Get to know Armenian Easter Bread, or Choereg, a beautiful and delicious braided bread traditionally perfumed with mahleb and anise. Intrigued? Read on!Like many other celebration breads, Armenian Easter bread is made from an enriched dough. What sets this braided loaf apart is its subtle flavoring of mahleb and anise.
Mahleb is a powdered spice made from the seeds of the St. Lucie cherry tree, a type of cherry native to Iran. Mahleb lends a subtle perfume and fruitiness to breads and pastry. The flavor is described as a mix of almond and cherry, although I find it also has floral notes that make it more complex. If you’ve never had it before, and I had not, you’ll wonder why your bread tastes so good. And once you know it’s because of the mahleb, you’ll want to put it in all the things.
Armenian Easter Bread
Armenian Easter bread is similar to Greek tsoureki and Turkish coregi (a rose by any other name, as far as I can tell). The recipe I followed as a guide for my choereg called for both mahleb and anise. I’m not a super fan of anise, so I never have it in the house. I did have ground fennel though, because I like to add that to Italian dishes when my Italian herb blend doesn’t contain fennel. At any rate, it’s what I had, so I went with it.
Yes, I realize that fennel and anise have a similar flavor. I’m sorry, anise. Maybe it’s all in my head.
The combination of the mahleb and fennel is lovely. The cherry/almond/floral notes of the mahleb and the bright, sweet, licorice notes of the fennel blend beautifully. The resulting dough and eventual Armenian Easter bread looks a bit plain but is aromatic and flavorful. It will leave you a)wondering why it tastes so good, and b)wanting more.
This bread is very sweet and contains a fair amount of butter. Because of its richness, it takes a long time to rise. As in a 4-hour initial rise. And that was in the cozy microwave with a steaming mug of water for company.
If you would like to shorten up the rising time, you can add a bit more yeast. I used 2 teaspoons, but you can use a tablespoon to nudge things along. Also consider cutting back on the sugar just a bit–from the 1/2 + cup called for to maybe 1/3 cup.
As is, the bread was completely worth making, and I’m having some trouble resisting it. Still, if a super long rise doesn’t fit into your life, those couple of changes should reduce the rise time substantially.
The dough for this bread is very soft and sticky. I wasn’t sure it would behave itself enough for me to roll it out, but the long rise helped reinforce the gluten structure, and it turned out to be very supple. Just know it will be a soft dough and try to resist the urge to add a bunch of extra flour. Expect a more cakey and less bready end result. Think brioche rather than baguette.
- ¼ cup tepid water
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 2 teaspoons dried yeast (up to 1 Tablespoon. See notes)
- The yeast mixture
- 19.5 oz (by weight--about 4½ cups) all purpose flour (King Arthur preferred)
- 6 oz (1½ sticks) unsalted butter
- 4 oz (1/2 cup) whole milk
- 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
- scant ⅔ cup granulated sugar (use ⅓-1/2 cup for a less sweet bread)
- 1 Tablespoon freshly ground mahleb (I blitzed mine in the blender. You can also use a spice grinder or mortar and pestle)
- 2 teaspoons ground fennel (or anise)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 1 egg white
- 1 teaspoon water
- 1 Tablespoon (more or less) sesame seeds
- Combine the water, sugar and yeast and stir to combine.
- Let sit for 10-15 minutes until nice and bubbly.
- Warm the butter and milk together until the butter is melted. Let cool to warm.
- Pour the proofed yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer followed by the flour, the milk mixture, the eggs, spices and salt.
- Fit your mixer with the paddle attachment and bring the dough together on low speed. Increase speed to medium and knead for about 10 minutes. The dough will be soft and will clear the sides of the bowl to only about halfway down. That's okay.
- When the dough is ready, it will be shiny, smooth, soft, and stretchy.
- Spray the top with pan spray, cover with a lint-free towel, and let rise in a cozy place until doubled. This could take anywhere from 2 to 4 hours, depending on whether you use more or less sugar and/or more or less yeast. See Notes.
- Once the dough has doubled, scrape it out onto a clean, smooth work surface, and gently press out the gases.
- Weigh your dough and divide by 9. If you don't have a scale, I implore you to get one. If you don't want to be so exact, divide the dough into thirds and then divide each third into three pieces.
- Press each of three pieces of dough into a rectangle and then roll up into a tight sausage. Roll out each into a rope about 12" long. Pinch the three ropes together at one end and braid fairly tightly. Pinch the dough together when you reach the other end. Tuck each end under the braid for a nice, polished presentation.
- Form two more braids in the same way.
- Place on a parchment-lined baking tray about 2-3 inches apart. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise i a cozy place until puffy, about 45 minutes.
- While the dough is rising, set a rack in the center of your oven. If you have one, place a baking stone on the rack. Otherwise, don't worry about it.
- Heat the oven to 350F.
- Whisk together the egg white and water.
- Gently brush a thin layer evenly onto each braid. Sprinkle sesame seeds on each braid.
- Bake for 20-30 minutes until lightly golden brown. The internal temperature of the bread should be 200F.
- Remove to a rack to cool completely. Rewarm to serve or serve at room temperature. Butter and jam would not be unwelcome.
And there you have it. Oh, look at the inside. Didn’t I say it’s more cake-like than bread-like? It toasts beautifully, too!
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And there you have it. Sweet, aromatic braided Armenian Easter Bread. I hope you enjoy it. We enjoyed the one loaf we kept. The other two I’ve already shipped to Nadine’s for her church’s Easter communion. She will keep it safely frozen until the service. I hope it brings extra meaning to the sweetness of her congregation’s Easter celebrations.