Hye Thyme Cafe: Choreg (Armenian Sweet Bread)

Welcome to the Hy
e Thyme Cafe. Although not all of my recipes are Armenian, the name is a little nod to my Armenian grandmother who is no longer with us. The Hye refers to all things related to her homeland, and she represents all things food-related to me, so the two just seemed to go together. I can't even claim that my Armenian recipes are truly Armenian, since Greece, Turkey, Armenia, Lebanon, Syria, and even Egypt share so many foods that they've all sort of morphed into one over thousands of years.

Whether you like to cook, bake, have never done either, or just like to play with your food...come on in and join me! :)


Sunday, November 7, 2010

Choreg (Armenian Sweet Bread)

Choreg : Hye Thyme Cafe

This is one of those childhood memories that will never fade. In the Spring or Summer when the windows were open and my grandmother or mother would be baking this bread, it was like a scene out of Shaun of the Dead or something. We were like zombies. The school bus would stop down the street, the scent of Choreg would be in the air, and you couldn't help but head in that direction. So be forewarned ... if you're making this for a specific event and need the whole batch, make sure you're windows are closed or you'll have to share and end up making a second batch!!

This was kinda weird. I had everything but enough flour to make this today, so on my way out for my morning Dunkin Donuts coffee, I was going to stop by the supermarket to pick some up. Here I am getting ready to bake Armenian bread, I get in the car, and what's on the radio? A discussion about Armenian music! How random was that?! I'm in the middle of farm country in central NY, it's not like there's a huge Armenian community out this way.  Gotta love it!

INGREDIENTS :
5 lb bag of flour
Choreg : Hye Thyme Cafe2 1/3 c sugar
2 t baking powder
2 T salt
2 T Mahlab
2 c (1 lb) butter
1/2 c solid Crisco
7 eggs, beaten (plus 2 for brushing)
3 T yeast
3 c milk
1 c water
2-3 t vanilla (optional)
sesame seeds
black seeds (black sesame or nigella - see note below)
parchment paper

In the biggest bowl you've got (I use a humongous Tupperware), pour the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, mahlab, and 2T black seeds. Kinda scoop out the middle to make a well, and add the yeast.  

If you're not familiar with Mahlab, I don't really know how to describe it, but if you don't have a Middle Eastern bakery in your area where you can pick some up, spice sites like Penzeys carry it. It comes in either seed or powder form. If you can only get it whole, run it through a coffee grinder. It's actually the inside of a certain type of cherry pit. It really makes you wonder how people first think to use things like that!



NOTE: Growing up, I would always get the black seeds at an Armenian bakery, and that's pretty much how they were marked. I knew them by sight and smell and never even thought about what they were called. I'm really not that old now, but times have changed. Everything is sealed nowadays and requires better labeling. Now that I don't live near the Armenian bakery, I can't rely on my sense of smell to pick the right seeds. I read somewhere that they are black caraway or nigella seeds, but the first time I bought those, I knew as soon as I opened them that it wasn't right. When in doubt, I use black sesame seeds. They're not quite the same, but they do the job just as well. It may be that there are different types of caraway/nigella seeds and I just got the wrong one that day.


Crack your eggs into another bowl, beat them, stir in the vanilla so you don't forget about it later, and set aside for the moment.





Over medium heat, start melting your butter and Crisco together. When the butter is almost completely melted, add the milk and water and bring it just to a low boil. Remove from heat and let cool somewhat. You are going to pour it over your dry ingredients, and while you want it to be warm enough to activate the yeast, you don't want it to be so hot that it kills it. You should be able to comfortably stick your finger in it. You also don't want to end up scrambling your eggs! 










When the butter mixture has cooled down sufficiently, pour that and the eggs into the well you formed in the dry ingredients, then just get your hands right in there and mix everything together...



Now you can take a break. Cover the dough loosely with waxed paper or plastic wrap and a dish towel over that and put it in your oven to rise for 2 hours. If your oven has a proofing feature, you can use that. If not, you can just do the Motel 6 and leave the light on for it. If it's really cold out and you don't have a proofer, I suggest turning the oven on it's lowest setting for a few minutes, then turning it off before you put the dough in, so it's just warm and snuggly. If you don't have a HUGE plastic bowl, I would suggest splitting the dough into two batches, or you could have quite a mess in your oven when it rises and overflows!

After the two hours - a little longer if it's not rising for you - could be too cool - go ahead and punch the dough down and knead it once or twice right in the bowl, then give it another 10" to rise. While it's rising again, you can go ahead and line some baking sheets with parchment paper.

Now is the fun part - forming them. Pull out a big handful of dough and pat it to to about 1/4-1/2" thick. There is so much butter in this dough, you don't usually need any flour on your work surface. If you're in a rush, or just don't want to be bothered, you can use a knife, pastry cutter, big diamond-shaped cookie cutter, or large circular biscuit cutter to form diamonds or circles. If I'm making them around Christmas, I'll sometimes use a big X-Mass Tree cookie cutter. I found that if you cut one and try to pick it up right away to put it on the tray, it's more likely to stretch out of shape, so I'll cut a bunch and then go back to the first one and start scooping them up. They seem to like a little rest.


If you've got the time and/or patience, you can also roll strips of dough into ropes and twist them in to a coil like a coffee roll, or roll a long strip into a rope and attach a shorter rope perpendicular to that to make a braid ...






I definitely like to make some of each shape. I'll eat any of them right out of the bag - heck, right out of the freezer, but the diamonds and circles are great if you want to slice them in half, toast them, and spread them with butter and jam. When it comes to the spirals and braids, I like to unwind them to eat them.  es, I unscrew my Oreos before I eat them! OMG, have you eaten the mint Oreos?! Awesome!!

Once you have formed all of your rolls and put them on your parchment-lined trays (with a little elbow room in between), cover each tray with a dish towel and let them rise for another hour. I know, it's an all day affair, but trust me, they're worth it!

When you're hour is almost up, go ahead and beat those two extra eggs and preheat your oven to 350. It's days like this when I really appreciate having a double oven, although I never seem to have luck baking two trays at a time in one oven. It's fine for a roast and a veggie or casserole on the other shelf, but if I try bread or cookies, even if I rotate and/or switch shelves, it never seems to work for me. 

Brush the tops with the beaten egg, then sprinkle with sesame seeds and scatter a few black seeds over the tops.


Bake for 20-25" until golden brown. During the baking process, you will want to repeatedly leave the house and walk back in again so you can fully appreciate the aroma. Drool...



Let them cool on the tray for a few minutes before transferring them to wire racks to cool completely. Once cooled, we usually put 8-12 (depending on how big you've made them) in twist-tie plastic bags and freeze what we won't be eating or giving away in the next few days.


50 comments:

  1. Hi- just found my way here. Searching for a recipe my Lebanese grandmaother (Sito) called Syrian rolls. I think this is it, but I think the black seeds you may be talking about are Anise seed. Hope it helps. Never had mine with sesame seeds.

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  2. I am pretty sure these are the black seeds you want to use for choreg. They are available through mail order at

    http://www.penzeys.com/cgi-bin/penzeys/p-penzeyscharnushka.html

    Probably other sources too, but this is what I found.

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  3. Thank you. I saw that somewhere else more recently. I think there might be more than one black Nigella seed because the first time I tried them, it was nothing like what I was expecting. I hadn't heard the "Sativa" part at that point, but I think you're right - Nigella Sativa. :)

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  4. Hi,
    I am trying to figure out what the black seeds are also. My husbands Armenian grandmother left us the recipe and a jar of these black seeds. My recipe for Choyreg (which is spelled same way as yours, I have seen spelled differently) says Sev Gundeeg seeds. I am trying to find out where to buy and want to get the same kind. I am thinking of taking recipe and the remaining seeds to Watertown to see if they can help me. I noticed you go to a bakery we go to in Watertown. Your Choyreg look delicious! I make them every holiday.

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    1. It makes me crazy, because when I was younger and would go to the Armenian bakery, they were just labeled as black seeds. We buy black sesame seeds if we can't find them, but I think they're really the Nigella Sativa seeds. I have to go by smell, so I'm stuck if they're in glass and I can't smell them LOL. The black sesame seeds work in a pinch, but they don't have the same punch of flavor.

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  5. my armenian grandmother's recipe calls the armenian black seed: Sev Koon Dieg

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    1. Hmmmmm, that's a new one to me. I know that Sev is Black in Armenian, but Koon and Dieg I have only ever seen in names. I don't know what they mean. I'm going to jot this down in the notebook I keep in my purse so next time I'm in an international market, I can check any black seeds to see if they go by that name. Thanks! :)

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    2. Koon means colour, but I don't know what Dieg means. Further above, Gundeeg more or less means a small piece of something.

      By the way, my mom never used the black seeds. Every mom's recipe is a little different ;-)

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    3. I'm guessing Dieg would be seeds then? Sev (black) Koon (colored) Dieg (seeds). You can certainly make them without those seeds (we have someone who can't digest them so we make some without), but I think it definitely makes a flavor difference. More so in Simit than in Choreg though.

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    4. It could also be that "Koon Dieg" and "Gundeeg" from above are just different spellings of the same thing. It's hard to translate but it basically means a small round piece. Sorry, but it's not the name of the seed.

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    5. See, apparently they didn't know what kind of seeds they were either, so they used "black small round pieces" LOL. ;)

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    6. "Koon Dieg" is in fact one word pronounced differently - "ԳՆԴԻԿ" which means pellet or little ball.

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    7. I love that this post has turned into a vocabulary lesson LOL. Thanks everyone. The only time Armenian was spoken in my house growing up was when the adults didn't want us kids to know what they were saying. ;)

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    8. I believe they are caraway seeds. I made mine with these and they tasted like my mom used to make

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    9. "Regular" caraway seeds are a completely different flavor - what you would find in rye bread. I tried some "Black Caraway" at some point, but that wasn't right either. I wonder if it's a matter of who is doing the labeling??

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  6. Just on the eve of Easter and finally making this recipe. I could get the recipe from the women on my family, but they a.make it all a different way or b. give you measurements like "achgee chap" meaning, "about an eyeful". So thank god for internet. But here are the things I would change about this otherwise lovely recipe:
    1. I would say about 3 1/2 cups sugar would give it the sweetness that I grew up with, if not 4. This made for a deliciously round Medzmama (Grandma) growing up.
    2. It says somewhere in here to add vanilla to the eggs...I didn't remember that so I omitted. I am happy to have a recipe and tradition to send on with my son now...thank you!

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    1. I think the vanilla was something we started adding more recently, so I'm sure you're right about that. I can't imagine using that much sugar, but I do remember changing something the last time I made it, and everyone declaring it the best they ever had. Of course, I wrote it down somewhere and can't find it! I think I reduced the milk and/or butter. Hope your son enjoys it and that you have a wonderful Easter! :)

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  7. Oh and just egg yolks for the wash make them more golden-looking...Thanks again.

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  8. "I can't imagine using that much sugar"...yeah I know, but they must have because I remember these being much sweeter. Isn't that crazy? These are out of control and only for Easter and Xmas. Looking forward to trying your other recipes.

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    1. Last time I had some at my sister's house, she had baked chocolate into some of them. I love them so much plain that I've been afraid to play around with them, but that was very good with the chocolate. My grandmother and mother made filled choreg, but I never liked the filling. I think it was flour and sugar?? Can't recall now.

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  9. Never had the filling...I'm a purist, too. My son want to make one huge choreg by the way from one recipe. If we do make one, I'll send you a picture:)

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    1. I know a few people who do that - make two or three loaves rather than the rolls, but I'm afraid I'll end up with it being under-cooked in the middle. Either way, if you aren't going to eat the whole loaf right away, it would dry out faster than the rolls.

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  10. I love it! Who but an Armenian would start her recipe out with a 5 lb. bag of flour. All that was missing was identifying the bag [King Arthur Flour] which, by the way, does make a difference in the product!

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    1. You think 5 lbs is bad ... we usually double team and make TWO batches! We have an ongoing argument in the family about the flour and other possible factors in why it turns out different from one batch to the next. Some of the family prefer and airier bread texture, where others of us prefer a softer "cakier" texture. So depending on what flour we use, if we knead it, etc., half the family is in ecstasy and the other half just happy. It seems like even if we do the exact same thing side by side, no two batches turn out the same - equally delicious, just not the same texture.

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  11. Wonderful choreg ,looks like the same recipe my mother and grand mother made,always a winner,I make this quite often,I also use sesame seeds sometime ,I also like to do the braids which take more time but do look so pretty!all of your recipes are pretty similar to my mothers which are excellent , thankyou for sharing!

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    Replies
    1. It usually scares people away when they read it starts with 5 lbs of flour. :)

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  12. the black seeds in question are black caraway seeds....gindig was the Armenian word to identify them in our family. They have bitter taste, and I use about 1 tsp. in the recipe of 5 lb. of flour.

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    1. Black caraway seeds are not it! The correct name is Nigella. Caraway seed is very different from Nigella? It would totally ruin the taste of the Choreg. I've been making Chorrg since I was 5 with my mom n grandma. I continue to bake them every Christmas n Easter. If anyone needs blk nigella seeds I can mail them to you from Los Angeles:) It will be my pleasure to help out a fellow Armenian:)

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    2. I tried black caraway once, but that turned out to be what I think of as just plain caraway - something I would use in other breads, etc., but certainly not Choreg.

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  13. the seeds in question are called 'gindig' , or black caraway seeds. I use about 1 tsp. per 5 lb. bag of flour. My mother preferred Gold Medal unbleached. I like King Arthur unbleached. We did not use any leavening agent other than 2 pkgs. active dry yeast

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    1. OK, this is getting ridiculous re: the black seeds! I'm starting to think people just don't know how to package them and call them whatever they want. Although when I bought black sesame seeds per my sister's suggestion, I knew immediately they weren't the right thing, yet she had some that were! I read in a few places that they were black caraway as you're saying, bought some of those, but again - not right. Found something labeled as nigella seeds and those weren't right either, but a friend just brought me some from the Armenian bakery and they are labeled "Black Seeds (Nigella)." Sigh! I can go by smell to know I've got the right ones for sure, but that doesn't help someone who hasn't used them before. :(

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    2. By the way, Gary, you're only the second person I've ever known who starts with a whole 5 lb bag of flour like us. :) My mom and grandmother preferred the King Arthur, but I honestly haven't found much difference when I make them, so I'm not picky about the flour anymore. Since my sister and I usually bake a batch each at the same time, we've tried one using KA and one using GM - no appreciable difference. Maybe one of them has changed over the years.

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    3. It would be interesting and rewarding for me to know which seed is the traditionally used one. There are at least two totally differnent species that are called "black caraway". From Wiki: "Nigella sativa is an annual flowering plant in the family Ranunculaceae, native to south and southwest Asia. It grows to 20–30 cm (7.9–11.8 in) tall, with finely divided, linear (but not thread-like) leaves. The flowers are delicate, and usually coloured pale blue and white, with five to ten petals. The fruit is a large and inflated capsule composed of three to seven united follicles, each containing numerous seeds. The seed is used as a spice, sometimes as a replacement for original black cumin (Bunium bulbocastanum)." A nigella and a cumin would seem to me like they would be two totally different flavors - possibly making 'traditional' aspects of this bread very localized.

      Very frustrating that Armenia gets left out of all etymological and vernacular discussions from here on out in Wikipedia.

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    4. It is frustrating. I wish I had a definitive answer to give people so they would know for sure the right seeds. As for me, I am left to rely on my nose and eyes but don't know how to describe that properly.

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  14. These look delicious

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    1. Thank you! I could use one with a cup of coffee right about now! :)

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  15. I'm looking for a recipe that matches my moms god rest her soul, we take things for granted often and I thank u all for sharing your recipes, I wished I paid more attention to my moms cooking she was the best cook I knew!

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    1. That's like me with my grandmother. I didn't spend nearly enough time with her when she was still with us ... especially in the kitchen! :( Good luck finding a duplicate for your Mom's recipe.

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  16. Love making bread and this looks interesting. Have never heard of Mahlab, but it if I can find it I wouldn't mind trying to make this.

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    1. I usually get the mahlab at one of the Armenian bakeries when I'm in the Boston area, but I do know that Penzey's carries it if you mail order or have one near you. It really is worth it!

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  17. hello started your receipe but was not sure about the vanilla so I added few drops of vanilla essence lol. heat 350 C right?
    thank you will let you know how it turned out
    lena

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    1. Wow, I apparently needed to re-read this post! The vanilla wasn't something we normally included, but a friend of mine started doing that and liked it, so I stared adding some as well. Given the large volume, I probably use 2-3 teaspoons - I tend to just "wing it." As for the temp, yes, 350. Sorry about that!

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  18. Replies
    1. Glad to hear that. I hope you come by often! :)

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  19. If you look for black seed on Amazon, you can find it. I bought some of the black seed oil capsules and they smell just like chorag,

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    1. Hmmm ... what is it you use the oil for??

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  20. can black anise seeds be used for the black seeds?

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    1. Anise is definitely a completely different flavor. Better off using the black sesame seeds if you can't find the nigella sativa.

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  21. The seeds you are looking for may be kalonji or charnushka. They are the same thing but different names depending on where you are from. My uncle diran samoorian loved eastern lemejun in watertown and got their recipe.

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  22. Awesome! I'll have to make a note to keep in my purse in case I need some and they're not in a container I can "smell" them through to make sure I get the right ones! ;)

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