Many don’t know what MAHLAB is, so I’ll clue you in.
|Jar of Mahlab purchased in a Middle Eastern store.|
|From Left to Right: Whole mahlab kernels, finely ground mahlab; less-fine particles of ground mahlab in sifter.|
Mahlab is an aromatic spice which comes from the stones or kernels from black cherries. The kernels are cracked open, the seeds removed and dried. These little gems are sold whole (which I prefer), or in powdered form. Mahlab is used mainly as a flavoring in baked goods –such as choreg, cookies, and cakes. It’s sold in Middle Eastern stores, or can be purchased online.
Powdered mahlab will lose its flavorful punch rather quickly, so it’s best to buy it in small quantities, and store it in a cool, dry place. Whole mahlab seeds store well in the freezer for a very long time. Grind it just before using for best results.
Mahlab has a very distinctive flavor. Some say its taste is a cross between a bitter almond, cherry, with a hint of rose. You’ll have to try it and decide for yourself. Once baked in a recipe, the scent is alluring, and the taste is subtle.
The chorag recipe my family made always included mahlab – along with ground anise, ground fennel, and ground ginger- a unique combination of flavors that work very well together.
The only time I ever use mahlab is in chorag, so I decided to incorporate some into our family’s recipe for Armenian Walnut Cake, tweaking it here and there.
NOTE: Since I was baking for two, I cut the ingredients of the recipe below in half, and baked the cake in an 8”x 8” pan. This yielded 9 generous square pieces. By the way, the cake tastes remarkably like sweet chorag, but with a more cake-like texture.
1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
1 cup warm milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp. salt
2 tsp. ground mahlab
1 tsp. baking powder
Sesame seeds, optional
|Use a pastry blender (seen here) or two knives or forks to 'cut' the butter into the sugar.|
|Sugar and butter cut together to resemble small peas.|
In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, mahlab, and baking powder.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour the bottom of a 9”x13” baking pan. (Shake out any excess flour.)
|The batter is evenly spread in a lightly buttered and floured pan.|
Bake for 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool completely on a wire rack.