With its flower fragrant and almond aroma, mahlab is one of the most astonishing and perhaps least known spices on the spice shelf. It is native to Middle-Eastern but cultivated in parts of South Europe as well.
Mahlab is the dried kernel of stones of wild cherries that grow by itself in nature. The tree it grows on is also called İdris tree and the cherries are dark colored, tiny ones with thin flesh.
When the kernels are powdered they turn to a light beige colored spice and it is widely used widely in the Middle East and some Mediterranean countries especially Turkey for flavoring bread, biscuits and pastries.
In the beginning, mahlab creates a flavor mixture of cherry, rose and almond on the palate. In the background, one can sense sweet flower scents with notes of vanilla. In the final stage, it leaves a bitter taste. The nutty flavor with soft almond sweetness it offers is really appetizing. When cooked, richer fruity aromas are revealed.
Mahlab is a very important flavoring agent for bread, buns, pastries, sweet and savory cookies and kandil simidi (pastry rings made for holy days). It is the secret source of the peculiar smell that bakery products bought from pastry shops give off. It goes very well with fruits and is one of the best blending spices with fruitcakes and fruited pastries. It works very well with desserts containing especially apricot, almond, date, pistachio, rose water and walnut.
It is hard to grind mahlab at home and ideal to buy it in ground form. Freshly ground, good quality mahlab should have light beige color. If it has a darker yellowish color, it is probably gone stale. Ground mahlab loses its aroma easily. Therefore, buy it in small amounts that you will consume and keep in airtight containers away from heat and light.
Mahlab is a special seasoning that gives a different flavor to pastries. Try adding a bit of mahlab in the dough you prepare for homemade cheese, olives or potato pastries. The difference will amaze you and make you want to use this magical spice in all of your pastries. Even if not included in your recipe, when you prepare any pastry you can enrich its flavor by adding a teaspoonful of mahlab for a cup of flour.
Mahlab pairs very well with mastic. Especially when you make Easter bun, this duo will help you create a much more authentic flavor than usual.
Its fruity aroma also makes mahlab a very good flavoring agent for milk-based desserts. Use it in rice pudding or sweet custards together with almonds and rose water to catch a unique taste.