How to make this sweet brioche bread from Aleppo
Maarouk is a sweet and fragrant brioche-like bread that is only made during Ramadan in Aleppo. This sweet bread delight comes in many shapes and fillings: the recipe below includes some which are braided and others which are round and filled with dates.
One of its key ingredients is mahlab, a spice that is traditionally added to flavour maarouk dough. It is made from the pits of a specific kind of cherry tree that grows in the Mediterranean and whose kernels are ground down to an aromatic powder. It can usually be found in Middle Eastern stores: if not, then replace it with a different spice of your choice such as cardamom or turmeric.
Makes: 3 big braids or 10 date rings
Preparation and baking time: 2 hrs 45 mins (includes 2hrs resting time)
- 385g (13½oz) plain white flour
- 50g (2oz) granulated sugar
- ½ tbsp dried instant yeast
- ½ tbsp mahlab
- pinch of salt
- 185ml (6¼ fl oz) warm milk
- 60g (2oz) yoghurt
- 60ml (2fl oz) vegetable oil
- 1 egg
- 1 tbsp white vinegar
- sesame seeds and nigella seeds to decorate
- 50g (2oz) granulated sugar
- 100ml (3½ fl oz) water
- ¼ tsp lemon juice
- 150g (5oz) dates
- 1 tbsp melted butter
- ½ tsp ground cardamom
- 1 egg yolk
- ¼ tsp instant coffee
- a drop of vegetable oil
To make the date filling
- Mix all the ingredients together in a food processor until you have a smooth paste.
For the dough
- Place all the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer that's fitted with a kneading hook.
- Add the vegetable oil, yoghurt and vinegar. Mix until well combined.
- Add the egg and mix until well incorporated.
- Add the warm milk and knead the dough for a further five mins.
- The dough should be smooth. If it feels sticky then add another 30g (1oz) flour and knead for another five mins.
- Remove the dough from the mixer and place into a lightly oiled bowl.
- Cover with cling film and leave to rest in a warm place for two hours or until the dough has doubled in size.
- Deflate the dough gently by softly pressing down on it.
- Allow to rest for another 15 mins.
To shape the dough
- To make the braids, take three tennis ball-sized pieces of dough and roll each one into equal-sized ropes.
- Join the three ropes together (see above). Begin to braid them by bringing the outermost rope into the centre, alternating the sides as you go down.
- Pinch the ends together. Transfer the braid to a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Alternatively, you can shape the dough into a disc by rolling out a tennis-ball sized piece of dough into a circle around 2 cm (1 inch) thick using a rolling pin.
- Sprinkle the disc with sesame seeds. Lightly press the seeds down so they stay in place.
To make the date rings
- Roll out a piece of dough so you have a rectangle that is around 20 x 10cm (8ins x 4ins) and 1cm (just under ½ in) thick.
- Roll out some of the date filling so you have a rope that is 20cm (8ins) long.
- Place the rolled out date filling onto the long side of the dough (see the righthand photo above).
- Gently roll the dough around the date rope so that it wraps around the filling twice. Cut off any excess dough.
- Bring the two ends of the dough together to form a ring, pinching the sides to seal them.
- Using a knife, make cuts around the ring about 1cm (just under ½ inch) apart from each other.
- Gently place the ring onto a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
- Mix the egg wash ingredients together and brush onto the shaped dough. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and nigella seeds as desired.
- Bake the dough at 200ºC (400ºF) for 15 mins or until the maarouk are golden brown.
- While the maarouk are baking, make the sugar syrup.
- First, bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan, stirring to dissolve the sugar.
- Once the mixture boils, add the lemon juice and allow it to simmer for five mins. Turn off the heat and set aside.
- Brush the maarouk with the sugar syrup as soon as you take them out of the oven.
- Allow the maarouk to cool and then enjoy.