Traditional Armenian Chorag and Mahlab Cake from


Robyn Kalajian from suggests these two traditional Lenten or Easter recipes: Armenian Chorag and Mahlab Cake.  Each contains mahlab (or mahlepi), an aromatic spice derived from the ground kernel of the St. Lucie cherry.  Prized across Greece, Turkey, Syria, Iran, and other Mediterranean and Middle Eastern countries, mahlab is often incorporated into breads and pastries.

“Mahlab makes a great addition to cakes, cookies, pies, brownies, muffins, cheese, and fruit salad, and is excellent in chocolate preparations. Treat mahlab like nutmeg.  You don’t need too much for it to make an effect, but it can make all the difference between an ordinary dessert and something alluring.  Many spiced desserts would benefit from a judicious application of the stuff, but using too much can cause bitterness.  Like saffron and other more precious spices, mahlab is rather expensive.  Most recipes call for a small amount, allowing a container to last for multiple bakes,” adds Robyn.

Mahlab, whole seed or powdered, is sold in specialty food shops (such as Kalustyan’s and  <> Sahadi’s) and via online retailers like < =USD> Snuk Foods, both pre-ground and as whole kernels. Of course, most chefs and cookbooks recommend buying the kernels whole and grinding them at home in order to capture the spice’s full aroma.  It appears in Syrian string cheese—the plump, braided ropes of stretchy white cheese (similar to mozzarella) that come speckled with black nigella seeds. Not all recipes for the cheese, which is still commonly made at home, include the powdered kernel. But those that do benefit tremendously from its floral presence.

In  Greek cuisine, mahlep is sometimes added to different types of holiday tsoureki breads, including Christmas bread, the New Year’s  vasilopita and the braided  Easter bread called cheoreg (or choreg) in <> Armenian and paskalya çöreği in  <> Turkish.  In  Turkey, it is used in poğaça scones and other pastries. In the Arabic Middle East, it is used in  ma’amoul scones. In Egypt, powdered mahlab is made into a paste with honey, sesame seeds and nuts, eaten as a dessert or a snack with bread. In England, it is used in shortbiscuits, and in sugar syrups to go over fruit salad or to flavor whipped cream in the same way as you would use vanilla. (

Liliana Myers, who is the pastry chef at Safta, Alon Shaya’s modern Israeli restaurant in Denver, incorporates mahlab powder into Safta’s date-filled ma’amoul shortbread pastries.  She also uses it in less traditional ways: in a flourless almond cake served on Passover and in an Ottolenghi-inspired Persian love cake offered for Valentine’s Day.

“Basically whenever a recipe calls for almond extract, I use mahlab,” she says.

Robyn Kalajian’s Chorag

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Armenian Chorag Courtesy of Robyn Kalajian

“Chorag, the traditional Armenian braided yeast roll, can be sweet or savory. Some cooks may be a bit intimidated by the intricate shape but check our how-to-make video below to see how easy it is to do,” says Robyn.  This recipe was handed down to Robyn Dabbakian-Kalajian’s family from a dear family friend, the late Anne Marootian.  “Unlike many chorag recipes which tend to be sweet, this one is savory with the addition of freshly ground mahlab, anise seed, fennel seed, and ginger.  It might sound like an unusual mix of flavors, but the result is quite delicious,” she adds.


1/2 lb. unsalted butter

1 cup whole milk

1 large egg

1 package dry active yeast

1/4 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon EACH of ground mahlab, fennel seed, anise seed (freshly ground is preferred.)

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

2 tablespoons active baking powder (See NOTE below regarding baking powder.)

5 to 5 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 or 2 large eggs (beaten) for egg wash

Toasted sesame seeds (optional) for garnish



Melt butter in a saucepan. Add milk and heat to a gentle simmer (do NOT boil). Cool.

Beat egg and add to cooled milk.

In a small bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup warm water (about 105-110° F). You can check the temperature with a food thermometer, or by putting a drop on your wrist.  If it feels comfortable to your wrist, the temperature is good to go.  Set aside.

Mix the sugar, salt, spices, and baking powder together.  Set aside.

Place 5 cups of the flour into a large mixing bowl. Combine the blended spice mixture into the flour.  Add the milk-egg mixture to the dry ingredients. Stir in the dissolved yeast and mix well.

Place dough on a lightly floured work surface and knead dough until it is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.  (This can also be done in an electric stand mixer using a dough hook, but only mix for about 2 minutes.)   If the dough seems a bit sticky, add some of the extra 1/2 cup flour that wasn’t used earlier.

Place dough in a large, clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, then cover that with a towel.  Allow 2 hours for the dough to rise.

Break off about a golf ball-size piece of dough (roughly 2 ounces for each piece).  Roll it into a long, thin rope, about 15 inches in length.  Break off about one-third (5 inches) of the dough.  Shape the longer piece of dough into a horseshoe or “U” shape.  Place the shorter piece of dough in the center of the “U,” and begin braiding the 3 strips of dough.

Place braided dough on an ungreased baking sheet. Continue to shape dough until tray is full.  (Don’t place chorags too close to each other.

Give them room to expand while they bake.)

Cover unbaked chorags with plastic wrap and let the shaped dough rise on the tray for 1 more hour before baking.  Remove plastic wrap and brush tops with the egg wash. Sprinkle chorag tops with toasted sesame seeds, if desired.

Bake at 375°F.  Start by placing 1 tray on the bottom oven rack until the bottoms of the chorags are golden (about 15 minutes).  Then transfer the tray to the top rack until the top of the chorag is golden (about another 5 minutes).  Cool chorags completely on wire racks.  Continue this procedure until all dough is shaped and baked.

Store completely cooled chorag in a container with a tight-fitting lid.  If you plan to freeze them, layer chorags in a plastic storage container with parchment paper or plastic wrap placed between the layers to prevent them from sticking to each other.  Alternately, chorags may be frozen in freezer bags.  Chorags may be thawed in the microwave by simply wrapping each chorag in a slightly dampened paper towel, and microwaving for about 20-30 seconds on low power, or until defrosted.  Serve them anytime with coffee, tea, Armenian string cheese or an assortment of cheeses and fruit.

NOTE: Before you begin, test the baking powder to make sure it is “active.” To do this, simply sprinkle some baking powder into a small amount of tap water.  If it is active, the baking powder will fizz and foam.

For this recipe and how-to-make video, go to:

Also see: e-anne-marootian-adapted-by-robyn-kalajian/ choreg-with-ground-mahlab-fennel-seed-anise-seed-ginger-freshly-ground-is/23 95474490482787/ s-identity-is-braided-into-this-bread

Robyn Kalajian’s mahlab cake

Mahlab Cake Courtesy Robyn Kalajian


1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter

2 cups sugar

2 large eggs

1 cup warm milk

3 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons ground mahlab

1 teaspoon baking powder

Sesame seeds, optional


In a large mixing bowl, cut the butter into the sugar using a pastry blender or two knives. The mixture should be crumbly and resemble small peas. Then mix the butter-sugar crumbles together until blended.  Beat in eggs until just combined. Set aside.

NOTE: A food processor fitted with a metal “S” blade can also be used. Pulse the butter-sugar mixture for a few seconds to break down the butter. Return the crumbly mixture to a mixing bowl to continue.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, mahlab, and baking powder. Alternately add the flour mixture and warm milk to the butter mixture to create a batter.

Preheat oven to 350°F.  Lightly oil a baking tray or a cake pan large enough to hold the dough, such as two 8″ x 8″ cake pans or a 9″ x 13″ pan.

Pour batter into pan, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle the top with toasted sesame seeds, if desired.  Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean.  Cool completely on a wire rack.  Cut cake into squares and serve with coffee or tea.

Servings: Cake yields 12-16 servings, depending on the size of the pieces.

For this recipe, go to:

Also see: 32 recipes made with mahlab at:



Robyn Kalajian is a retired culinary teacher who has a passion for cooking Armenian and Middle Eastern cuisine.  Her husband  Douglas is an author and retired journalist who has written extensively about Armenian food and culture.  Please visit their website for more recipes and how-to-make videos.

Go to:

For how-to-make videos and more, go to:

Copyright 2022 @ thearmeniankitchen




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