in size during that time, which creates the layered, brioche-like texture.

Proper caramelization on the bottom

You can use egg-shaped pieces of dough for knots or you can be creative with braiding by using three strands of dough, joining one end of each strand together, and then go about lacing the left and right strands across the middle strand, as if you’re lacing a pair of sneakers and the middle strand is the sneaker (I know I’m going deep here with the imagery). 

The dough will yield about 12 large egg-shaped pieces. If you just want knotted rolls arrange six rolls on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. You want to bake for 25-30 minutes at 350 F/180 C degrees, or until the bottom of the roll is caramelized. If you’re impatient wait about 5-10 minutes before you tear them apart and eat them warm—I like to smear butter over the steamy, flaky dough before cramming it in my mouth.

If you’re super lazy you can just bake the choreg in a bread loaf pan. One time I brushed the bottom of a Bundt pan with egg wash, sprinkled sesame seeds on the egg, then dropped the dough in and baked it for around an hour. The sesame seeds were caramelized by all the butter in the choreg. I devoured it within a few days.

This recipe will give the choreg a brioche-like texture—you should not have a dense, bready roll if properly baked.

Here’s the recipe:

5 cups all-purpose flour, preferably unbleached

1/4 cup sugar (I use caster sugar)

1 packet (1/4 oz., or 2-1/4 tsp) of active dry yeast  (I had Fleishchmann’s on hand)

1 cup (225 g) high-quality unsalted butter, melted (I used Lurpak; French butter like President is even better)

1 cup milk, full-fat

2 tablespoons high-quality honey (I had Armenian linden blossom honey, and I used an actual stainless steel tablespoon to scoop it out of the jar)

3 eggs at room temperature, plus one for glazing

2 tsp mahleb

1 tsp nigella seeds

2 tsp fine salt (I only use sea salt)

2-3 tsp sesame seeds for sprinkling

Instructions:

  1. Cut the butter—cold (not frozen) or at room temperature—into pieces and place in a small saucepan. Melt the butter on the lowest stove setting/flame—do not let it start simmering.
  2. Once the butter is melted add the honey and stir a few times until it’s dissolved. Then add the milk. Stir again a few times, then take the saucepan off the heat and set aside. The liquid should be warm—do not bring it to a boil.
  3. Sift the flour into a large bowl. Then add the sugar, salt, mahleb, and nigella seeds and stir well until combined.
  4. Add the liquid mixture to a separate large bowl. Add the yeast to it and whisk until it’s dissolved. Then add the eggs. Whisk again until fully combined.
  5. Slowly add the dry ingredient mix to the bowl containing the liquid, about a quarter of it at a time, and stir until just combined before adding more (I use a big, old-school wooden spoon). Make sure you scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula and stir in every bit of flour, again until just combined. Do not over mix.
  6. Turn out the dough onto a clean, lightly floured surface and knead for 10 minutes. Then roll out a chunk of dough with your fingers into a strand to test for proper elasticity. If the dough bounces back a bit but doesn’t break apart when you make the strand and try to tie it into a knot then you’re done kneading. If it breaks then knead a bit more.
  7. Place the dough back into the bowl, cover the bowl with a plastic bag or film, and put the bowl in a cool oven. The dough should prove for a full 8 hours. It will double at least in size after rising. Then take the bowl out of the oven and set aside.
  8. Preheat the oven to 350 F / 180 C. Line two baking pans with parchment paper.
  9. Turn out the dough onto a clean surface. You want to divide the dough into 12 pieces to make 12 knotted rolls or else make the pieces bigger or smaller if you want to braid the dough, depending on the size you want the choreg to be. You can make a challah type-braid if you’d like. 
  10. To make knotted rolls, roll out each piece of dough with your fingers until you have a strand that is thin enough to work with, around a 1/2 inch or 1 cm in diameter. Do not make the strands too thin. Bring the two ends of each strand together then loop one end through the circular shape that’s formed to make a simple knot. You shouldn’t have a hole in the center.
    OR If you’re going to braid then the strands should be as think or thick as necessary, depending on the size of the elongated roll or loaf. Use three strands for braiding. There are plenty of videos online to guide you with the braiding process.
  11. Arrange the knots or braids on the baking pans—six knots per pan. Whisk an egg in a small bowl until fully combined. Glaze all the rolls with the egg wash using a brush, enough to cover the top of each roll completely. Then sprinkle enough sesame seeds to cover the top of each roll. Use more or less sesame seeds according to taste, it’s up to you. 
  12. If you’re going to place one tray of knotted rolls in the oven at a time bake for 25-30 minutes or until the tops and sides are golden brown and the bottom of the roll or braid is caramelized when you lift it slightly off the pan using a spatula or your oven mitt. If you’re making a large loaf then the baking time may be longer. If you’re going to place two pans in the oven, one on top of the other on separate racks, remember that the top pan will bake faster than the bottom pan, meaning that the bottom pan may have to bake longer than 25-30 minutes (although this may only be applicable to electric ovens; gas or convention ovens may produce different results).
  13. When you feel that the choreg is properly baked remove from the oven. Let the choreg cool completely, or if you’re impatient and want to eat one or two warm like I do then wait around 5-10 minutes before you tear into them.

To store, arrange them on a plate and cover with plastic wrap. You can also refrigerate or freeze them after placing them into a plastic zipper storage bag. A choreg roll can be cut horizontally and toasted. 

Serve the choreg as is or with generously smeared butter or your favorite cheese–feta, Munster, brie, or mozzarella are great. Kalamata olives and sliced sujukh or another cured, hard sausage also go well with choreg. Serve your favorite coffee or tea. Enjoy!