We first became aware of mahlep (aka mahlep, mahalab, mahleb, mahaleb, mahalep, mahlepi, machlepi or makhlepi) in early 2010 when reading Anissa Helou’s excellent cookbook/travelogue “Mediterranean Street Food”.
Thursday Bread (Khobz al-Khamiss) [is] flavoured with mahlab (the kernel of a wild cherry, which adds an intriguing fragrant taste to breads and cookies).
-Anissa Helou, Mediterranean Street Food, p.112
The description of the spice piqued our interest but we just assumed we couldn’t get it so promptly forgot about it.
So now at last armed with our own stash of mahlep, onto the internet we went and found out about the bread called choreg (aka chorak, chorek, choereg, Tsoureki, çörək). There are a number of recipes online for this bread as well as one in our currant read-aloud before dinner book, “Flatbreads and Flavors” by Naomi Duguid and Jeffery Alford.
The recipe for chorak in “Flatbreads and Flavours” hails from Turkmenistan and calls for milk and fried lamb’s fat. Duguid and Alford omit the lamb’s fat in their recipe but do add goat’s milk. Interestingly, their recipe does NOT call for mahlep.
There is also a recipe for Tsoureki in “Mediterranean Street Food”. (We may have to try it too; it pairs mahlep with cardamom seed.)
We chose this recipe on theperfectpantry.com: Armenian brioche filled with dates, honey and walnuts.
I MEANT to add some goat cheese to the dough because Duguid and Alford said the choreg they ate was traditionally a sourdough bread.
But, naturally, when I started mixing the dough, I forgot….
I started making the buns Saturday morning. The dough took FOREVER to rise (good thing I had the BBB Stollen experience to fall back on) and I didn’t dare to shape and bake them til late Sunday afternoon.
Hey!! I should have slathered mine with a bit of goat’s cheese! Remind me to do that tomorrow!
Here’s what I did to make these wonderful little buns:
Choreg (brioche-like bread stuffed with dates and pecans)
based on theperfectpantry.com recipe for Armenian brioche filled with dates, honey and walnuts
makes 16 small buns ¹
- 3 Tbsp boiling water ²
- 3 Tbsp butter, room temperature ³
- 1 Tbsp lukewarm water
- 1 tsp active dry yeast
- 4 Tbsp sugar
- 4 Tbsp whole wheat flour
- 1.5 c (375ml) unbleached all-purpose flour 4
- 1 egg
- 1 Tbsp olive oil
- 1.5 tsp mahlab, finely ground
- 1 tsp fine seasalt
- milk, optional 5
- poppy seeds, optional
- 4 oz pitted dates, chopped
- 0.25 c pecans (recipe calls for walnuts; we didn’t have any)
- 0.5 tsp ground cinnamon
- 0.125 tsp ground cloves
- 1.5 Tbsp honey ground cloves
- In a large heatproof mixing bowl, pour boiling water over the butter. Cut up the butter til it has melted.
- In a small bowl, whisk yeast and lukewarm water together until creamy. Set aside.
- Whisk sugar and egg into the butter mixture.
- Using a wooden spoon, stir in the flours, mahlab and salt.
- Check the mixture against your wrist to ensure that is not too hot and stir in the yeast mixture.
- kneading: Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured board. Wash and dry your mixing bowl. This prepares the rising bowl AND gets your hands clean.
- Hand knead the dough for 8-10 minutes til the dough is smooth and silky. Don’t be tempted to add more flour!
- Put the kneaded dough in the clean mixing bowl. (It is entirely unnecessary to oil the rising bowl!) Cover and allow to rise in a warm spot (oven with only the light turned on is good) to about double (supposedly 2 hours or so but in our kitchen it took several hours). A good way to tell if it has doubled is to run your finger under water and poke a hole in the top of the dough. If the hole fills up, it hasn’t risen enough. If there is a whoosh of air and the dough deflates a little, it has risen too much. If the hole stays in exactly the same configuration and the dough remains otherwise intact, it is ju-u-st right.
- Shaping: Pour a good shot of poppy seeds into a saucer and fill a cereal bowl with water or milk/water if you like (I didn’t bother and only used water). Set aside.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured board. Divide it into even pieces: 8, if you would like larger buns, 16 if you would like smaller ones. Form them into rounds. Starting with the first one shaped into a round, press it down to form a disc. Spoon a small amount of date mixture in the center and wrap and seal the dough around it to form a ball. Holding it by the seam, dip the top part into a bowl of water then roll the wet part of the ball in poppy seeds to cover completely. Place the shaped bun seam side down on a parchment papered jelly roll tray (cookie sheet with sides). Repeat until finished, making sure there is space between each roll. Cover with a clean tea towel followed by a plastic bag and allow to rest for about 30 minutes. Don’t worry if they don’t rise very much.
- Shaping without filling: Cut each piece of dough into 3 and form ropes. Braid three ropes (start in the middle and move towards each end) to form smallish braided rolls. Place seam side down on parchment paper as above.
- Turn the oven to 350F and make sure the rack is on the topmost shelf.
- Bake on the top shelf for 10-15 minutes. Turn the pan around half way through baking to allow for uneven oven heat. Because of the high sugar content, watch the bottoms like a hawk for burning!
- Remove to cool on a rack. Wait til they are cool before breaking them open or cutting them. They are still continuing to bake inside! 7Notes
1.) number of buns this recipe makes: The recipe was actually supposed to make 8 buns. But as I was shaping them, I decided that with all that butter in the dough and the filling of pecans, dates and honey, they would be very rich. So I chose to make twice as many small buns. Also,
2.) Water: Under no circumstances should you use water from the hot water tap. Heat the water in a kettle or microwave and add cold water until it is the correct temperature, (use the baby bottle test on the back of your wrist – your fingers have no idea of temperature!) Or you can use a thermometer. The temperature should be BELOW 120F because yeast begins to die when the temperature is higher than 120F.
3.) Butter and Olive Oil: The recipe calls for lard as well as butter. I chose to omit the lard and use butter instead. Also, some of the olive oil is supposed to be used for oiling the rising bowl. (ooops!!! I JUST noticed that now… ha! you think I read the original recipe instructions before making the bread? Get real. :-))
4.) Flour: The recipe calls for simply all-purpose flour. But I love to add just a little whole wheat flour to mimic rustic hand-milled white flour.
5.) Milk: The recipe calls for about 3 Tbsp of milk to be added to the dough, as well as an egg-wash for the shaped buns. I WAS going to use milk instead of an egg-wash, but forgot and omitted the milk entirely, using water to hold the poppy seeds on.
6.) How much filling: Next time, I’ll make far less filling. This was way too much and we have date mixture galore left over. I’m planning to use the leftovers to make muffins.
7.) But I LIKE warm bread!!: If you wish to serve warm bread, reheat it after it has cooled completely. To reheat unsliced bread, preheat the oven to 500F. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread in the hot oven for ten minutes.
As I was doing the shaping, I suddenly thought it would be nice to have a chance taste the spice without the dates and cinnamon. So I made two small braided buns. They are equally delicious without the dates and have a somewhat delicate yet pronounced flavour of the lovely perfumed mahlep.
About Mahlep (Prunus mahaleb)
Mahleb: Mahleb is the kernal – looking like a miniature almond – inside the pit of a species of black cherry that growns in the Eastern Mediterranean.
-Jeffery Alford and Naomi Duguid, Flatbreads and Flavors, p.416
Mahlab (mahleb, mahlepi and other spelling variations) is a spice derived from the seed kernels of the Prunus mahaleb, a type of cherry tree (also referred to as a Rock cherry or St. Lucie cherry), and primarily used in Middle Eastern, Mediterranean and Eurasian cuisines. […] [Y]ou might notice its aroma is oddly similar to that of Play-Doh (mahlab aficionados would call it “nutty”). After grinding, however, mahlab’s scent is much closer to that of sour cherries and almonds, with a distinguishable bitterness upon being tasted. […] Traditionally added to baked goods, select meat dishes and some cheese, ground mahlab is used sparingly, often in recipes where tiny bits of sugar are added to counteract any remaining bitterness, which tends to dissipate upon baking. The resulting breads, pastries, cookies and biscuits feature a faint, somewhat floral and almond-like, yet unobtrusive, flavor that must be experienced first-hand to appreciate. […] Due to declining prices paid to farmers and the labor-intensive harvesting of this kernel, mahlab is increasingly hard to find. Many Middle Eastern markets carry it.
-Lydia Walshin, The Perfect Pantry, Mahlab (Recipe: Armenian brioche filled with dates, honey and walnuts)
Mahleb is made from the cherry pits from a special Middle Eastern cherry. As it bakes, the flavor really blossoms, you will smell it when the bread is baking. It is just very unique smelling and tasting – in a good way. A Middle Eastern store grinds it fresh for me but you can just use a spice grinder or a mini food processor. But I hope you will enjoy mahleb’s exotic flavor. It is really special.
-Cyndi, Kitchen Parade: Armenian Easter Bread
Mahlep is used as a flavouring in the eastern Mediterranean for savoury things as well as sweet like the above buns. There is a recipe for ‘Thursday Bread’ in Anissa Helou’s “Mediterranean Street Food” that pairs mahlep with nigella seed. It is eaten during Ramadan with labneh and olives. I can’t wait to try that as well!
Apparently, once it is ground, mahlep quickly loses its flavour. The package of pre-ground mahlep we were given was vacuum sealed. After opening the package, I sealed it up and put it in the freezer to preserve it as best I can.
Interestingly, the flavour is not unsimilar to almond. And there is a definite hint of cherry as well. Oh, and incidentally, for me, I’m happy to report that it bears little resemblance to playdough.
What was really amazing to me is that when I tasted the bread, I recognized the flavour. I now know I have had bread flavoured with mahlep at church teas and potluck receptions.
It’s quite delicious.
Please read more about mahlep (or however it is spelled!):
- the epicentre – Mahlab (Mahlebi, Mahleb) (includes recipes for ‘Tsoureki Paschalino’ and ‘Choereg’)
- Gernot Katzer’s Spice pages – Mahaleb
- wikipedia – mahlab
- The Cook’s Thesaurus – mahlab
Some time ago, Ruth (Ruth’s Kitchen Experiments) created this event to urge herself (and everyone else) to actually make the several recipes they have bookmarked in various books, magazines and internet pages. Jacqueline (Tinned Tomatoes) has taken over the event.
For complete details on how to participate in Bookmarked Recipes, please read the following:
- Bookmarked Recipes guidelines (Please note that the submitted recipes must be vegetarian.)
Each week, Susan (Wild Yeast) compiles a list of many bread-specific recipes from across the web. For complete details on how to be included in the YeastSpotting round up, please read the following: