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, which I prefer, store well in the freezer for a very long time. Be sure to grind the whle mahlab just before using for best results.

Mahlab has a very distinctive flavor. Some say its taste is a cross between a bitter almond and cherry, but 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. The mixture should be crumbly and resemble small peas.Then mix the butter-sugar crumbles together until blended. Beat in eggs until just combined. Set aside. 

(Note: A food processor fitted with a metal ‘S’ blade can also be used. Pulse the butter-sugar mixture for a few seconds to break down the butter. Return the crumbly mixture to a mixing bowl to continue.)  

Sugar and butter cut together to resemble small peas.

 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 top 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 cake into squares and serve with coffee or tea.

Servings: The cake yields 12-16 pieces, depending on the size you cut.

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  1. Kerry Schultz November 21, 2017 at 1:39 pm

    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. Unknown April 24, 2020 at 3:54 am

    The recipe here is for an 8×8?

    1. Robyn Kalajian April 29, 2020 at 5:48 pm

      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!


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