Sunday, February 28, 2016

Choreg, Armenian Easter Bread: Great Anytime


      I love egg based breads, whether it be Jewish challah, French brioche, tsoureki tou paska (Greek Easter bread), or the Italian pane di Pasqua - all are delicious.  My earliest memories of egg bread go back to earliest childhood and Armenian Choreg, which would be my memories answer to Proust's madeleines, such an iconic memory are these small braided sweetbreads to me.  Of course my mom and aunt made the best Choreg in California - of course.  Though made with yeast, this is a more time-consuming recipe, than it is difficult.  I usually bring the dough to the first rising, then divide the dough in half, freezing it for future baking.

Choreg

Ingredients 
4 cups(plus) unbleached flour (these doughs always need more or less flour  
    depending on the flour)
1 cup sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground mahlab (optional). But I love the flavor of this spice from the 
   kernel of the black cherry stone with its sweet fragrance.  Available at
   Middle East markets.  Keep in freezer to ensure freshness.
2/3 cup milk, low fat, 1 or 2 percent is fine.
8 tablespoons unsalted butter (1 stick)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
2 1/2 teaspoons dried yeast (preferably not rapid rise - it's usually the amount in one 
      individual package)
1/4 cup warm (not hot) water mixed with 1/2 teaspoon sugar

Note: depending on my energy level I mix my choreg either  by hand(high energy) or for lower energy days, in my mixer (I have a kitchen aid), starting with the paddle attachment then changing to the dough hook after about half of the flour has been added.  Even with the mixer a few minutes of hand kneading with a bit of bench flour is necessary.
  1. In large bowl whisk together flour, sugar, salt, and Mahlab (if using); set aside.
  2. Heat milk in saucepan, then add butter until melted.  Cool to lukewarm.
  3. Proof yeast: in measuring cup mix 1/4 cup warm water with 1/2 teaspoon sugar.  Sprinkle yeast over water.  After a minute or so mix yeast in with fork and set in a warmish place.  Should start rising within several minutes.
  4. Whisk eggs in large bowl.  Add milk-butter mixture.  While mixture is luke warm, add the proofed yeast (sometimes the yeast doesn't rise, so you need to do step 3 again - it's rare, happened only twice in my 55 years of baking).
  5. Add the flour-sugar mixture about a cup at a time until dough no longer can absorb the flour.  Transfer dough to a lightly floured board and knead adding flour until dough is no longer sticky.  Some judgement needed here, since this dough will not be as dry as most bread doughs lacking butter and eggs.
  6. Place dough in a large buttered bowl, cover with towel, and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
  7. "Punch " down the dough.  If dough feels too sticky at this point, knead in more flour, a little at a time.  As mentioned above, I immediately freeze half the dough for use in the next three  months. (When ready to use, simply thaw out the dough and proceed as follows).
  8. On lightly floured board, pinch off enough dough to make balls approximately 2 1/2 inches in circumference. Roll each ball into rope shape approximately index finger width (about ten inches long).  Then make a simple two strand braid (see picture above). Place each braid on parchment lined cookie sheet (the heavier insulated cookie sheets such as cushion-aire, work best since they keep the bottoms from browning too much.)  Continue making the braids, placing them a couple of inches apart, they double in size from the yeast action.  Repeat using another parchment-lined cookie sheet until the dough is used up. (Any extra dough can also be covered and refrigerated for a couple of days.) Now follow the next stage for second rising:
  1. Cover Choregs with tea towel for second rising.  This usually takes about 45 minutes, so after a half hour of rising time, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix one egg yolk with a tablespoon of water and gently brush over the raised choregs just before putting cookie sheet in oven. (You can chill second cookie sheet in fridge so it stops rising while first batch bakes.)
  3. Bake for eight minutes, then turn the cookie sheet around in oven to ensure even baking.  Bake an additional 7 minutes or more until the Choregs are light golden brown.  Bake second cookie sheet in same way.  Let cool for five minutes on sheet, then transfer Choregs to wire rack to cool.  Eat that same day.  Any choreg left over should be frozen, since they are not as wonderful the next day.  Enjoy with tea, coffee, or as bread with a meal.
Note: for this type of recipe, or any baking you do, I highly recommend an oven thermometer which can be affordable - some good ones are $10.  My oven was 25 degrees too low, while my former stove was 50 degrees too high.  It happens.

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