Easter traditions include more than just chocolate. In my family, we have two which make the holiday special. We make Cheoreg (which is an Armenian Easter bread), and we have egg fights (which I will describe in another post since we have not coloured our eggs yet).
Cheoreg is similar to challah or egg bread although it has a sweeter taste.
I spent a day making Cheoreg with my grandmother and one of her friends the other day. I love the methodical process of kneading and forming loaves. It is so relaxing and therapeutic -The smells, the feel of the dough... It's like one of those stress balls you squeeze. If you are ever feeling stressed, I suggest you go make some bread (better than taking a yoga class! It's free!)
One of the ingredients that is a bit harder to find is called Mahlab - a kind of aromatic spice which needs to be ground to release its unique flavour - similar to that of bitter almond. I associate the smell of this seed very much with Easter.
Recipe: Armenian Easter Bread (Cheoreg)
Makes ~4 Loaves
6 cups all purpose flour (reserve 1 cup)
2 tsp mahleb
6 eggs + 1 egg for brushing the loaves
1 package active dry yeast
1/3 cup lukewarm water (110 degrees F)
1/2 tsp salt
3/4 cup butter (combination of butter and oil)
3/4 cup milk
1 3/4 cups sugar
blanched whole almonds
white sesame seeds or nigella seeds
In a glass measuring cup, combine the lukewarm water, a pinch of sugar and the yeast and set aside for 10 minutes until the yeast has become foamy and activated. Meanwhile, melt butter in a saucepan. Add the milk and sugar and dissolve over medium heat. Set aside to let cool.
Measure 5 cups of flour into a large bowl. Add the Mahleb and salt and mix. Beat the eggs together until fluffy in a seperate bowl and add the cooled milk mixture as well as the yeast to the eggs.
By Hand: Add the liquids to the flour and stir with a wooden spoon until mostly combined. Switch to your hands and knead the ingredients together until they become a cohesive mix. Knead for about 8-10 minutes (you may need to use the reserved cup of flour depending on the consistency of the dough (it is better for the dough to be too moist than too dry!). The texture should feel like your ear lobe.
Kitchenaid: In mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, add the flour to the bowl. Turn to slow and add the liquids slowly. Switch to the dough hook attachment and let knead on low for ~5 minutes. The dough should stick slightly to the bottom of the bowl but the sides should be clean.
Transfer the dough to a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Place in your oven or a warm spot to rise for ~1 1/2-2 hours or until doubled in size.
Prepare 1 large baking sheet - Cover with a sheet of parchment or a silpat.
Turn the dough out onto the counter and divide the dough into 12 equal sized balls of dough (3 balls will create one braided loaf).
Roll three balls of dough into 3 long ropes of dough (~1 foot long each) and braid. Transfer each loaf to the tray (make sure to leave ~2inches between each loaf as they need to rise again).
Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm draft-free spot to rise (~40 min).
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Uncover dough and place blanched almonds into the folds of the braids. Brush the loaves with the egg wash and bake in the oven for ~15-20 minutes or until golden. Let cool on wire rack.