Chorek (choreg) is a very traditional Armenian sweet bread that is typically made around Easter and even Christmas. It is enriched with eggs, butter, milk, and sugar to make it slightly sweet, rich, and tender-crumbed.
(This recipe for chorek was originally published in April 2011, but was updated with new photos and content in 2020).
Many cultures have variations of sweet bread. Sweet bread often refers to a bread that is not particularly sweet but is rather enriched with fat, eggs, and sugar. This yields a softer crumb with a hint of richness and sweetness. Enriched breads are also more yellow-hued due to the addition of eggs. Every culture that has a version of sweet bread typically has something unique to their recipe that sets its apart. Here are some other sweet breads from around the world!
- Brioche (French): uses a bit less sugar than some other cultural sweet breads, and can be shaped a variety of ways. Brioche à tête is formed in a fluted round pan, while Brioche Nanterre is made in a standard loaf pan.
- Challah (Jewish): often made for Shabbat and major Jewish holidays. It’s traditionally braided, and usually features 3, 4, or 6 strands for increasingly complex-looking braids.
- Tsoureki (Greek Easter Bread): often has red dyed Easter eggs pressed into the braided dough. It occasionally includes other seasonings such as chopped nuts, orange zest, and/or mahleb.
- Pane di Pasqua (Italian Easter Bread): often features citrus and/or anise flavors, and is braided into a ring with dyed Easter eggs pressed into the dough.
- Massa Sovada or Pão Doce (Portuguese): usually a round dark loaf served with butter.
What is mahleb?
The Middle Eastern spice mahleb or mahlab is the ingredient in Armenian sweet bread that sets it apart from others. Mahleb comes from the stones of St. Lucy’s cherries. Its aroma is reminiscent of cherry, almond, flowers, and rose water. It imparts a sweet/sour and nutty flavor with a slightly bitter aftertaste. It’s a common addition to breads, pastries, and other sweet confections of the Middle East and Eastern Mediterranean.
Mahleb is more readily available around Easter and can be purchased at Middle Eastern or Greek markets, or even online. Once ground, it looses its flavor and aroma rapidly. Store it in an air-tight container and refrigerate or freeze for longevity. You may also purchase the spice whole and grind it yourself before each use.
If mahleb is unavailable it can technically be omitted from the recipe, but I don’t recommend that! You’ll miss the traditional sweet aroma that makes chorek unique. Make an effort to source this ingredient if you are interested in making Armenian sweet bread.
How to make chorek
The first step to make chorek is to combine warm water with dry active yeast and sugar. Allow the yeast to bloom and soften. Because of the addition of sugar (yeast’s favorite food!) the mixture should get frothy and release carbon dioxide. Make sure your bowl isn’t too small or it may overflow.
In a medium mixing bowl beat together the remaining sugar, eggs, whiskey or brandy, and vanilla extract. Slowly beat in simmering milk, being careful to gently heat the egg mixture so the eggs don’t curdle. Then whisk in melted butter and finally the yeast mixture.
In a large mixing bowl combine the dry ingredients: flour, mahleb, baking powder, and kosher salt.
*A Note on Measuring Flour* Weight measurements are most accurate. This is what I recommend, and what I use. To measure in cups, spoon the flour into the measuring cup and level it off, don’t scoop. Scooping flour packs the flour into the cup, and you will end up with a lot more flour than you expected. If measuring in cups start with closer to 9 and add more if needed. Again, weight measurements are ALWAYS most accurate and will ensure the best results, avoiding human error in measuring.
Create a well in the center of the dry mixture and add the wet ingredients. There’s a lot, it may overflow out of the well but that’s fine. Use a large spoon to mix from the center outward, and allow the dry mixture to absorb the wet mixture.
Get in there with your hands at this point, and continue mixing and kneading until all the liquid is absorbed into the dry ingredients. You should have a soft, supple, slightly tacky dough.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased extra large bowl with room for the dough to double in size. If the bowl you mixed the dough in is large enough you can leave it in there, but it will expand a lot!
Cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and set it in a warm place to rise. I usually heat the oven for just a minute, then turn it off and put my dough in the warm but not hot oven.
Different ways to shape chorek
Chorek is generally prepared into smaller shapes as opposed to large loaves. Most commonly, it is braided with 3 strands which represent the Holy Trinity. These three-strand-braided breads can vary in size from smaller individual loaves, to somewhat larger ones that can be sliced and shared. It can also be shaped into snails, twists, or my personal favorite: chorek people!
I believe chorek people are an invention completely unique to my grandmother. Ever since I was little, I remember her making people shapes out of chorek for all of her grandchildren. I’m so lucky to have such a creative grandma! Chorek people look a lot like gingerbread men, but they are made of yeasted dough and therefore require a bit more effort to shape than using a cookie cutter.
It’s pretty easy though, and especially fun for children (or me) to eat these adorable people-shaped sweet breads. Just remember to remove the clove eyes before eating 🙂 Someday, I would love to make a full batch of chorek people, and create a whole community called Chorek Land. Kind of like Candy Land but exponentially more awesome. Read on to learn how to make the different shapes.
How to make a braid
Roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface until you have a 1/2-to-3/4-inch thick rope. Cut off 1/3 of the length of the dough and attach it to the center of the longer piece by pressing the pieces together.
Very loosely braid the ropes together (the braid will proof and get bigger later, so don’t braid tightly). Press the ends together to “seal” the braid.
How to make a snail/spiral
Roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface until you have a 1/2-to- 3/4-inch thick rope. Gently and loosely wrap the dough around itself starting from the center and moving outward. Tuck the end under the dough and gently press to seal it closed.
How to make a chorek person
Lightly flour your work surface and hands, and roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface to create an even cylinder. Pat the dough out into a rectangle with the long sides on the left and right. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut a slit at the bottom (for the legs), 2 slits on either side (for the arms) and another 2 slits slightly above the arms (for the head). Tuck under the pointy ends of the arms. Adjust the dough around the head to either make it look like hair (for a girl), or tuck the points under the head to make it round (for a boy). Use whole cloves for the eyes, and red M&Ms for the mouth.
Very carefully use a large floured spatula or bench scraper to transfer chorek people from the work surface to the baking sheet. They are more fragile than the other shapes. You can make adults and children by making different-sized chorek people.
Please keep in mind that chorek people typically bake faster than some of the other shapes, so keep an eye on them so they don’t dry out. Remove the clove eyes before eating.
Arrange the choreks on parchment-lined or lightly greased baking sheets. Depending on the shapes and sizes you make you will likely need 3 to 4 baking sheets. Don’t arrange the shapes too close to each other, because they will expand. Allow the shaped breads to rise for about 15 to 30 minutes in the slightly warm oven (or another warm-ish space).
Brush the tops and sides of all the breads with an egg wash mixture made with 1 whole egg, an egg yolk, and a little sugar. This is always how my grandmother did it so I’m not messing with tradition.
Top the egg-washed braids and snails with sesame seeds. The chorek people don’t require sesame seeds. Bake the trays in batches 2 at a time for about 28 to 32 minutes, rotating from top to bottom and front to back halfway through.
Chorek should be stored at room temperature in an air-tight container, but can be warmed up before eating, if desired. They can also be frozen, thawed, and enjoyed at a later date. Refresh previously frozen chorek for a few minutes in the oven before serving.
Other recipes you may like
- Armenian Gata
- Matzoon Cookies (Armenian Yogurt Cookies)
- Armenian Khalkha (Simit/Kekhke)
- Viennoise au Chocolat (Vienna Bread with Chocolate)
- Za’atar Bread
- Rose and Orange Blossom Bread Pudding
- Baklava, Bourma Baklava, and Kadayef
- Atayef bil Ashta (Custard-Filled Pancakes)
Have you ever tried chorek or other culturally diverse sweet breads from around the world? I’m always fascinated to learn how different people celebrate holidays through food. For Armenians chorek is pretty non-negotiable at Easter. Nearly every Armenian family will feature chorek on the Easter menu, and sometimes on their Christmas menu too!
Please leave me a comment and rating if you try this recipe. I would love to hear what you think! Thanks!
Chorek (Armenian Sweet Bread)
- 4 1/2 teaspoons (14 g/1/2 oz or 2 packets) dry active yeast
- 1/2 cup warm water (100 to 115 degrees F)
- 1 teaspoon (4 g) granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 sticks (255 g/9 oz) unsalted butter
- 1 cup milk
- 1 cup (200 g/7 oz) granulated sugar
- 5 large eggs at room temperature
- 1 1/2 teaspoons whiskey or brandy
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 42 ounces (1190 g/about 9 to 10 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (see notes below on measuring flour!)
- 2 teaspoons ground mahleb (mahlab) (or more if you prefer)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Decorations and Eggwash:
- Whole cloves as needed (optional)
- Red M&Ms as needed (optional)
- 1 whole egg
- 1 egg yolk
- 1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
- Sesame seeds as needed
- Mix together yeast, warm water, and 1 teaspoon sugar and set aside to rise, approximately 10 to 15 minutes.
- Meanwhile, melt the butter and warm up the milk to a simmer in separate saucepans.
- In a mixing bowl, beat the eggs with the remaining 1 cup sugar, whiskey and vanilla extract. Then slowly add the hot milk, beating constantly (to gently warm the eggs), followed by the melted butter until well combined. Then beat in the yeast mixture. The liquid mixture should be fairly warm.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour (weighing is more accurate than measuring in cups), mahleb, baking powder, and salt. Create a well in the center of the dry mixture and pour in the liquid mixture. Use a large spoon to gently mix the dry mixture into the liquid, starting from the center and moving outward until all the dry mixture is moistened. Start using your hands to finish mixing and knead the dough. Continue kneading until you have a soft, pliant, and slightly tacky but not-too-sticky dough.
- Place the dough in a large greased bowl (make sure that the bowl is considerably larger than the dough, as it will rise), and wrap tightly with plastic wrap or cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel.
- Briefly heat the oven and then turn it off so it’s slightly warmer than room temperature but not hot. Place the dough in the warmed oven and allow it to double in size, approximately 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Check on the dough occasionally to see its progress.
- On a large clean work surface, shape the dough into desired shapes as follows.
- To make the braid shape: Roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface until you have a 1/2-to-3/4-inch thick rope. Cut off 1/3 of the length of the dough and attach it to the center of the longer piece by pressing the pieces together. Very loosely braid the ropes together (the braid will proof and get bigger later, so don’t braid tightly). Press the ends together to “seal” the braid.
- To make the snail/spiral shape: Roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface until you have a 1/2-to- 3/4-inch thick rope. Gently and loosely wrap the dough around itself starting from the center and moving outward. Tuck the end under the dough and gently press to seal it closed.
- To make a chorek person: Lightly flour your work surface and hands, and roll out a piece of dough between your hands and the work surface to create an even cylinder. Pat the dough out into a rectangle with the long sides on either side. Use a bench scraper or knife to cut a slit at the bottom (for the legs), 2 slits on either side (for the arms) and another 2 slits slightly above the arms (for the head). Tuck under the pointy ends of the arms. Adjust the dough around the head to either make it look like hair (for a girl), or tuck the points under the head to make it round (for a boy). Use whole cloves for the eyes, and red M&Ms for the mouth. Very carefully use a large floured spatula to transfer chorek people from the work surface to the baking sheet. They are more fragile than the other shapes. Remove the clove eyes before eating.
- Place assembled choreks onto parchment paper-lined or greased baking sheets (leaving adequate space between the choreks as they will rise and expand further during baking). You will need about 3 to 4 half sheet pans for this amount of dough depending on the shapes you choose to make.
- Place baking sheets back into a warmed oven (make sure the oven is turned off) to allow the choreks to proof, approximately 15 to 30 minutes. Remove from the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Beat the egg, egg yolk and sugar together and brush all the choreks (including the sides) with the egg wash mixture. Be careful with the red M&Ms on the chorek people’s mouths so you don’t brush red coloring onto the dough; just brush around the mouths instead of over them. Sprinkle with sesame seeds (but omit sesame seeds for chorek people shapes).
- Bake choreks for 28 to 32 minutes until golden brown (baking time will be dependent on the size of your choreks and the shapes you’ve made), rotating the baking sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through to ensure even baking. The chorek people typically bake faster than other shapes.
- Allow choreks to cool completely before serving. Choreks should be stored at room temperature, but can be warmed up before eating, if desired. They can also be frozen, thawed, and enjoyed at a later date. Refresh previously frozen chorek for a few minutes in the oven before serving.