Monday, February 25, 2019

Apricot Brandy Cake - a decadent dessert for Adults!

Monday, March 4th, 2019 marks the first day of Lent in the Armenian Church. The day before, Sunday, March 3rd, is Poon (meaning ‘Main’) Paregentan (meaning ‘to live well or rejoice’). It’s a time to enjoy life, and to be happy on the days preceding the Lenten fasting period.
Christine Datian's Apricot Brandy Cake

To help you ‘live well’, Christine Datian provided The Armenian Kitchen with her decadent dessert – Apricot Brandy Cake. Bake it this week – or – you’ll have to wait until Easter to enjoy this with family and friends.
Warning: Due to the addition of brandy in this recipe, you should serve this to adults only – sorry, kids!

Apricot Brandy Cake by Christine Vartanian Datian
Serves 8-10
1 cup unsalted butter (2 sticks)
2 1/2 cups sugar
5 eggs
3 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 cup sour cream
1 teaspoon vanilla (or orange extract)
1/2 teaspoon rum or rum flavoring
1/2 cup apricot brandy (Calvados or brandy of choice)

Pre-heat oven to 325 degrees F.  Grease and flour a large Bundt pan.

Cream the butter with the sugar in a large bowl.  Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.

Sift dry ingredients together two times and set aside.  

Combine sour cream, vanilla, rum, and brandy.  Add the dry ingredients, alternately with the sour cream mixture, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients.

Pour mixture into the prepared pan.  Bake for 1 hour and 10 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

Let cake rest for 10 minutes in the pan or on a rack.  Carefully invert cake onto a serving plate.  
Serve with warm apricot jam, Brandy Glaze, or topped with fresh whipped cream.

Brandy Glaze:
1 cup powdered sugar
2-3 tablespoons butter
2 teaspoons brandy
5-6 teaspoons milk or cream
Heat butter in medium pan over medium heat until melted and golden brown; cool slightly.  Add powdered sugar, brandy and milk; beat until smooth.
*Note: 1 cup chopped walnuts or pecans and 1 cup chopped golden raisins may be added to this recipe.

**Christine’s recipes have been published in the Fresno Bee newspaper, Sunset magazine, Cooking Light magazine, and at

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Carolann Najarian's Whole Wheat Choreg Experiment

Carolann Najarian is a woman of many talents – she is a retired physician, author, philanthropist, and now, a choreg baker.
Carolann Najarian's whole wheat choreg
Over the years, Carolann and I have communicated about this-and-that via The Armenian Kitchen.  Recently she wrote saying she wanted to try her hand at baking choreg. She said her mother used to make a choreg which was not too sweet, somewhat dry, a bit dense, and was formed into diamond shapes. She no longer had her mother’s recipe – a family favorite – and turned to my website hoping to find a recipe.

Kalonji seeds
Her mother’s recipe sounded much like a recipe request I received ages ago for a Kharpetsi-style chorag recipe called Koolunja, a word she wasn’t familiar with. After reaching out to my readers about Koolunja, I never had any responses. My research provided a clue about koolunja (aka kalonji) and discovered it means 'black seeds'. 

Since black seeds are often an ingredient in chorag recipes, I came to the conclusion that “koolunja” simply refers to these seeds and is not really a recipe name.  
For Carolann's future use, I sent her a recipe for ‘Koolenja’ by Agnes Carman Hovsepian, from the cookbook, 'Armenian Cuisine - Preserving Our Heritage', St. John's Armenian Church, Southfield, Michigan.
(Carolann plans to try the Koolunja recipe and let me know how it turns out. This will be a separate post.)

NOTE: Charles Kasbarian (aka C.K. Garabed and Uncle Garabed, columnist in The Armenian Weekly), provided me with additional  information about Koolunja: 

According to C.K., “the black seeds that are referred to as koolunja and black caraway seeds are also referred to as sevakundig (sev hundig) and nigella.”

Koolunja explained, Carolann then asked if I’d ever made choreg using whole wheat flour, and asked me for any tips.
Since I hadn’t made choreg with whole wheat flour, I asked for her assistance, meaning that after she experimented with the recipe, would she please share her results. She agreed.

This is what transpired:
My ‘tip’ to Carolann about substituting whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour came from Better Homes and Gardens:
"You can replace part but not all of the all-purpose flour with whole wheat flour when baking. Blending whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour will lighten the finished product while maintaining the nutritional benefits of whole wheat. When baking, use half all-purpose flour and half whole wheat flour. The end product might not look the same, and it could have a coarser texture and less volume."

Carolann got down to work and sent me her whole wheat choreg report:
Rachel and Nonny Hogrogian's cookbook
“I did make the half whole wheat/ half all-purpose flour chorag and it is very good. I used the same recipe (almost) that I used last time simply because I had made twice before and felt comfortable with it. It is from Rachel and Nonny Hogrogian's cookbook, ‘The Armenian Cookbook’.” Her recipe, an adaptation of Rachel Hogrogian’s Choreg recipe, follows. 
Carolann's whole wheat choreg - hot out of the oven!
Carolann Najarian’s Whole Wheat Choreg Recipe
Yield: 25 pieces

3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
½ cup sugar
1/2 tsp. each: finely ground mahlab** and ground anise seed
1 tsp. black caraway seeds
1 pkg. dry yeast dissolved in ¼ cup lukewarm water (105-110°)
3 eggs, room temperature
1 cup warm milk (NOTE: fat-free, low fat, or regular milk can be used)
1 ½ cups lukewarm melted butter
Egg wash: 1 egg, beaten
Garnish: sesame seeds

**Important Messages Regarding Mahlab:

C.K.’s daughter Lucine, author, writer, illustrator, sent me two vital links  regarding Mahlab:
#1. What Mahlab is: Click here
#2. If you- or anyone you know – is/are allergic to almonds, you’ll definitely want to avoid mahlab. Please click here to find out why! 

In a large mixing bowl, combine both flours, salt, sugar, ground mahlab, ground anise, and black seeds. Blend well. Make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the yeast, 3 eggs, melted butter and warm milk. Blend mixture by hand until a dough is formed.

Knead the dough in the mixing bowl. When the dough stops sticking to the bowl, stop kneading immediately. Do not coat the bowl or dough with oil. Cover the bowl with parchment paper and a clean towel; place it into a warm oven heated to 150°F. Turn off the oven; allow dough to rise until doubled in size - about 2 hours.

Punch dough and place it on the work surface. Flatten dough with your hands patting it down to about 3/4 inch thickness. Cut into squares, triangles, or diamond shapes. Alternately, take a handful of dough, roll it into a rope about 1 ¼” thick. Cut rope into 9” pieces; fold each piece in half and twist it once.

Place pieces on a parchment paper-lined tray. Brush each piece with egg wash. Sprinkle tops with sesame seeds.

Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for about 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.
Many thanks, Carolann, for your enthusiastic participation in this project!

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

The Feast of St. Sarkis, the Authentic St. Sarkis Halva Recipe, and other traditional recipes from Sonia Tashjian

The Feast of Saint Sarkis, a moveable celebration, falls on Saturday, February 16th this year. Saint Sarkis, the Warrior, is one of the most venerated Armenian saints and is considered the patron saint of love and youth.

Two main recipes are associated with this feast day, St.Sarkis Halva – a sweet treat, and Aghablit – a salty wafer or bread. Other traditional recipes include Kumba Cake, Khashil Don - a pudding, and KLONTRAK – a type of halva (These recipes are below).

Sonia Tashjian, who first shared the story of St. Sarkis with me years ago, sent word that she has finally found the ‘old’ recipe of St. Sarkis HALVA. By that she meant that the recipe she found uses mastic powder or mastic gum rather than the marshmallow fluff or crème that is often used to make St. Sarkis halva today.

NOTE: Mastic powder – or mastic gum – is used in sweets (candies and ice cream), baking (choreg), and medicine. It can generally be found in Middle Eastern stores – and - be purchased online.

#1. The authentic recipe for St. Sarkis Halva from Sonia Tashjian:

Sonia Tashjian's authentic St. Sarkis Halva
Make Syrup: Boil 1 cup of sugar with 1/3 cup of water; then add 1/2 tsp. of lemon juice & 1/2 tsp. of crushed mastic (mastic powder called ‘maztaki’ in Armenian).
Mastic Gum
Meanwhile spread 1 cup of sesame seeds & chopped walnuts on a tray. Using a spoon pour small amounts of the syrup onto the sesame seed-walnut mixture on the tray forming small mounds; allow it to sit until it is lukewarm. Finally, pour extra sesame on them. After some hours, the halva will be firm.

The following recipe for Kumba Cake comes from Sonia's grandmother - a specialty from Musa Dagh. It is served on St. Sarkis Day and is also a great Lenten treat since it contains no dairy or eggs. This cake is very flavorful due to its combination of spice and sweet, but tends to be rather dense in texture.

Sonia's Kumba Cake

#2. Kumba Cake

5 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of olive oil
1 cup of boiling water
1 cup of sugar
½ cup of honey
1 cup of chopped nuts (walnut, almond, pistachio, hazelnut)
½ cup of raisins
2 teaspoons of baking powder
1 teaspoon of ground cinnamon
½  teaspoon of ground cardamom
½  teaspoon of ground nutmeg
½  teaspoon of ground mahlab
a coin, wrapped in foil

½ cup of white sesame seeds for the top

If you desire, roast the flour, until it turns to pale. Mix the flour, sugar, baking powder and the spices.
Add the oil & boiling water, stir until a thick dough is formed.
Add the honey, nuts & raisins.
Spread the dough in a large non-stick pan. Put the wrapped coin in it & cover with dough.
Dip your hands in water and smooth out the surface of the dough.
Sprinkle the sesame seeds on the surface.
Bake Kumba at 350° F, about 25-30 minutes, until golden brown.

According to Sonia, this holiday is also known as Khashili Don, because the main dish served on this day is a pudding which has been boiled. ('Don' means holiday; 'Khashil' means boil, in Armenian).

Sonia also explained that wheat has been the main ingredient for Armenians since Pagan times. So, each holiday it had been used in recipes to honor the gods. 

Sonia's Khashil Don Pudding

#3. Khashil Pudding Recipe:

Please Note: The amounts given for the pearled wheat and water are estimates.

Wheat Pudding Ingredients:
2 cups Pearled wheat (aka dzedadztsz - the same wheat that is used to make harissa/keshkeg)
Water: Start with 3 cups water and continue to add enough water to create a creamy pudding-like texture
Salt, to taste

Yogurt Mixture Ingredients:
1 egg
4 cups plain yogurt

Topping Ingredients for Garnish:
Melted butter
Fried onions

In a dry, non-stick skillet, toast the wheat until it is evenly golden. Let it cool, then grind with a coffee grinder. (In Armenian the toasted wheat is called ‘aghants’; the ground toasted wheat is ‘pokhints’.)

Cook the wheat with water, stirring frequently, until you get a creamy pudding consistency. Stir in salt according to your taste.

Meanwhile thoroughly mix an egg into about 4 cups of matsun (plain yogurt), then bring it to a gentle boil.

To Serve: Pour the pudding in a bowl, pour matsun around it & garnish with melted butter or fried onion in the middle of pudding.

#4. The final traditional recipe is KLONTRAK – a type of halva.

Sonia's Klontrak (halva)

Klontrak Recipe:

In a dry, non-stick skillet, toast 1 cup of pearled wheat until golden – stirring often. Let it cool, then grind with a coffee grinder.
Melt a few Tbsp. butter. Pour butter, some mulberry syrup (or honey), into the ground wheat. Knead it with fingers, then form small balls.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Our Super Bowl Menu included Basterma - Cheese Rolls and Manteh. What was on your menu?

It’s been almost one year since Doug and I moved to South Carolina. Since then we’ve started to visit some of the state's charming cities.

Our first stop was to our state capital, Columbia, a pretty, not-overly large city with museums, fine and casual dining, an impressive capitol building, and lots of outdoor activities. 
Next was a trip to Spartanburg where BMW has an ultra-enormous plant to build their cars - and - a small, yet impressive car museum. (Guess whose idea it was to go there!) 
Downside of Spartanburg: In my opinion, not a great foodie destination.

Our latest journey took us to Charleston on the east coast. For years we’d drive past the exit on I-95, meaning to visit, but never quite made it. Of the three cities we’ve visited so far, we like Charleston the best. There’s so much to see and do, and the dining is pretty amazing!

The day we arrived (Super Bowl Sunday), we took a stroll along King Street, known as their shopping district. There are big name stores as well as plenty of small businesses. As we wandered, we chuckled when we noticed that a few restaurants were closed due to the Super Bowl.

Luckily, our dinner destination, Leyla, was open and ready to please. It’s family owned and operated, and they put their hearts and souls into their food preparation and service.
Leyla's Basterma-Cheese Rolls; in the background - Manteh.

The hot appetizers were wonderful. Their basterma-cheese rolls take the usual cheese boreg recipe to a higher level. The menu described it as such: Thin flour dough, stuffed with combination cheese and basterma (beef proscuitto) then fried to golden perfection.
Just to make sure the filling really did contain basterma rather than ‘beef prosciutto’, I asked the owner’s wife what brand of basterma they use. Her response – Ohanyan's. I was OK with that!  
(Note to self: The next time I make cheese boregs, add some basterma!)

The manteh (remember, spelling varies) was delicious, too. (Their description: Thin flour dough boats filled with seasoned meat, fried and served with yogurt garlic sauce and garnished with cumin, paprika and roasted pine nuts.) I asked why it was fried rather than baked and was told it was due to time constraints. When they’re busy, they fry the manteh rather than bake it. Again, I couldn’t argue, as the manteh was tasty, crisp, and was served with a dip of minty yogurt.

Dinner selections were chicken shawarma and vegetables, and lule kebab with rice. 
Dessert - cheese knafe with pistachio ice cream on the side! (Sorry, no other pictures, as we gobbled everything without thinking!)

We’re definitely re-visiting Charleston, and, yes, we’ll be going to Leyla again, but not on a Monday or Tuesday, as they are closed on those days.