Friday, November 3, 2017

A Lesson in Mahlab (Mahleb)

Many don’t know what MAHLAB is, so I’ll clue you in.
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.
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.
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.
Mahlab Cake ready to serve with coffee or tea.
Mahlab Cake

1 stick unsalted butter
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
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. 
In a large mixing bowl, cut the butter into the sugar using a pastry blender or two knives or forks. 
Sugar and butter cut together to resemble small peas.
The mixture should resemble small peas. Mix them together until blended. Beat in eggs until just combined. Set aside.

In a separate bowl, combine the flour, salt, mahlab, and baking powder.

The Batter.
Alternately add the flour mixture and warm milk to the butter mixture to create a batter.

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.
Pour batter into pan, spreading it evenly. Sprinkle the batter 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 into squares and serve with coffee or tea.


  1. I love cakes and I eat a lot of them, but I've never ever seen one like this before. Definitely going to try out the recipe you shared tonight and see how it goes.

  2. The recipe here is for an 8×8?

    1. No the recipe above is for a 9-inch by 13-inch pan. If you wish to make this fit into an 8" by 8" pan, cut the ingredients in half:
      ½ stick butter (4 Tbsp.)
      1 cup sugar
      1 egg
      ½ cup warm milk
      1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
      ¼ tsp. salt
      1 tsp. ground mahlab
      ½ tsp. baking powder
      Hope this helps!