Diane Boyajian Braided Bread (Photo credit Tami Boyajian)

Recipe Corner: Diane Boyajian’s Braided Bread

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This story originally appeared in Fresno’s St. Paul Armenian Church Dajar newsletter, July/August 2021.  It is contributed by Tracy Beberian, and has been edited for this publication.  Photos and recipe are courtesy of Diane and Tami Boyajian.

FRESNO — Serving St. Paul Armenian Church was something Diane Boyajian learned at a young age.  One of her fondest memories of her talented mother, Helen Shehrian, took place around 1943 at the church which was then located at Santa Clara and L. Streets. There were no crosses on the altar curtains, so her mother obtained permission one day, got on a ladder, took her needle and thread, and sewed crosses on each one as little Diane watched on.

Growing up, Sunday school, ACYO, and parish dinners were part of Diane’s early childhood. Her mother would often be the first to volunteer with church events and activities with her young children in tow.

In 1949, Diane became a charter member of the first Junior ACYO at St. Paul Church, and held various positions including president.  When she was 15, she met a handsome young man named York Boyajian, who was a member of the Senior ACYO.  York and Diane became close friends, and later when he offered Diane the keys to drive his beloved red convertible Chevy, everyone knew it was serious.  The couple was married in 1957 at St. Paul Church, and their marriage was blessed with three children, Tamara, David, and Karen.

As Diane settled into life with her husband and young children on their farm, supporting her church remained important to her.  In 1967, she joined the Junior Ladies Society, and was elected as vice president within one year.  One of her early efforts was chairing the annual Mother’s Day Luncheon, a signature event of the Ladies Society.  “We invited the mothers, in-laws, and grandmothers to enjoy a homemade Armenian meal together,” Diane says.  She and her committee planned the menu, purchased the food, decorated the hall, cooked the meal, and served over 200 guests. “It was an incredible experience to see so many people come together to honor and celebrate the cherished mothers and grandmothers at our church.”

Diane later became involved with the Raisin Wives of California, where she served as president for four terms. “The organization worked to promote Fresno raisins locally and globally while providing scholarships to agricultural students at Reedley College and Fresno State, and running a country store each fall,” she adds.

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“My mother (who was born in Erzurum) was an excellent cook and a skilled seamstress.  She could knit and crochet, and was dedicated to the church and her family.  I learned by following her directions.  She was known for her delicious sou boureg and paklava,” says Diane.  Guided by her mother’s lessons, Diane continued to improve her cooking skills, and would often consult the Ladies Society Procedure Books, the treasured binders that document recipes and preparation at church.  When the church hosted the  California State Assembly gathering for the Diocese, Diane agreed to plan the menus for over 400 attendees. “Three full days of breakfast, lunch, and dinner events were managed with an amazing committee, solid organizational skills, and the gift of creating memorable Armenian food,” she says.

Diane has cooked for church luncheons, the annual Blessing of the Grapes Picnic, and California State Assembly meetings, to list a few.  When asked how she managed so many tasks with such ease, she humbly says that it would not have been possible without the friendship and support of her fellow members. “It is the love we share for our church that holds us together,” she adds.  One of her favorite meals was for the annual luncheon for members of the California Armenian Home in Fresno.  The Ladies Society planned the menu that residents were invited to enjoy with their families.  After tasting the traditional Armenian dolma and madzoon one year, one of the elderly residents said, “This is just like what my mother used to make for us.”  That was about the sweetest thing you could say to Diane.

Diane taught Sunday school and served on the Parish Council for 14 years. She is grateful for the many close friends she has enjoyed at church, and for her three children and four grandchildren.  “In the true Armenian tradition of abundance, our appetites and church have been blessed by Diane’s many contributions through the years,” adds Ladies Society member Tracy Beberian.

Here’s Diane’s recipe for Braided Bread that she’s made for over 30 years. “This is dough from an authentic bierocks recipe.  It came from my sister’s in-laws who are Russian-Germans and who lived in Fresno.  One day, I had extra dough so I made a loaf of this bread.  It was so good, I use it as a bread recipe all the time. It’s a family favorite.”  Bierock is a yeast dough pastry pocket sandwich with savory filling, originating in Russia, she says.  The dish is common among the Volga German community in the United States and Argentina. It was brought to the United States in the 1870s by German Russian Mennonite immigrants. The bierock originated in Russia, and is known there as pirogi. “I take this bread to our church bake sales, and everyone loves it.  I even use this recipe and form it into Armenian chorag, it is very tasty,” she adds.

Ingredients:

2 envelopes yeast (about 2 scant tablespoons)

1 cup warm water

1 tablespoon sugar

Combine yeast, water and sugar in a medium bowl, and set aside to proof, until it starts bubbling.

 

Dough:

1 cup scalded milk

1 cube butter (add butter to the scalded milk and let cool)

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 cup sugar

2 large beaten eggs

6 – 6 1/2 cups King Arthur Flour

1 egg beaten with 1 teaspoon water for egg wash

 

Preparation:

Combine the cooled milk/butter mixture with salt, sugar, and eggs.

Here’s Diane’s process for the next step: “In a large bowl, I put in the milk/butter, sugar, eggs, and salt, and beat well with an electric mixer. Then I add the proofed yeast mixture and beat well again.  I start adding the flour, about one cup at a time, and beat in with the mixer.  After two or so cups of flour, the dough gets too thick so I start using a spatula until I can get my hand in to begin kneading.  I add the last cup of flour a little at a time; when the dough feels sticky to the touch but doesn’t stick to your hands, it is ready.”

Place kneaded dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until double the size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

 

For the bread:

Divide dough into 3 or 4 portions, each will be a loaf.  Shape as desired; brush with egg wash.  Let dough rise again on a parchment-lined baking sheet.  For the braids: Divide each portion of dough into thirds, make ropes about 12 to 14 inches long and braid.  Tuck in ends.  Bake at 350 degrees for 15-18 minutes, until golden brown.  Do not overbake. Test as you would for a cake, and let cool on racks.  Makes 4 small loaves or 3 large loaves.

 

To support or donate, contact: St. Paul Armenian Church, 3767 N. First Street, Fresno, CA  93726. Phone: (559) 226-6343

 

ORDER TODAY: Some of Diane’s favorite recipes are featured in this church cookbook. To purchase A Taste of Fresno Armenian and American Cuisine Cookbook for holiday gifts for family and friends, contact: St. Paul Armenian Church, 3767 N. First St, Fresno, California 93726, (559) 226-6343. Each cookbook costs $20.00 each plus shipping and handling.  Make checks payable to: St. Paul Armenian Church Ladies Society.

 

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