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.
- 2 T yeast
- 1 T sugar
- 1/2 T baking powder
- 2 T flour
- 1/4 c lukewarm water
- 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
- 1 egg
- 1/4 t vanilla
- Start butter melting, allowing it to cool down a bit after melted. Warm the milk
- 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!]
- Mash together the mazdaq gum and sugar with mortar and pestle
(or spoon in a bowl), if available (the sugar prevents sticking while mashing).
- 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.
- 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.
- Knead a couple minutes, pulling the dough from the sides to the center. Let rise at
least 2 hours or overnight.
- Form into 1.5 in diameter balls, about 40.
- 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.]
- Let rise another 1/2 hour.
- Beat egg and vanilla together and brush over top of the rolls.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 ....]
- 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.
- 2009 UPDATE NOTE.
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.
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