The book I used, by the way, is The Book of Bread, by Judith and Evan Jones, and was originally published in 1982. I've got a paperback copy, and I think I probably bought it in the very late eighties/early nineties, which is when I was starting to really build my cookbook library. I have a bunch of bread books, in particular, that I bought in those years.
I'd thought about making Hot Cross Buns last week, but never got to it, and when I finally did have time, it was on Saturday, and traditionally Hot Cross Buns are baked on Good Friday, and since it was the day AFTER, I didn't. I know. What does it matter? It doesn't matter a single tiny bit, really. Not at all. But for some reason, the moment and the desire were both gone. I still wanted to bake something yummy and bready, so I started flipping through books, and this is what I ended up choosing.
Choereg, or Choreg, is a sweet bread, kind of like Portuguese Sweet Bread, or like Brioche, in that it has plenty of butter as well as the sugar.
On that very same Saturday, our friend, John, happened to be over to help brew a batch of beer with my husband, and he brought us an Easter Lily and a huge loaf of sweet bread as well. Maybe it was that bread that led me to the Choereg. I don't know. Interestingly enough, John took a look at the cookbook I had opened, and it turned out he's had Choereg. There's an Aremenian market he likes to shop at, and he's had the bread there. Theirs comes braided, like Challah. The recipe I was working with suggests either the braid or "snails." I wasn't sure, when I started out, what shape I was going to make, and as it turned out, I made a blend of the two.
But I am leaping way ahead.
Here's the list of ingredients, with my changes or additions in parentheses :
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups sour cream (I used plain, Greek-style yogurt) at room temperature
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1 cup soft sweet butter
1/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse salt or 1 teaspoon table salt (I used Kosher, which is coarse)
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 teaspoons ground aniseseed (I didn't grind mine, and I also didn't incorporate it into the dough)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
(also – zests of one lemon and one orange)
5 1/2 to 6 cups white flour, preferably unbleached (of course!)
1 egg, beaten
Sesame seeds or finely chopped almonds (this is where I used the anise seeds)
Why'd I put the lemon and orange zests in there? Well, it's spring, and I wanted lemon. Just wanted lemon. Pure and simple. And the authors also wrote this in the little intro to the recipe:
(Choereg)…is often flavored with the essence of black cherry kernels. It is commonly either braided or formed into snail-shaped rolls. When mahleb (derived from black cherry pits) is unavailable, choereg may be seasoned with vanilla and anise, or grated lemon or orange rind.
Being me, I figured I'd use all the alternative flavors they'd suggested. The recipe itself used the vanilla/anise combo – I added the two citrus options as well. The more, the merrier, I figured.
Here we go.
In a large bowl mix warm weter and yeast.
Add sour cream, 2 beaten eggs, butter, sugar, salt, vanilla, aniseed (and/or lemon and orange zests), and baking soda, and mix thorougly.
Gradually stir in flour to make a soft dough. Scrape out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth. Clean the bowl and oil it lightly, put in the dough, and turn it so it is lightly greased. Cover and let rise in a warm place about 2 hours, until double in bulk.
(Sorry – no pictures of the dough rising.)
Punch down the dough, and transfer to a floured work surface. Divide in 4 equal parts, then divide each of these in 3. To shape each loaf, roll 3 pieces of dough into ropes about 12 inches long. Braid these together and pinch the ends. To make snails, divide each of the 4 pieces in half. Roll each piece into a rope about 7 inches long. Coil each into a snail shape, starting with outside and coiling toward the center–it should hump up slightly in the middle.
(What I did was a blend of the two – I divided the dough into 16 pieces, and then divided each piece into three smaller pieces,
John was passing through the kitchen at this point and said "They look like a bunch of Gordian knots!")
Arrange shapes on greased baking sheets, cover, and let rise in a warm place about 45 to 50 minutes, until doubled.
Julia did a quarter of the rolls, by the way.
Brush the braids and/or snails with beaten egg; sprinkle with sesame seeds or almonds. (I brushed them all with the egg wash, and sprinkled anise seeds on half of them.)
I gave some to John, brought some to brunch on Easter, and kept the rest for us. They're sweet, and you can taste the bits of orange and lemon zest here and there. Very tasty, and very easy to make. AND, they're something you can involve kids in, if that thought doesn't send you screaming into the night.
But really – give them a try. Or, if you have already make them on a regular basis, and have a different recipe I should try, let me know! I'd love to hear about it!