Armenian Easter Bread
Mar. 16, 2009 12:48 pm
Updated: Mar. 25, 2009 1:16 pm
I love baking special breads for the holidays. I've had my eye on this Choereg recipe for years, and I finally made it on my day off. Instead of making five small braided loaves, I divided the dough in half and made two six-strand braids. It's a beautiful braid for challah and other egg breads or sweet loaves.
I really enjoyed the flavors in this bread. It calls for mahleb, ground black cherry pits. As another user noted, you can order mahleb from The Spice House or other specialty purveyors; I found mine at a food import store here in Seattle (Big John's PFI).
To make a six-strand braid, it helps to have a scale so that you can weigh the dough; otherwise, make sure the pieces of dough are roughly the same size. Once the dough has risen (this recipe called for two proofing periods before shaping the dough), punch it down and divide it. Shape each portion into a round and let the dough rest for about ten minutes, covered with plastic, to let the gluten relax.
Roll the balls into six ropes about ¾ inch–1 inch thick. Pinch the ends together (see photo below). Count from left to right: the left-most strand is number one, the right-hand strand is six. To begin, bring strand #6 over #1 once. This step just ensures that the end of the loaf will look clean and tidy once the braid is finished. The steps are:
5 over 1
6 over 4
2 over 6
1 over 3
These steps will be repeated to create the braid.
Each time you bring one strand over another, it changes the way you count: once you bring the fifth strand over the first, strand #5 becomes strand #1. For the next step (6 over 4), you start counting again, from left to right, to determine the placement.
It can get confusing; one of the chefs I worked with had us practice on hanks of rope before dealing with the dough.
- Keep dusting the dough with flour, so that the strands don't stick together (this'll help if you have to undo your weave to start again).
- Keep the left-hand loops fairly loose, and pull the right-hand strands tighter for a more even-looking braid.
- Remember that the bread will still taste good! What looks messy going into the oven isn't gonna get any prettier coming out, so your mistakes will show up in the finished loaf, unfortunately. But this gets much easier with practice. After a couple of sloppy loaves, you'll have a centerpiece-worthy braid.
Mahleb, whole and ground
6 strands ready to braid; dust them with flour if they're sticky
Beginning braid: pinch the ends of the strands together
Step 1: 6 over 1, once
Step 2: 5 over 1