chorak (armenian sweet roll/brioche)

It's the pits!

Like many traditional recipes, this one probably has as many variations as Armenian moms who bake from a mental cookbook. Isgouhi's version has earned her accolades from relatives and friends (not always reliable) and we like it (firsthand assessment) so we'll stick with her recipe. Among brioches (is that French for sweet roll?), chorak is interestingly unique because of the distinctive aromatic smell it acquires from the magic ingredient: powdered mahlab (available in middle eastern food stores), apparently extracted from the inner pit of sour black cherries according to Linda Chirinian of Secrets of Cooking Persian/Armenian/Lebanese who has a competing recipe by the way. Whatever. [Re-assess the first line of this tale.]

This is a great couple activity, although probably one which will not come up on a first date. Mother/daughter (cross-generational). Husband/wife (intragenerational?, usually). Sisters. Whatever.

ingredients

starter
2 T yeast
1 T sugar
1/2 T baking powder
2 T flour
1/4 c lukewarm water
dough
1 c = 2 sticks = 1/2 lb unsalted butter
1 c lukewarm milk
6 c flour [can be substituted by 3 c whole wheat flour, 3 T wheat gluten, 3 c all purpose flour]
1 c confectioner's or regular sugar
1 t mahlab (heaping t)   [essential for chorak's unique taste]
1/4 t mazdaq gum + 1 t sugar   [not essential]
4 eggs
glaze
1 egg
1/4 t vanilla

instructions

  1. Start butter melting, allowing it to cool down a bit after melted. Warm the milk
  2. Meanwhile mix together the dry starter ingredients and stir in the lukewarm water in a small bowl. Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. [We stick ours in the microwave to rest usually. No power of course!]
  3. Mash together the mazdaq gum and sugar with mortar and pestle
    (or spoon in a bowl), if available (the sugar prevents sticking while mashing).
  4. In a big bowl mix the flour [we have a 14 in diameter light stainless hemispherical bowl to work in], confectioner's sugar, mahlab, and mazdaq mixture, if available. Make a well in the center and put in the eggs. Beat them wih a wisk or fork, then mix in the starter mixture and then gradually incorporate the dry flour into the center by hand. Then add in the butter and mix till incorporated. Then add the milk a little at a time until we dough consistency is attained, no longer sticky. [If a helper is available, he or she can pour the milk on the dough worker's hands to clean off the clinging dough.] If still sticky add in more flour 3 T at a time until not sticky. Knead the dough about 10-15 minutes till smooth.
  5. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and several kitchen towels and put in a warm place in the kitchen. Let rise at least 2 hours or overnight.
  6. Knead a couple minutes, pulling the dough from the sides to the center. Let rise at least 2 hours or overnight.
  7. Form into 1.5 in diameter balls, about 40.
  8. Roll each ball out with the palms of both hands back and forth till nearly 18 in long. Break off 1/3 of the dough worm. Lay out the long piece and attach the short piece to its center (press together) to form a T. Then begin braiding, alternately crossing over (this is the standard 3 string braid, known all over the world mostly by women and a few enlightened men), and then fix the ends together. Put on cooking spray sprayed cookie sheets with generous spacing. [Another option is to make a little circularly swirled mound like a snake in coiled striking position, headless.]
  9. Let rise another 1/2 hour.
  10. Beat egg and vanilla together and brush over top of the rolls.
  11. Bake in a preheated 350 oven about 20 minutes until golden brown. Check that the bottom of the rolls are not too dark along the way. It works best only using the middle rack for even baking, rather than using both upper and lower racks and switching halfway through, thus losing heat and leading to uneven baking.

notes

  1. This recipe has been well documented visually by the dr bob cooking school low-end point-and-shoot zoom photography specialist. Our first start-to-finish project: chorak moments.
  2. Once when we were in a bit of a hurry and the recipe master was a participant, we received to green light to shorten the second rising from 2 hours to 1 hour. This did not seem to affect the results. Later this somehow became officially lowered to 1/2 hour.
  3. dr bob was not informed about the masdaq gum until several renditions of this recipe, apparently some with and some without it. It is a special flavor gum marketed in the middle east by a subsidiary [Adams] of the multinational [Warner-Lambert] which employs one of bob's brothers. Small world. Maybe this is mastic gum (ristacia lentiscus), the mother of all gums? Needs more research... [For centuries the ancient Greeks chewed mastic gum (or mastiche pronounced "mas-tee-ka"). This is the resin obtained from the bark of the mastic tree, a shrub-like tree found mainly in Greece and Turkey. Grecian women especially favored chewing mastic gum to clean their teeth and sweeten their breath. Available on-line with mahlab (mahlepi?) from Mediterranean Foods or ....]
  4. These seem to last at least a week in a sealed plastic container as they succumb to daily munching, provided that only one couple is doing the munching. Hmm. If it makes about 40 rolls, that's 20 apiece, which means about a 3 per person per day (based on double occupancy accommodations) rate. Give some away.
  5. 2009 UPDATE NOTE.
    Gum remarks:
    Warner-Lambert no longer exists, it was bought out by the biggest of the Big Pharmas: Pfizer, who spit out the gum division; bob's brother ended up in another spit zone (Listerine) acquired by Johnson and Johnson. Sometimes Ani uses the masdaq, sometimes not, bob cannot tell the difference.
    Carb remarks:
    But in the new century with enlightened carb consciousness, we are now replacing the all purpose white flour contribution by half whole wheat (or white whole wheat?) and half regular all purpose flour (plus 3 T wheat gluten to compensate for the lower rising of whole wheat flour). We have also tried 3 1/2 c whole wheat (plus the gluten) with 2 1/2 c regular flour with success when we ran out of enough regular flour to mix in. It removes a little bit of guilt from the guilty pleasure of munching on these little rolls...
chorak.htm: 25-dec-2009 [what, ME cook? 1984 drbob enterprises]