My Family’s Armenian Rice-Stuffed Grape Leaves Are as Simple as It Gets

For many Armenian families, Yalanchi sarma are essential on the mezze table. A soft, lemon-scented rice filling is studded with pine nuts and dried currants before it’s portioned and wrapped in grape leaves. They’re great as a room-temperature appetizer, or serve as a meatless main alongside a salad.

Side view of Sharma
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Yalanchi sarma, or just “yalanchi,” is the Armenian version of vegetarian stuffed grape leaves. “Sarma” means wrapped in Turkish, while ”yalanchi” means “liar,” a humorous reference to the fact that this is a meat-free version of the more common sarma, which typically contains beef or lamb. Thanks to the Armenian Christian Church, which historically forbade meat consumption for nearly half the year, Armenians have become pros at meatless cooking, and yalanchi is a prime example of this talent. The dish gets its satisfying savory flavor from tomato paste and copious amounts of chopped onions, olive oil, black pepper, and lemon juice, with toasted pine nuts (and occasionally dried currants) for extra heft. Unlike some other stuffed grape leaves, where the grains of rice remain distinct, yalanchi have a soft, cohesive filling that’s closer in texture to risotto than pilaf. 

Overhead view of sharma
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Unlike lamb or beef and rice-filled sarma, which is a main course typically cooked in a thicker tomato-enriched broth that it’s also served with, yalanchi are cooked simply in water. Yalanchi are also usually served as a room-temperature appetizer, though they are excellent as a meatless main, either with a salad or wrapped yet again in pita as a sandwich. For many Armenian families, including mine, yalanchi are an essential element on the mezze table. Fortunately, they are easy to make—if a little time-consuming—and can be prepared ahead of time. In fact, their texture and flavor improve after a day or two in the fridge.

In my family, my aunt Esther, a wonderful cook who has perfected her recipe and technique over many years, is always in charge of the yalanchi. Though she has shared her recipe with the rest of the family and we have all diligently taken notes while watching her work in the kitchen, none of us have her magic touch, and most of us continue to rely on her for our yalanchi supply. The recipe I’m sharing below is hers, at least in spirit. To make yalanchi a little easier for beginners, I’ve modified her technique slightly and have scaled down the recipe considerably, since I imagine most readers aren’t making this for a crowd of her fans.

Making the Filling for Yalanchi

My family typically uses par-cooked rice, rather than raw, to fill our yalanchi. It takes a little extra time to prep, but it makes filling and rolling the sarma much easier, as the cooked rice mixture is more cohesive than raw grains. It also speeds up the cooking once the yalanchi are in the oven, since the rice already contains much of the moisture it needs to finish cooking through.

To make it, I begin by mincing a lot of onion: one whole pound of onions for a single cup of rice. I then cook the onions with a generous glug of olive oil. We’re talking at least 3/4 cup, and though this might seem excessive, along with all the onions, it’s an essential element that brings an unctuous texture to the yalanchi. I like to add a pinch of baking soda to help break down the onions a bit more quickly, but you should still cook them long enough so they develop deep savory notes and fully soften. The alliums should ultimately be so tender they vanish into the finished dish. 

Overhead view of filling
Serious Eats / Two Bites

I then stir in the tomato paste, rice, water, and lemon juice and bring it all to a simmer, allowing the rice to gently cook until most of the liquid has been absorbed and each grain has softened, but still retains some of its chew. I fold in some chopped parsley for a hint of freshness and a handful of pine nuts for satisfying crunch, then let the mixture cool to room temperature, allowing it to firm up slightly, which makes it easier to handle. (My family doesn’t add currants to their yalanchi, though I sometimes enjoy the pop of sweetness and additional depth they add, and have included instructions for using them if you like.) While the filling mixture cools, I prepare the grape leaves.

How to Prepare Grape Leaves for Yalanchi

Many years ago, my grandfather spotted a wild, sterile grape vine growing on the side of a road: It had tender, thin, and large leaves with fine ribs, just right for sarma. He took a cutting, rooted it, and planted it in his garden. Today, clones of that one plant are climbing trellises in just about every family member’s yard, and they allow us to have yalanchi made with homegrown grape leaves year-round. (We harvest the leaves in late June and early July, when they are fully-grown but still tender, then blanch and roll them into bundles that we can freeze for later.) I know not everyone may have their own prized grape vines and leaves, but jarred, brined grape leaves sold in stores will work nearly as well. 

I always purchase more leaves than I need, as some leaves will inevitably be torn, ragged, or too small for use. My recipe calls for a 24-ounce jar; if you have unused leaves, you can always return them to the brine and save them for next time. Jarred grape leaves are already blanched, so preparing them for use in yalanchi requires just rinsing and drying them. I like to use a salad spinner to dry them, which makes quick work of the task and doesn't waste paper towels—they don’t need to be bone-dry, just rid of excess water.

Overhead view of removing stem
Serious Eats / Two Bites

You want to use grape leaves that are about five inches in diameter, though larger ones are fine if you trim them down so that you don't end up with a disproportionate amount of leaf in the yalanchi. You can use pairs of smaller leaves, too—just layer them slightly offset to one another to make a 5-inch diameter wrapper. The leaves should be round in shape, without prominent notching around their edges, which can leave openings in the wrapper for the filling to leak out. Similarly, avoid any torn, fragile, or overly thin leaves. (Any rejects can be used to cover the sarma while they finish cooking, so don’t discard them just yet.) You’ll need about 44 perfect specimens for this recipe, and though you probably won’t use them all, it’s always a good idea to have a few extras.

Filling and Rolling the Grape Leaves

Until recently, I’d never made yalanchi myself, though I’d watched others, like my Aunt Esther, do it many times. Now that I’ve had a lot of practice, I can bang out a batch pretty quickly. It will take a first-timer about an hour to fill and roll them all; less once you get the hang of it. (And even less, if you can recruit a helper or two to join in the effort. Like manti, making yalanchi is most enjoyable when it’s a group effort.) 

To fill the yalanchi, you start by laying the grape leaves rib-side up on a cutting board. In many cases, the stiff remnant of the leaf’s woody stem will remain present, which can make rolling more difficult and potentially cause the wrapper to tear. To remove it, use a paring knife to cut the stem flush with the base of the leaf, taking care to avoid cutting into the leaf itself, which can create a gap for the filling to leak out.

Overhead view of rolling sarma
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Aunt Esther’s yalanchi are very small, and she uses just a few teaspoons of filling in each. This is how they should be, but smaller yalanchi means more yalanchi—and more work—so I’ve scaled them up slightly here and call for a slightly rounded tablespoon instead. You set the rice mixture just above the stem end of the leaf, then use a spoon to form it into a log before folding the sides of the leaf over the filling one at a time to fully encase it. This should result in a long strip with the rice in the center. Roll it up like a carpet until it is fully enclosed to prevent the filling from leaking out. (You can trim any overhanging bits of leaf from the edges or tip with a sharp knife.)

Cooking the Yalanchi

Most Armenians, Aunt Esther included, cook their yalanchi by lining a pot with extra grape leaves to separate the rolls from the bottom of the pot, which helps prevent scorching. They then set the rolls in layers over the leafy lining before covering the parcels with water, lemon juice, and more olive oil, before bringing it to a simmer on the stovetop. As the yalanchi gently cooks, the rice tenderizes and swells; the filling becomes soft and cohesive, and the grape leaves soften more fully. 

This is where my method substantially differs from my aunt’s. Instead of simmering the yalanchi, I bake them: I arrange them in a single layer in a 9- by 13-inch baking dish or cake pan with olive oil, lemon juice, and a cup of water, then seal the pan with foil. They take about an hour to cook in the oven, and while it does take a little longer than cooking them on the stovetop, it’s a hands-off method that works just as well. You won’t have to babysit the pot by constantly checking to make sure it’s at a gentle simmer.

Overhead view of sarma in a baking dish
Serious Eats / Two Bites

(Baking them in a dish also makes it easier to transfer them to the fridge in the same container, if desired, which is nice when you are making them ahead of time. You could even bake them in a heatproof serving dish if you have one of the appropriate size.) The exposed grape leaves on the top of the rolls can oxidize and blacken if not kept moist, but, as I discovered, covering them with extra leaves during the bake prevents this entirely, and it allows the sarma to cook evenly and completely, since it traps them with steam.

Once cooked, the yalanchi will need an hour or so to cool to room temperature; then they get one last drizzle of olive oil before serving. Though it isn’t traditional in my family to do so, I like to serve my sarma yalanchi with lemon wedges on the side so people can add a burst of bright, acidic flavor. Yalanchi are excellent the day they’re made, but their flavor and texture improve with time, and they can be held for up to five days in the fridge, making them an easy make-ahead dish for entertaining or even just a snack. They’re good when eaten cold from the fridge, but they are the most delicious when enjoyed at room temperature, since the rice is softest when not chilled.

Side view of sarma
Serious Eats / Two Bites

I haven’t shared my yalanchi recipe with Aunt Esther yet, since I’m not sure she’d approve of all the changes I’ve made to it, but other family members have tried it, and it received glowing reviews. It might not be their go-to version—after all, it’s hard to compete with my aunt, the queen of yalanchi—but it might just become yours.

In a 8- to 10-quart Dutch oven, combine 3/4 cup olive oil, onions, salt, pepper, and baking soda. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring frequently, until pan begins to sizzle. Reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring often, until onions are fully softened and beginning to stick to bottom of pot, 6 to 8 minutes.

Two image collage of adding baking soda to onions and onions cooked
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Add tomato paste and cook, stirring constantly, until oil turns red, about 2 minutes. Add rice, 1 cup water, 1/2 cup lemon juice, and currants, if using. Increase heat to medium-high and bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low and simmer rice, stirring occasionally, until grains are al dente and most of the liquid is absorbed, about 17 minutes. 

Two image collage of adding currants and rice and cooking with onions
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Transfer rice mixture to a medium bowl. Using a flexible spatula, fold in parsley and pine nuts, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Allow rice mixture to cool to warm room temperature, about 45 minutes. 

Overhead view of folding in greens
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Meanwhile, fill a large bowl with warm tap water and set aside. Remove grape leaves from jar; they should measure 4 1/2 to 5 inches in diameter. (If leaf is larger than 6 inches in diameter, use a paring knife to trim excess.) Transfer leaves to bowl of water. Gently swish leaves to separate them from one another and gently rinse them under running water. Transfer 22 intact grape leaves, each about 4 1/2 to 5 inches in diameter, to the basket of a salad spinner one at a time, laying them evenly around and over the bottom. Using a salad spinner, gently spin leaves dry and transfer to a plate. Repeat rinsing, draining, and drying leaves until you have 59 leaves in total. (You’ll need 44 perfect leaves for the sarma, and 15 additional leaves for covering them once they’re in the dish.)

Two image collage of spinning leaves and dried leaves on plate
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position and preheat oven to 375˚F (190ºC).

To Roll Grape Leaves: Place one grape leaf rib side up with the stem end facing you on a cutting board. Using a paring knife, remove woody remnants of stem, if present, taking care not to cut into the leaf itself. Place a slightly rounded, packed tablespoon (20g) of filling in the center of leaf just above the stem end, and, using a spoon, gently shape filling into a rough log about 2 inches long and 1/2-inch wide. Fold sides of leaf over the filling one at a time. Starting with the end closest to you, roll leaf away from you until log is fully enclosed, gently compressing it as you do. Use a paring knife or scissors to trim any overhanging bit of leaf from sides. Transfer to short end of a 10- by 8-inch baking dish or cake pan, seam-side-down.

Four image collage of rolling sarma
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Stir filling to reincorporate any oil that has separated. Repeat trimming, filling, and rolling until rice mixture is finished, arranging sarma in 3 rows along the length of the pan. (It’s fine to gently compress logs to make all of them fit into a single layer; you should have 12 to 14 sarma per row.)

Overhead view of sarma in a pan
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Pour any remaining oil from the filling, remaining 1 cup water, 1/2 cup oil, and remaining 1/4 cup lemon juice over sarma. Lay 12 to 15 grape leaves over sarma to cover completely, pushing them down around edges of pan. Cover pan tightly with foil, then transfer to oven and bake until all but a few tablespoons of liquid remain in bottom of pan; this should take about 60 minutes, but if there are more than a few tablespoons of liquid remaining at that point, re-cover with foil and return to oven for 15 minutes before checking again.

Two image collage of pouring oil and layering leaves
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Transfer pan to a wire rack. Carefully loosen one corner of foil, then, using tongs, carefully peel back foil to release steam. Remove foil completely, then use it to loosely cover pan. Allow sarma to cool to room temperature, about 90 minutes.

Overhead view of removing foil
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Remove grape leaves from top of sarma and discard. Using an offset spatula, gently transfer sarma to a platter in even layer. Drizzle with any remaining liquid in pan and remaining 1/4 cup olive oil. Serve with lemon wedges.

Two image collage of removing grape leaves and transferring sarma to platter
Serious Eats / Two Bites

Special Equipment

 8- to 10-quart Dutch oven, salad spinner. 10- by 8-inch cake pan or baking dish, aluminum foil

Notes

If you’d like to speed things up, you can use a food processor to finely chop the onion: Cut the onion into 2-inch chunks. Using a food processor, pulse onion until finely chopped, about 15 pulses. Do not overmix.

If using double-concentrated tomato paste, use 3 tablespoons (45g) instead of 6 tablespoons (90g). 

Currants add a bit of sweetness to the filling, but they are not always used, and are optional.

If you do not have a salad spinner, let the grape leaves drain in a colander for 15 minutes, then lay on a kitchen towel and roll up to dry them.

Avoid using an uncoated aluminum baking pan to bake the sarma, as the acidity can discolor it; glass, stainless, or nonstick are acceptable.

Though yalanchi sarma can be served the day they are made, their flavor and texture are best after they’ve been refrigerated for at least 24 hours. Allow yalanchi sarma to come to room temperature before serving.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Yalanchi sarma can be made 5 days in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. Allow yalanchi sarma to warm to room temperature, about 30 minutes, before plating and serving.

15 Armenian Recipes You’ll Want to Make Every Day

This introduction to Armenian cuisine includes celebratory dishes and simple, everyday staples.

Armenian 101 header
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Armenian food is a study in contrasts: indulgent and celebratory on one hand, and humble and nourishing on the other. Historical Armenia, which includes the current-day Armenian Republic along with much of what is now part of Eastern Turkey, was a mountainous, isolated, and relatively poor region. With limited access to the outside world, Armenians learned to make do with what they had, particularly during their long winters. Armenians were (and many remain) a very religious people (it is a point of pride for many that the Kingdom of Armenia was the first nation to make Christianity its state religion, way back in 303 AD). Not only was meat a precious resource, but it was also forbidden by the church for nearly half of the calendar year, both during the forty days of lent and some 120 other fast days outside of it. As a result, they developed a sophisticated vegetarian cuisine, with beans, lentils, nuts, and dairy products like yogurt and cheese standing in for meat.

Armenian Food graphic
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

With that said, Armenians are all-in on feasting during times of plenty or at the end of fasting periods. (Holiday gatherings in my family are studies in excess, with most guests full to the brim long before the main courses appear.) My family, and many other Armenians, love meat, especially lamb: Cooks grill it over charcoal on skewers, braise it in stews and soups, turn it into meatballs, and even serve it raw. And they are especially fond of sweets, whether it’s the fruits abundant within their region—grapes, pomegranate, peaches, and apricots, among others—or desserts and breads containing copious quantities of sugar.

The following is a list of some of the most iconic and beloved dishes of the Armenia diaspora. Some of these recipes, like fassoulia, rice pilaf, and dolma, may be familiar, as versions of them feature in other Southwest Asian cuisines. Below, you’ll find celebratory dishes, as well as simple, everyday staples. With the exception of a few recipes, I grew up eating these dishes regularly. The rest are those I’ve come to love through experimenting and exploring them in my own kitchen—and I hope you will, too.

Choreg (Armenian Easter Bread)

20210330-Choereg-AndrewJanjigian-5
Andrew Janjigian

Perhaps no Armenian dish is more representative of the Armenian tendency for  extravagance than choreg, a sweet bread essential to the Easter table, though it is served year-round as well. Choreg is essentially brioche—an enriched bread made from milk, eggs, butter, and sugar—but far sweeter, and scented with two spices beloved by Armenians: nigella and mahlab. Bakers shape choreg into round or knotted rolls, or into long braids, with three strands meant to represent the Holy Trinity. Choreg is also made in Greece (where it is called tsoureki and is flavored with piney mastic instead of mahlab), Turkey (paskalya çöreği), and Eastern Europe, though its flavors and shapes vary widely.

Lavash (Armenian Flatbread)

Stack of baked lavash on a serving platter
Andrew Janjigian

After choreg, the bread Armenians consider essential and most reflective of their cultural heritage is lavash. And unlike choreg, lavash is simple and humble, made with just flour, water, salt, and yeast (and sometimes even without yeast). The dough is stretched, rolled, and slapped into paper-thin sheets many feet long and wide, laid over a pillow-like convex cushion, which is used to transfer the bread to the walls of a tonir, a deep, wood-fired oven, where it cooks in a matter of seconds. Some lavash is made unleavened, though most are leavened using an “old dough" method: Similar to sourdough, a small portion of each batch of dough is reserved to start the next one. 

While lavash is eaten fresh, it’s just as often allowed to dry—laid flat on racks or rolled into cigars—until  crisp, so it can be preserved for the long winter. The thin bread keeps well once dried, and many eat it like a cracker or rehydrate it by soaking or sprinkling it with water.

Making lavash at home without a tonir requires a different set of techniques, but it’s not hard to do. And like pita, fresh lavash is loads better than most of what’s available in stores, and well worth the time and effort. It has a tender, melt-in-your-mouth texture and a clean, wheaty flavor that gets masked by the fats and fillers commercial lavash producers add to keep the bread soft while it sits on supermarket shelves.

Like pita, lavash is used as a scoop for dips like hummus and muhammara, as a wrapper for meats, cheeses, or pickles as a mezze snack, or to make larger wrap-like sandwiches. It can also be used as a phyllo-like wrapper for turnovers, as in this recipe for lavash triangles.

Lahmajun (Armenian Flatbread With Spiced Lamb)

Plated lahmajun and lemon wedges
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

It’s easy to see why lahmajun gets called “Armenian pizza” by non-Armenians all the time: It’s a crisp, thin flatbread with an aromatic, bright red topping. Unlike tomato and cheese pizza, however, lahmajun is topped with a very thin layer of ground meat (lamb or beef), heavily seasoned with red-pepper and tomato pastes, fresh onion, garlic, red pepper, parsley, and warm spices. The fresh vegetables are ground to a smooth paste and drained of excess moisture, giving the topping a texture closer to a paste than a sauce. It’s less like a pizza than an open-faced ground meat kofta sandwich—in fact, it’s often eaten rolled up with a chopped, crisp salad on the inside, just like a sandwich.


(For a non-traditional but actual Armenian pizza, see my recipe for ”Armenian" Pizza With Spiced Lamb Sausage, Armenian String Cheese, and Sumac.)

Armenian Rice Pilaf

Overhead view of rice pilaf on a pale plate
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Rice pilaf—long-grain white rice and a fistful of pasta toasted in butter and simmered with chicken stock—is absolutely fundamental to the cuisine of the Armenian diaspora. In Eastern Armenia, the region that is now the Armenian Republic, rice wasn’t commonly eaten until relatively recently. But for those whose ancestors emigrated from Western Armenia (mine among them), rice pilaf is so essential that it is served with most meals, even those where other starches are present. (Just try talking my mother out of adding pilaf to an already-full table—it’s a fool’s errand.) For most in the Armenian diaspora, it’s not a meal unless rice pilaf is included.

Most Americans know Armenian-style rice pilaf thanks to Rice-a-Roni, the boxed product that popularized rice in the U.S. during the 1950s. (In 2008, NPR’s The Kitchen Sisters shared the tale of how an Italian-American pasta company taught Americans to love rice thanks to a chance encounter between a Canadian immigrant and an Armenian Genocide survivor.) While Rice-a-Roni brought the dish into the homes and consciousness of so many non-Armenians, homemade rice pilaf is far superior to anything that comes in a box. Plus: It’s so easy and quick to make that it’s practically a convenience food.

Khorovats (Armenian Shish Kebabs)

Overhead view of shish kebabs on pita on a plate
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

After rice pilaf, grilled meats are perhaps the food most fundamental to Armenian cuisine, and the go-to centerpiece of feasts, provided the weather is warm enough to fire up the grill. (Some Armenians refer to barbecued meats as khorovats, or “grilled,” but in my family we just call them kebabs.)

Armenian kebabs come in two styles, both grilled and usually served side-by-side. The first, shish kebabs, refers to skewered hunks of beef or lamb (the word “shish” is the English rendering of the Turkish word şiş, meaning sword or skewer). The second, losh kebabs, are seasoned ground meat patties cooked without skewers.

Shish kebabs can be made from either lamb or beef. My family always makes them from leg of lamb, trimmed and broken down into one-inch pieces that can be skewered easily. The meat is then marinated with chopped onions, tomato paste, red wine, salt, and pepper, and refrigerated overnight. The flavor of shish kebab is mostly that of fire-charred meat, and its simple marinade seasons the meat throughout while also adding sugars to promote caramelization on the grill.

Losh Kebabs (Armenian Grilled Meat Patties)

Overhead view of losh kebabs on pita on a white plate on a nicely textured, striped fabric
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Armenian grilled, spiced ground meat kebabs go by a few different names, depending on how they are shaped and grilled. Regardless of shape, the meat mixture and seasonings are essentially the same. Lula or lule kebabs (“lule” means “rolled”) are formed into sausage-shaped logs—skewered or freeform—or into long, flat patties by pressing them onto special flat, sword-like skewers.

In New England, where I grew up, Armenians make losh kebabs, round, freeform patties—almost like hamburgers with a bit of zing. Like shish kebab, losh kebabs are seasoned simply, with a similar blend of vegetables folded into the meat mixture. My only additions to this lineup are a touch of allspice, a warm spice commonly used in Armenian meat dishes, and mild red pepper paste, which combines the depth of tomato paste with the fruity flavor of red chiles, often used in ground meat patties too.

Ganach Lupia

Overhead view of Ganach Lupia in a dutch ovenANACHLUPIA
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Ganach lupia or ganach fassoulia—tomato-braised green beans—is so essential to Armenian cuisine that its name simply means “green beans” (“ganach” is Armenian for “green" and “lupia” is the Armenian word for "bean," and “fassoulia” is the Arabic word for “bean”). When an Armenian uses the term “green beans” or even just “beans,” they are referring to this dish, not the raw vegetable. (That Armenians often call the dish by its Arabic name is evidence of its ubiquity across Southwest Asia and North African. Fassoulia is one example of several tomato-braised vegetable dishes in Armenian cooking; another is bamiya, or tomato-braised okra, another key dish.

Unsurprisingly, there are countless variations. There are vegetarian versions, where beans are braised in a mixture of water and tomatoes, and meaty iterations with beef or lamb. The common denominator to all is the use of onions and garlic as base flavors, along with time. The dish is cooked for hours, until the beans (and meat, if present) are meltingly tender and deeply savory. Crisp-tender green beans are nice, but this is not that. Green beans contain a lot of lignin, the same cellulose-based compound that makes wood hard, so they need time to adequately soften, just like the meat they are partnered with.

My family often makes this dish—which we just call “fassoulia”—with lamb neck or bone-in shoulder. Though it’s definitely a hearty, “meaty” main dish, the green beans are the star. The meat is a source of umami and richness, and accompanies the beans, not the other way around.

Sini Manti

20121214-Manti-Andrew-Janjigian-45
Andrew Janjigian

Manti—small parcels of spiced ground lamb or beef surrounded by thin wheat wrappers that are steamed or boiled—are common throughout Central and West Asian cuisines. However, Armenian manti, sometimes called sini manti, are a little different. While most other manti recipes are boiled, these tiny canoe-shaped, open-topped dumplings are first baked until crisp, then served in a rich tomato-infused lamb broth. Topped with a dollop of garlicky yogurt and a sprinkling of Aleppo pepper and sumac, it is, to me, the ultimate manti. The combination of flavors and textures is exceptional: You have crunchy, lamb-filled dumplings that have been softened gently by the steaming, aromatic broth against the cooling, tart yogurt, with spicy, aromatic, and tart garnishes that brighten each bite.

Up until recently, making and eating manti was a Christmas Eve ritual for my extended Armenian family. For weeks leading up to the holiday, the women in the family gather together to make the dumplings, which they'd then freeze. Hours, and hours, and hours of work go into making enough to feed a few dozen people the meal they look forward to all year long. Nowadays, I make manti myself when I want it, but given all the work involved, it’s a project I usually undertake just once a year. Still, it’s one I try to make time for.

Harissa

Overhead view of harissa with pickled vegetables and lavash
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Harissa—also known as herisseh, harisa, or keshkeg—is a wheat berry and meat porridge, and one of the world’s great (if lesser-known) cool-weather comfort foods. The meat is usually chicken or lamb, and the wheat is usually korkot, or “shelled” wheat, which are wheat berries that have had their tough hulls removed (like hulled barley), making them about twice as fast to cook. The meat and the wheat berries are combined with water or stock and stirred over low heat for hours until everything disintegrates into a uniform, stodgy porridge. While that might not sound appealing, the process transforms the simple ingredients into a satisfying, nourishing, and deeply savory whole. When topped with its mandatory Aleppo pepper–spiced browned butter, harissa absolutely sings.


Harissa is of special cultural significance to Armenians, many of whom consider it a national dish. While it is eaten year-round, particularly during the winter, it's also served at Easter to mark the end of Lent and at celebratory feasts, as for the birth of a first child. Armenians insist the dish originated in the Armenian Highlands, but versions of it are known throughout Southwest Asia and India as well. In Arabic it is known as harees, and it is a staple of Ramadan meals.

Eetch

Platter of eetch served with herb salad, lettuces, and lavash.
Andrew Janjigian

Eetch is a classic Armenian dish of bulgur wheat, tomatoes, and chopped green herbs. It’s often compared to tabbouleh—a Middle Eastern salad with parsley, tomatoes, mint, and bulgur wheat—but eetch isn't really a salad, as it's more moist and cohesive. And while it can be eaten with a fork, it's just as often eaten stuffed within a tender lettuce leaf or a shroud of lavash.

Eetch is one of many Armenian “meatless” meat dishes that were created as a result of the many proscriptions to meat eating handed down by the Church. It is usually served as part of an appetizer (mezze) spread, but also makes a thoroughly satisfying and quick-to-assemble one-dish meal. It’s excellent year-round, but it’s particularly delicious in the height of summer, when cool dishes are welcome and fresh herbs, lettuces, and juicy, flavorful tomatoes are easy to come by.

Dolma and Sarma

Overhead view of covering dolmas in sauce
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Sarma and dolma are really two generic names for tomato-braised rice-and-meat stuffed vegetables; the only real difference is the vegetables in question and how they are used. In Turkish, sarma means “wrapped” and dolma means “stuffed.” Both call for a hearty filling of ground meat and rice, and while sarma involves wrapping the stuffing with a leaf like that of grape or fig, dolma refers to stuffing vegetables like bell peppers, zucchini, and eggplant. 

Dolma and sarma are beloved by Armenians, but the same basic dish is eaten throughout the Middle East, the Mediterranean, and Eastern Europe, and most follow a similar template. Once the vegetables are filled or used to wrap the filling, they’re placed into a large pot and braised with a savory tomato broth until the vegetables have softened and the meat and rice become juicy and tender. 

Armenian dolma and sarma are essentially meatballs stuffed into or wrapped with vegetables, respectively.They are served in a pool of the braising liquid, with a dollop of cooling yogurt alongside.

Ghapama (Armenian Stuffed Pumpkin)

Overhead view of Ghapama on a purple background
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Ghapama is a baked pumpkin stuffed with a jeweled rice pilaf dotted with onions, nuts, dried fruits, and herbs. It’s a dish so cherished by Armenians that it has its own song. Titled “Hey Jan Ghapama,” the tune is about a pumpkin farmer who somehow manages to feed a crowd of a hundred family and friends with a single pumpkin. Though ghapama can’t actually feed a hundred people,  it’s an excellent way to feed many. It’s a traditional celebration dish, particularly around Christmas and the new year, when pumpkins are in season. Cooks  carve the pumpkin into wedges and fan it out like a flower, with the rice mounded over the center. The elegant dish looks challenging to make, but it’s actually quite easy to assemble and bake—and is as beautiful as it is delicious.

Boreks (Armenian Spinach and Cheese Turnovers)

an overhead shot of boreks on a marble surface
Andrew Janjigian

If you’re ever served an Armenian mezze spread, you’ll likely see cured olives, string cheese, dried apricots, walnut halves, and cured meats like basturma (cured, dried lean beef) and sujuk (spiced Armenian beef sausage), along with boreks. Boreks are crisp, flaky phyllo hand pies filled with cheese, tender greens, vegetables, meat, or a combination. They're usually made into triangle-shaped hand-pies, although some prepare tray-style boreks by baking one large-format pie in a pan, then cutting it into individual portions. Boreks are dear to Armenians, but are also equally prized throughout the countries that were once a part of the Ottoman Empire, including Albania, Bulgaria, Turkey, Greece, and Serbia.

While boreks can be made with puff pastry or yufka, a more rustic pastry dough that’s halfway between a pasta and phyllo in thickness, most Armenian boreks are made using phyllo dough. The most common fillings for Armenian boreks are either a mixture of cheeses—melty ones like Muenster or Monterey Jack, tangy feta, and something creamy, like cottage or cream cheese—or a combination of cheese and cooked, drained spinach. Herbs and alliums like parsley, dill, and scallion are common additions to either style, and eggs are usually added as a binder.

Tourshi (Armenian Pickled Vegetables)

Three finished tourshi jars
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In Armenia, as well as in numerous other countries in Southwest and Central Asia, ”tourshi” just means “pickles.” You can make tourshi with just about any crisp edible-when-raw vegetable, like carrots, cauliflower, cabbage, or turnips. You can make it like sauerkraut, where the vegetables are preserved in a tart brine provided by lactic acid fermentation, but in my family, we use a tangy, vinegar brine lightly spiced with mustard, coriander, black peppercorns, and allspice berries.


Armenians set tourshi on the dining table no matter the occasion, but it is an essential component of any mezze spread or a side dish alongside entrées. Though the pickles take a few weeks to, well, pickle, it’s otherwise a quick and simple process and a great way to preserve summer’s bounty of crisp vegetables for the winter months.

Gata (Armenian Coffee Cake)

A whole gatah (armenian coffee cake) cut into slices
Andrew Jianjigian

Gata is a lightly sweetened, buttery Armenian cake, bread, or pastry meant to be served as part of a mezze spread, as a dessert, and/or with coffee or tea. Some gata resemble croissants or rugelach: bakers roll an enriched bread dough into paper-thin, table-wide sheets using an okhlavoo (a wooden dowel dedicated to dough work), smear it with butter, then roll it up like a carpet before cutting the dough into spirals that bake up layered and crisp. Others are sweeter and decidedly more cake-like, and the dough may be yeasted or leavened with baking soda and acidic dairy.

This latter style is usually formed into a flattened disc and filled with butter, flour, sugar, vanilla, and sometimes a chopped nut paste known as khoritz—essentially the Armenian equivalent of streusel—then folded up and gently rolled into an even 9-inch round. These more simple gata are often dressed up with decorative strips of dough or by scoring patterns onto the top before baking. This version is simple and relatively quick to make, and absolutely delicious served at any time of day.

Where to Go From Here

This obviously isn’t an exhaustive list of essential Armenian recipes, but is a starting point if you’re interested in learning more about the cuisine. Other crucial recipes to consider  include tanabour, the silky yogurt-and-barley soup that’s eaten both cold and hot, depending upon the season. There’s vospov kofte, which are vegetarian patties made from bulgur and softened red lentils that are often eaten during Lent, when the church forbids the consumption of meat. Another delicious Lenten dumpling is topik, which are potato-and-chickpea patties stuffed with onions, pine nuts, currants, sesame paste, and spices. 


For desserts and sweets, there’s tahinovhats, a flaky laminated flatbread layered with sugar, tahini paste, and warm spices that is baked until crisp. And anoush abour, a pudding-porridge, made with wheat berries, dried fruit, and nuts, is traditionally served to celebrate the New Year. Or burma, which are buttery, crisp, crinkled phyllo-wrapped logs, filled with sweetened ground walnuts, soaked in sugar syrup. 


No matter which Armenian recipes you choose—humble and filling, or rich and decadent, or both—it’s sure to be a celebration.

My Family’s Top-Secret Dolma Recipe Is the Best Anytime Dinner

Stuff vegetables with a hearty mixture of ground meat and rice, then braise them in a savory, tangy tomato broth to make dolmas, a staple throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean.

Side view of Dolma
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Rice-and-meat stuffed vegetables, which often go by the name dolma, are popular throughout Central Asia, the Middle East, and the Mediterranean. Most versions follow the same basic template: vegetables (including cabbage or grape leaves) stuffed with a hearty mixture of ground meat and rice, aromatics like onion and garlic, tomato purée, red pepper paste, and herbs, slowly braised in a savory, tangy tomato broth. 

Overhead view of peppers in a platter
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Once cooked, the rice bursts open, transforming the filling into a moist, tender, and cohesive mixture. The bundles are like juicy meatballs encased in a tender vegetable wrapper. Nestled in a pool of braising liquid, with a dollop of cooling yogurt on the side, dolma is a deeply satisfying dish—and a favorite in my Armenian family, both as a meal for large gatherings and even as a weeknight supper when made on a more modest scale. 

A note about terminology: Dolma and sarma are generic Turkish terms meaning "stuffed" or "wrapped," respectively, and both can refer to the same basic dish. While usage varies and not everyone agrees on the precise definitions, to the degree there is a difference it's that dolma tends to refer to stuffed vegetables, typically bell peppers, large mild chile peppers, eggplant, zucchini, and tomato. Sarma, on the other hand, is used when the filling is rolled inside grape or cabbage leaves. With that said, many people just call the dish dolma even when cooking a combination of both rolled leaves and stuffed vegetables in the same pot, which is quite common. This recipe is written to use bell peppers, but the headnote contains instructions for other vegetable containers and leaf wrappers; for clarity’s sake, I'm calling this recipe dolma.

Inside view of Dolma
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

My dolma recipe is pretty much identical to my family’s. Until now, my family’s recipe had only been passed around orally, with many of the essential techniques and steps implied but left unsaid. Because the dish is practically second-nature to everyone, the hardest part of sharing this recipe was getting everyone to spill their secrets so I could put it all down on paper.

While I wanted to stay true to the version I grew up with, I also wanted to experiment with incorporating a few tips and tricks to make what is usually a somewhat laborious process easier. After some tweaking, I’ve come up with a method for dolma that is easy, delicious, and satisfying no matter the cook's experience.

How to Fill Dolma

The typical dolma filling consists of sautéed aromatics—onions, garlic, dried spices, and herbs—combined with uncooked rice, ground beef or lamb, tomato and red pepper pastes, and fresh parsley.

The biggest change I made to the original recipe was to par-cook the rice before folding it into the filling. Traditionally, raw rice and meat are mixed together to make it; as the rice cooks, it draws moisture from the meat, drying it out. Par-cooking the rice first allows the grains to begin the process of gelatinization: They swell with moisture and soften before it’s used in the filling, keeping the meat moist and tender. It also speeds up the cooking of the filling, preventing the vegetables from becoming overly soft. The vegetables should be tender, but not fall apart before they make their way to the plate.

Overhead view of filing dolma
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

For meat that stays juicy, I add a bit of baking soda to the ground meat, raising its pH and helping it retain moisture. As contributor Tim Chin wrote in his marinades investigation, a higher pH makes it more difficult for proteins to bond tightly during the cooking process. “Water gets trapped in the spaces between proteins,” he says, “so the meat holds on to more water and stays juicy.”  

I like dried mint and basil as flavorings, though neither are traditional in my family, along with Aleppo and black pepper. (Dried basil—especially opal basil, which is the basil used most often in Levantine cuisine—doesn’t get nearly enough respect, and its floral, herbaceous flavor is especially nice in meatballs and meat stuffings.)

Braising Dolma

Once the vegetables are prepared, they are set into a pot to braise. The braising liquid for dolma can be as simple as just water (or broth), but it’s as likely to be somewhat more complex: a puréed tomato product of some kind, lemon juice, and a fat like butter or oil, all of which yield a bright, silky sauce to serve over and around the stuffed vegetables.

Overhead view of braising liquid
Serious Eats / Qi Ai


I like to use tomato paste in place of the traditional purée, since it forms a lovely, potent sauce when thinned out with water, and because I always have some on hand. Once the stuffed vegetables are combined with the braising liquid, a little water is added until the vegetables are fully submerged. 

To keep the stuffed vegetables from floating in the pot and to keep the exposed surfaces of the filling from drying out and forming a skin, cooks usually set a small plate on top of the vegetables to weigh them down. The pot is then covered with a lid and heated on the stovetop (or in an oven) until the meat and rice is tender and the braising liquid has transformed into velvety sauce, an hour or so later. (Unlike some other rice-stuffed vegetable dishes, the stuffing in dolma should be juicy and soft, like a tender meatball, and not a loose mixture of rice and meat.) 

I prefer braising my dolma in the oven, rather than on the stovetop, since it’s a more gentle and even cooking method. This means you can set a timer and walk away without the fear of scorching your vegetables on the bottom of the pot or fussing with a finely-calibrated burner setting.

Overhead view of pouring the liquid
Serious Eats / Qi Ai



Stuffing bell peppers is both easy and quick to do, so that’s the version I’ve focused on here. They’re easy to purchase in uniform shapes and sizes, and they take mere minutes to prep: You simply have to lop off their tops and remove the cores. Look for large peppers with square bases, as this will help them sit upright in the pot. Though green peppers are traditional, any color will do—I like an assortment of colors myself.

I like to think of bell peppers as a gateway vegetable for dolma—easy to use, and the perfect introduction to this delicious and satisfying dish. Once you’ve tried them, and become a fan, you might want to try using other vegetables too.

Preparing Other Vegetables for Dolma

Once you get comfortable with peppers and want to start utilizing other vegetables for dolma, things get slightly more complicated, especially when you use more than one kind in the same pot (as we usually do). They’re all pretty easy to prepare, but slightly more involved than bell peppers, which need nothing more than coring and filling. Moreover, it can be hard to predict exactly how many vegetables you’ll need, so it’s best to purchase a few extra to ensure you don’t run out of vessels for the filling. When you use a combination of wrappers, it’s even more challenging to figure out the exact amounts you need, and a bit of math is often required for those who want to mix-and-match.

Here’s a quick guide on how to make dolma with different vegetables.

  • Tomatoes: Use the same number of round, uniform tomatoes as peppers, or a larger number of smaller plum tomatoes. Remove the tops and cores, then mince and add the cores to the braising liquid, as they’d add too much moisture to the filling. Keep in mind that tomatoes tend to become very fragile after baking, so take care when removing them from the pot and avoid stacking them when serving. I recommend using a serving spoon—instead of tongs—to gently pick them up.
  • Zucchini, Summer Squash, and Eggplant: Look for vegetables that are as cylindrical and as uniform in thickness as possible. This is easier to do with zucchini and summer squash; you’ll need to find Asian eggplants, since fat globe eggplants are too portly to work, since they can’t easily be formed into small cylinders. Dolma is often made using dried eggplants—which have the benefit of coming pre-cored and ready-to-stuff once soaked in warm water to rehydrate them—but they are hard to find outside of Middle Eastern grocers or online.  
  • Cut the vegetables into 2 1/2- to 3-inch lengths, taking care to make sure the bottoms are flat. Using a small spoon, hollow out the vegetables, leaving about 1/4-inch of flesh at the base and and sides. (You should be able to feel the spoon from the underside of the base.)
  • Six pounds of zucchini, summer squash, and/or eggplant should be enough for all the filling below—each vessel should get about 1/3 cup or 85 grams—though it’s not a bad idea to have a few extra vegetables on hand, especially when their diameters are on the narrow side.
  • Cabbage: Though cabbage is one of the most involved vegetables to prepare, it’s one of my favorite wrappers to use. (Though it isn’t traditional, Tuscan kale will work here too, as long as you shave the rigid rib until it’s the same thickness as the leaves, and blanch the leaves until tender.)
  • To make the leaves flexible enough to work with, it’s essential to tenderize them in boiling water. Use a sharp knife to remove the stem, along with the first quarter-inch or so of the surrounding leaves. Then, using a paring knife and a small spoon, scoop out the core completely, so the leaves are easily separated once blanched. 
  • In an 8- to 10-quart Dutch oven or stockpot, bring 4 quarts (3.7L) of water to a boil over high heat. Add the cabbage, cut-side down, and cover the pot. Reduce heat to medium-high, keeping the pot at a vigorous simmer, and cook cabbage until a paring knife inserted into it yields easily, about 30 minutes. Transfer the cabbage to a large bowl, cover with cold water, and let sit until cool enough to handle, about 30 minutes.
  • Once cool, carefully peel the outer leaves from cabbage, taking care not to tear them. (You will need a total of 20 to 22 leaves 5- to 6-inches in diameter, so look for a large cabbage that weighs at least 3 pounds, or use two smaller ones.) To make the leaves as flexible as possible without breaking them, use a paring knife to shave off the thick side of the leaf’s central rib, making it flush with the remainder of the leaf.
  • To assemble, set one cabbage leaf on the counter rib side down with the stem end facing you. Place 1/4 cup (60g) of filling in the center of the leaf, then roll the stem end away from you and over the filling to gently form a 3-inch log. Fold the sides of the leaf in toward the filling like an envelope, then roll the bundle over itself into a compact log. Repeat with remaining leaves until no filling remains.
  • Use some of the remaining cabbage leaves to line the Dutch oven before starting step 6 of the recipe below. This creates a nest for the cabbage bundles. Lay the cabbage logs around the pot so they’re snug against one another, making two layers if needed.
  • Grape Leaves: My family grows grape leaves, relying on a treasured grapevine my grandfather found in the wild and transplanted to his yard fifty or so years ago—the clones of which are in nearly every one of my family member’s backyards now. These are the best grape leaves for sarma, but the brined, jarred ones you can buy from Middle Eastern grocers aren't terrible, either—and are a whole lot easier to find if you don’t have grape leaves growing in your garden..
  • To use brined grape leaves, rinse at least 23—it’s good to have extras, but one large 16-ounce jar should do the trick— leaves in cold water, then drain them in a colander, pressing gently to remove any excess water.
  • Fill and roll the leaves as you would with the cabbage, using 1/4 cup (60g) filling per leaf (each should be 5- to 6-inches in diameter). (If you end up with smaller leaves, overlap pairs of them to create a single large wrapper.) Set the leaves shiny (or bright green) side down, with the rib facing up. As with the cabbage sarma, you’ll want to line the pot with leftover grape leaves (or blanched cabbage leaves) to hold the rolls in place. (There’s no need to use a whole head of cabbage; you can just peel off a few exterior leaves and blanch them separately.)

All these instructions might seem complicated, but once you’ve made dolma several times, it’ll start to feel like second nature.  The dish is an excellent way to make the most of an end-of-summer bounty of garden vegetables, but even if you aren’t using produce straight from your garden, — dolma is delicious. And if you love it as much as I do, then it’s sure to become a staple in your home as it is in mine.

Using a sharp knife, cut 1/2 inch off the stem end of peppers and set aside. Carefully run a paring knife along the cavity of the pepper to remove core, seeds, and ribs. Repeat with remaining peppers. Discard stems and finely mince pepper tops.

Four image collage of prepping peppers
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

In a medium saucepan, bring 4 cups (960ml) water to a boil over high heat. Add rice and return to a rolling boil, stirring occasionally, until rice is al dente, 5 to 7 minutes. (There should still be a firm core of undercooked rice in the center of each grain). Using a fine-mesh strainer, drain rice over the sink and immediately rinse with cold running water until rice is cool and water runs clear, about 1 minute. Place strainer over now empty pot and set aside to drain.

Two image collage of cooking and rinsing rice
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

In a large bowl, combine lamb or beef with 2 teaspoons salt and 1/4 teaspoon baking soda. Knead gently to combine set aside. Adjust oven rack to the lower middle position and heat oven to 375˚F (190ºC).

Overehead view of grasping meat
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

In an 8-quart Dutch oven, melt 4 tablespoons (56g) butter over medium heat. Cook onion, pepper trimmings, and 1/2 teaspoon salt, stirring frequently,  until onion is softened and translucent, 8 to 10 minutes. Add minced garlic, basil, mint, black pepper, and Aleppo pepper. Cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Transfer onion mixture to bowl with meat. (Do not wash out pot.) Add rice to meat mixture, along with parsley, 2 tablespoons (30ml) tomato paste, and pepper paste. Knead mixture gently until uniform.

Four image collage of cooking peppers, onions, and mixing together
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Using a spoon, fill prepared peppers with rice and meat mixture, leaving about 1/4-inch headspace in each one. (Each pepper should get about 1/2 cup or 120g of filling.)

Overhead view of filling peppers
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

In the same Dutch oven, combine 3 cups (720ml) water, crushed garlic cloves, lemon juice, remaining tomato paste, 2 tablespoons (28g) butter, and 1 1/2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil over high heat. Remove from heat and place vegetables in pot, cut sides up, packing them side by side as tightly together as needed in a single layer. Cover and heat over medium-high heat until liquid comes to vigorous simmer, about 5 minutes.

Overhead view of braising liquid and placing peppers in pot
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Set an overturned small ovenproof plate directly on peppers to weigh them down. Cover Dutch oven with lid and transfer to oven. Cook until rice is fully tender and peppers are soft, about an hour.

Overhead view of peppers in pot being weighed down with a plate
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Using tongs, carefully transfer peppers to a high-sided serving platter. Season sauce to taste, and ladle over and around peppers. Serve with yogurt and additional Aleppo pepper on the side.

Overhead view of adding peppers to platter and pouring braising liquid over
Serious Eats / Qi Ai

Special Equipment

8-quart Dutch oven, fine-mesh strainer, tongs

Notes

You can find Aleppo pepper at Middle Eastern markets or online. Korean gochugaru or paprika can be substituted for the Aleppo pepper in this recipe.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The filling can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container. 


The uncooked, filled vegetables can be made up to 24 hours in advance and refrigerated in an airtight container.

How to Stock an Armenian Pantry

Everything you need to know about the pantry staples of Armenian cuisine.

Overhead view of items in an Armenian Pantry
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Armenian cuisine is ancient, dating back to at least 400 BC. Historical Armenia was located both along one of the Silk Road routes and another busy trade route between the Black and Caspian seas, allowing exchanges of culinary influences from afar. The region is also where a number of key domesticated food crops have flourished historically, including wheat and barley, grapes, apricots, and peaches, and these foods are central to its cuisine. 


Armenians love meat, especially lamb, but relative poverty meant that meat was usually reserved for special occasions until fairly recently. The Kingdom of Armenia was the first to adopt Christianity nationwide in the 4th century AD, and ecclesiastical restrictions on the consumption of meat meant that Armenia developed a robust vegetarian cuisine, embracing the use of beans, lentils, nuts, and dairy products like yogurt and cheese.

Side view of items in an Armenian Pantry
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Below, you’ll find a list of the key ingredients of Armenian cuisine, with tips for their use and where to find them. Many are easily found in any supermarket, while others will require a little more effort. You'll find Armenian markets in metropolitan areas of the United States and Canada where there are significant Armenian populations, but many of the specialty ingredients used in Armenian cooking can also be found in Arabic and Middle Eastern markets. In addition, many online stores, including My Little Armenia and House of Lavash, sell Armenian products. For high-quality spices, I recommend both Burlap and Barrel and Curio Spice.

Dairy Products

Butter

Butter is essential in Armenian cooking, where it is used as a fat for many savory dishes, including rice pilaf and harissa, and for sweets like gata and other cakes and cookies.  For example, copious amounts of it are essential for making the classic Armenian Easter bread known as choreg.

Cheese

Armenians eat and cook with a wide variety of cheeses, and dishes like the buttery, crisp, phyllo-wrapped turnovers called borek feature multiple kinds of cheese. But perhaps the most iconic is string cheese (tel banir), without which no Armenian mezze platter is complete. Unlike the shrink-wrapped sticks of string cheese favored by American schoolchildren, which is usually an aged mild cheddar or mozzarella, Armenian string cheese is a fresh cheese preserved in a brine, similar to feta. It is made by heating cow’s milk curds, adding spices, then stretching and layering them into long ropes, similar to how hand-pulled noodles are made. Once the ropes are formed, they are braided and submerged in brine.

Overhead view of Armenian Cheese
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian


Armenians also use tangy hard cow’s milk cheeses in dishes such as boreks and su boreg. One of the most popular varieties of these hard cheeses is called lori, a slightly salty, tangy hard cheese similar to Muenster. Salty sheep’s milk cheeses like feta also figure prominently in Armenian cuisine.

Yogurt

Yogurt is ubiquitous on the Armenian table, and is used in many Armenian dishes both savory and sweet. (Armenians introduced yogurt to the wider American world, when Columbo Yogurt was founded in 1929 by Rose and Sarkis Colombosian, in Andover, Massachusetts.) Armenian yogurt is usually plain, full-fat yogurt made from cow’s milk. It is used as a condiment—either plain or mixed with a little minced garlic—for many savory dishes, including manti and ganach lupia, and bowls of yogurt are  commonly set on the table as a universal condiment. It also serves as the base of soups, including tanabour, a grain-and-yogurt soup that is served both hot and cold, and the soup-like dip made from yogurt and cucumbers known as djadjekh. Thin yogurt with water, and you’ll get a cooling Armenian drink known as tan. Yogurt is often used as the liquid or dairy component in cakes and sweets, including in gata, or Armenian coffee cake.

Overhead view of Armenian Yogurt
Serious Eats /Andrew Janjigian


Some Armenians also use chortan, also known as khash, which is yogurt that has been dried down into brittle chunks to preserve it. It can be rehydrated in water and used like yogurt in dishes.

Fresh Herbs and Greens

Herbs, both fresh and dried, are essential to Armenian savory cooking. Armenian food is less reliant on spices for flavor than many other regional cuisines, with aromatic herbs doing the work instead.


Fresh herbs like purple basil, scallions, dill, mint, flat-leaf parsley, cilantro, tarragon, and summer savory are used as a garnish (often in combination) for many dishes, either chopped fine, as in dishes like eetch, chi kofte, and vospov kofte, or left whole and served as a sort of side salad. (The filling for jingalov hats, an unleavened flatbread from Artzakhis made using a finely chopped combination of these sorts of herbs, along with others collected from the wild.)

Overhead view of Armenian greens
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Purslane

One fresh green especially beloved by Armenians is purslane, or per per, which has a tart flavor and a crisp texture. Purslane is used in salads or chopped up and added to soups both cold and hot. Though the herb isn’t very well known here in the United States unless you’re a forager, it grows as a weed in many places. Purslane also grows like a weed—it makes so many seeds that it can be hard to eliminate once it shows up, so you should do as many Armenians do and embrace it.

Dried Herbs

As for dried herbs, mint (spearmint, not the menthol-heavy peppermint used to make mint tea) is an essential flavoring for many Armenian soups and stews. Other dried herbs used in Armenian cuisine include za’atar (a wild herb in the oregano family that is also the basis of an herb and spice blend by the same name), savory, tarragon, sorrel, and thyme.

Nuts and Seeds

Nuts

Walnuts are the essential nut of Armenian cuisine. In savory dishes they are used as a base, like in the spicy dip muhammara, and as a component in numerous soups. Walnuts are also used as the filling for a variety of sweets, including many cookies, cakes like gata and nazook, and phyllo pastries such as bourma, baklava, and kunafe. The Armenian “sweet sausage" called rojik is made by tying walnuts a few inches apart on a string, which is then dipped over and over again into a molten pot of grape molasses and allowed to cool, not unlike how candles are formed. It's sliced thin and served as a mezze item.

Overhead view of Armenian nuts
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian


Almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, and pine nuts are also commonly used in Armenian cuisine, used whole as elements of pilafs and other rice dishes, and whole or ground in sweets.

Tahini Paste

Tahini paste, made from roasted, ground sesame seeds, is used in a variety of Armenian foods, both sweet and savory. It's used in the filling for a vegetarian potato-chickpea dumpling called topik, and in both hummus and baba ganoush, two Middle Eastern dishes beloved by Armenians. In sweet applications, it appears in cookies and as the filling for tahinov hats, or Armenian tahini bread, a laminated flatbread.

Overhead view of tahnini paste
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Fruits

Dried Fruits

A trip to an Armenian grocery store will yield a panoply of dried fruits, including raisins, mulberries, figs, dates, and two kinds of sour cherries—a true tart cherry, along with Cornelian cherries, which are actually the fruit of a Dogwood tree . But the dried fruit Armenians love most is apricots, which originated in the area (the species name for apricots is Prunus armeniaca). They are served as part of a mezze spread, and as a component in numerous starch-thickened puddings, as well as a traditional New Year's sweet porridge called anoush abour, made with wheat berries, dried fruit, and nuts.

Overhead view of Armenian fruit
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian


Grape, mulberry, and pomegranate molasses appear frequently in Armenian cuisine, as souring agents in dishes like muhammara and eetch, and as the base for rojik.


Armenians also make a variety of dried fruit leathers using apples, grapes, apricots, and plums; they are known as bastegh or t’tu lavash (“sour lavash”) a nod to their resemblance to the classic Armenian flatbread.

Fresh Fruits

Apricots, peaches, grapes, cherries, quince, and mulberries feature heavily in Armenian cuisine and culture, but pomegranates are the most prized fruit. The pomegranate symbolizes eternity to Armenians and appears regularly in artwork, woven rugs, and jewelry, both modern and historical. The seeds are eaten out of hand and as a garnish for various dishes both savory and sweet.

Dried Spices

Armenians use a wide variety of dried spices in their cooking, including cumin, black pepper, dried garlic, paprika, cayenne, fenugreek, allspice, cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove. Hot red pepper flakes like Aleppo pepper are regularly used for their heat and fruity fragrance.

Chemen

One classic ground spice blend used in Armenian cuisine is chemen, a mixture of cumin, black pepper, garlic powder, hot red pepper, paprika, fenugreek, and salt. It is used as a rub for basturma, a dry-cured beef, and to season soujouk, a dried beef sausage.

Overhead view of whole spices
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Mahlab

Mahlab is made from the tiny seeds of the St. Lucy's cherry (Prunus mahaleb), a tree native to the Mediterranean, Iran, and parts of Central Asia. Because the seeds are extremely hard, they're always ground into a fine powder before use. Along with nigella, it is one of the two key flavoring ingredients for choreg, or Armenian Easter bread, and it is commonly used to flavor Armenian string cheese. Its flavor is aromatic and complex, drawing comparisons to cherry, almond, vanilla, and rose.


The oils in mahlab are extremely quick to oxidize and turn rancid if exposed to air, so it’s best to purchase whole mahlab, store them in a sealed container in the freezer, and grind them in a spice mill or mortar and pestle just before use. If you can only find ground mahlab, use it soon after purchase, and store the remainder in the freezer. In my experience, the mahlab sold in many Middle Eastern grocery stores is often already rancid, so your best bet is to source it from a reputable online merchant; I like the mahlab from Curio Spice.

Overhead view of Armenian seeds
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Nigella

Nigella is referred to variously as "black cumin," "black caraway," "onion seed," "black sesame," and even "fennel flower,” although it isn't botanically related to any of those spices and vegetables. Nigella is wonderfully complex, and with its notes of citrus, pine, and menthol, it's easy to see why it's compared to so many other spices. Nigella is also bitter, which is why it's almost always left whole rather than ground into a powder, so its aroma can infuse a dish without the bitter flavor taking over. Nigella is used in choreg, and is added to Armenian string cheese. It's also used to decorate breads and pastries, like boreks.

Sumac

Sumac is a drupe that grows on trees, and is usually sold as a powdered spice. It lends foods a sour flavor, and along with the herb za’atar and sesame seeds, is one of the key ingredients in the za’atar spice blend, Sumac is often sprinkled over a dish for a hit of tartness in Armenian cuisine, including on sini manti and many salads.

Preserved Items

Grape Leaves

Grape leaves are used as wrappers for sarma, or stuffed grape leaves, which can be filled with a spiced rice mixture and served at room temperature, or filled with a combination of meat and rice to be served hot. Grape leaves that have been preserved in brine are sold in jars. They should be rinsed and patted dry before use.

Overhead view of Grape Leaves
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Red Pepper Paste (Beghbeghi Tchur)

Along with tomato paste (with which it is commonly combined), red pepper paste made from red bell or large red chile peppers is one of the most important jarred ingredients used in Armenian cuisine. It’s used in a wide variety of dishes for savoriness and a gentle heat, including lahmajun, khorovats, ganach lupia, and losh kebabs.

Legumes

Armenians use a variety of dried beans and legumes in their cooking, but the two most important are red lentils and chickpeas. Red lentils are used in soups andvegetarian kofte called vospov kofte, among other dishes.  Chickpeas feature in soups and stews, salads, and the vegetarian dumplings called topik.also essential in hummus, which isn't exclusively Armenian, but almost always appears on Armenian mezze spreads. Armenians also cook with a small red bean called a Goris bean, which is similar to a cranberry bean (there’s also a purple-black variant), and it is the base for the filling in my lavash triangles recipe.

Overhead view of Armenian legumes
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Grains, Pasta, and Wheat Products

Armenians use a wide variety of dried grains in their cooking, including barley, buckwheat, and hulled wheat berries, the last of which is used to make the chicken-and-wheat porridge known as harissa. Along with wheat flour, semolina (a coarsely-ground durum flour) is commonly used in puddings, cakes, and cookies. Long-grain white rice is used to make Armenian rice pilaf and to fill dolma (stuffed vegetables) and sarma (stuffed grape leaves).

Bulgur

Other than rice,  maybe the most important grain for Armenians is bulgur, which is par-boiled and dried cracked durum wheat. This quick-cooking whole grain is used in eetch, vospov kofte, tabbouleh (and other salads), as a starchy filler for a variety of meatballs (kofta), and is often used to make pilaf. (Bulgur is quick to turn rancid when exposed to oxygen, so it’s best stored in the fridge or freezer.)

Overhead view of Bulgar
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Lavash

Lavash is so central to Armenian culture that it was recently added to UNESCO’s Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity. (It also appears separately on that list as culturally important to Armenia's neighbors Azerbaijan, Iran, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, and Turkey.) Lavash is used as a wrap for meats like losh kebab and khorovats and as an edible utensil for dishes like eetch, harissa, and dips such as hummus and baba ganoush. It can also be used in place of phyllo to make filled turnovers like my lavash triangles. Other popular breads in Armenia include pita, choreg, and matnakash.

Overhead view of Lavash
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Phyllo (Fillo) Dough

Phyllo dough, found in the freezer section of most grocery stores, serves as the wrapper for a variety of Armenian dishes, including savory boreks and the sweet pastries baklava and bourma.

Vermicelli

Along with rice or bulgur, the other key ingredient in Armenian rice pilaf is a fine, long-stranded dried pasta like vermicelli or thin spaghetti. Many Armenians use vermicelli nests, since they are easy to portion out.

I Spent Years Testing Milk Bread Techniques. This Is the Ultimate Recipe

After experimenting with various flours and methods, I’ve finally landed on a foolproof recipe. Here’s the science behind how to produces a gorgeous, tender, and long-lasting loaf.

Side view of milk bread loaf
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Japanese milk bread, or shokupan, is one of the world’s true wonder breads. An ultra-soft, squishy, and impossibly light loaf, shokupan has a mild but distinct sweetness, with a fine, pillowy crumb the Japanese call “fuwa fuwa,” or “fluffy fluffy.” The bread is baked in deep rectangular Pullman pans, giving the loaf a tall profile. 


There are two main styles of shokupan, each determined by whether the loaf is baked with the lid on or off the pan. ”Kaka” means “square,” and refers to loaves that have been baked with a lid on. This method yields perfectly right-angled loaves, making them ideal for sandwiches (“sandos,” in Japanese). “Yama,” or “mountain,” means the loaf is baked without a lid on; because the rolls of dough are placed side-by-side into the pan, they form a lofty ridge of hills as they rise and bake.
 

Inside view of milk bread
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

No matter the style, shokupan usually consists of three or four pieces of dough that bakers press into long, thin strips, then roll into tight spirals, giving the loaf’s internal crumb its feathery, layered, and peel-apart texture. The rolls are usually set into the pan crosswise, making the swirls visible along the long side of the loaf after baking. Bakers typically brush the top of shokupan with melted butter as soon as it emerges from the oven or a wash of egg before baking to give the baked bread a mirror-like finish. (Such washes are only applied to the domed tops of shokupan baked without a lid.) 


The origins of shokupan are something of a muddle. Some food writers, including Elyse Inamine for Bon Appétit, attribute the creation of milk bread to British baker Robert Clarke, who opened Yokohama Bakery in 1862. While ads in Japanese newspapers from that era do tell us that a Robert Clarke owned Yokohama Bakery, it’s difficult to prove that he was the inventor of the famous loaf. Today, shokupan is often the bread of choice for sandos in Japan, where they’re sold in konbinis and hold together fillings like egg salad, katsu (breaded pork or chicken), or fruit and whipped cream.

Side view of stacked fruit sandos
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

The Secret to Milk Bread's Texture: A Flour Scald

Many shokupan recipes employ a yudane—a Japanese technique of whisking flour and boiling water together and cooking on the stove until thickened—which helps the bread retain its soft texture. This method is more commonly known as a tangzhong, its Chinese equivalent. Bakers collectively refer to these sorts of techniques as “flour scalds.” 


Though yudane and tangzhong are very similar and have a nearly identical effect on the breads they’re used in, they call for slightly different ratios of wet-to-dry ingredients. Shokupan recipes haven’t always incorporated a yudane, but it’s such an effective way of producing tender loaves that most modern recipes utilize one. 

Overhead view adding milk to flour
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee


To explain why scalds are so good at keeping loaves soft, we first need to talk about starch gelation. When starch and water combine, the starches hydrate, absorbing some of the water and softening slightly. When that mixture is heated above a certain temperature (this varies from starch to starch, but is always somewhere between 120˚ and 165˚F (49º and 74ºC), the starch granules absorb even more water. They swell and eventually burst, releasing amylose and amylopectin, the two molecules that make up starch, which link up into a loose network with the water trapped within it. If you’ve incorporated a roux into a gravy or used a cornstarch slurry in a stir-fry, then you’ve seen starch gelation in action. As you incorporate the starch into the sauce and heat it up, it slowly thickens and eventually becomes viscous enough to coat a spoon.


A flour scald in bread takes advantage of this phenomenon in two ways. One, because a gelled mixture of flour and water is drier in texture than an identical ungelled one, it allows you to make a dough with more water in it than it could otherwise contain—without it turning to soup. I call this “stealth” hydration: The extra water is there, but you can’t see or feel it in the dough.

Overhead view of dough
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee


Secondly, the presence of a scald makes a bread far more resistant to staling than dough made without one. More accurately known as starch retrogradation, staling is the reversal of gelation, where the water in the starches gets pulled out of them, causing the starches to crystallize and harden. The more water in a bread, the longer it takes for the starches to retrograde. (Stale bread seems dry, but it isn’t necessarily, at least not initially. The starches have crystallizes in a stale bread, but the water may still be hanging around nearby; this is the reason that toasting stale bread can restore some of its original tenderness.)

Sweet, Sweet Rice Flour

Which brings me to sweet rice flour. As I mentioned above, starch is made up of two types of molecules: amylose and amylopectin. Amylose molecules are long chains of glucose linked together, with only a few branches hanging off the central chain here and there. Crystals form most readily when the molecules in question can stack together neatly. Because amylose molecules are mostly straight chains, they are especially prone to crystallizing as food cools. (This is why long-grain rice, which contains around 20% amylose, becomes especially hard and brittle when refrigerated.) Meanwhile, amylopectin molecules are highly branched, making them unable to stack together and crystallize as efficiently. 


The starches in wheat flour are 28% amylose and 72% amylopectin, which makes it a less-than-perfect choice for a flour scald—one of the big benefits of using a flour scald is it slows staling, but wheat flour has a healthy dose of staling-prone amylose. Sweet rice flour, on the other hand, is nearly 100% amylopectin, making it ideal for using in a scald—especially if you want the bread to stay soft for as long as possible.

The Pour-Over Method

Another advantage to using sweet rice flour instead of wheat flour in a scald: It’s much easier to make. The standard tangzhong method has bakers combine flour and cold water (usually in a 1:4 ratio) until it is uniform. Bakers then cook the mixture on the stovetop until it gels. While this is an effective technique, it is—simply put—a pain in the ass, as it’s challenging to get the sticky paste out of the pan and into the dough completely. 


The yudane method, on the other hand, calls for stirring together a 1:1 mixture of flour and boiling water. While this works too, two potential problems arise with this technique:

  1. Wheat flour and boiling water don’t always play nicely with one another. Instead of becoming a smooth, uniform gel, the mixture sometimes results in lumps of dry flour that are difficult to eliminate even with vigorous whisking. 
  2. With such a low ratio of flour to boiling water, the final mixture can end up below the optimal gelation temperature (120º to 165ºF or 49º to 74ºC). This means the starches in it won’t be completely gelled, defeating the entire purpose of a scald in the first place.


There’s no question that between the two techniques, the yudane pour-over method is  easier and simpler to pull off. I use a technique similar to the yudane method, where I pour boiling milk  over glutinous rice flour and sugar and whisk the mixture until it thickens to a pudding-like consistency. Unlike the traditional yudane method, though, I use much more flour than is typical—20% of the total weight compared to the 5 to 10% most shokupan recipes contain—and instead of bread flour, I use sweet rice flour for all the reasons mentioned above. I also use a different ratio of 1 part flour to 3 parts liquid. This approach produces a smooth, thick gel easily and quickly, with no lumps in sight.

The Key Techniques to Making Shokupan

After spending years tinkering with my own milk bread recipe—testing various types of flour and methods for making the scald, and slowly increasing the total amount of liquid in the dough—I think I’ve finally landed on the fuwa fuwa bread of my dreams. It’s easy to make and produces a gorgeous, tender loaf that stays that way for at least a few days—far longer than most enriched breads without a tangzhong, and an extra day or so from most other tangzhong-containing shokupan.

Overhead view of milk bread
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee


Like many other shokupan recipes, my formula contains flour, milk, butter, eggs (in this case, just the yolks, for their color and tenderizing fats), sugar, salt, and yeast, with a flour scald for all the reasons mentioned above. I have, however, incorporated one last trick of my own to make it as soft and fluffy as possible: more milk.

Hydration Is Key

The more liquid you have in a dough, the softer its crumb may be—which is why I make my shokupan with as much milk as possible, as its fat and protein lends the loaf additional color and tenderness. There’s a limit to how much liquid you can add, though—beyond a certain point, the dough becomes too sticky to handle easily. This is especially problematic with loaves that require plenty of shaping and handling, like shokupan. 


To get around this problem, I borrow a technique used in many other enriched bread recipes, including brioche: refrigerating the proofed dough until it firms up (as the butterfat solidifies when cold), at least two hours. This makes it easy to handle during shaping despite its higher ratio of liquid. This also makes the recipe a little more flexible, since the dough can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours before proofing and baking.

Shaping and Proofing

Besides all that, my shokupan method is just like others. After kneading the dough in a stand mixer, it gets a short proof at room temperature to jump-start fermentation, then it goes into the fridge to firm up. Once it’s easy enough to handle, I divide it into pieces and shape each portion into a round. When the rounds have relaxed a little, I roll, fold, and stretch each piece into long, flat strips, and then roll them up like carpets to form spirals. I set those rolls of dough side-by-side in the pan, then let them proof together for a few hours into a single, uniform mass of dough.

Dough proofing in pan
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee


I like the yama (mountain) version of shokupan as much as the kaka (square) one, and make them both frequently; the recipe below is for the yama style, but in the notes below I explain how to convert it to the kaka version. One thing to understand about baking breads in a covered pullman pan is that the lid compresses the dough as it bakes. In order to keep the internal crumb as open as a loaf baked without a lid, you need to use slightly less dough when baking with a lid on. Rather than work up two separate formulas for each version, I just use less dough in the loaf pan when I’m making a lidded version, and use the leftover dough to make a single round bun. It’s a baker’s treat, all for me. I usually eat it warm from the oven—and I suspect you’ll want to, too.

Overhead view of adding butter to milk bread
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

For the Scald: In a medium bowl, whisk glutinous rice flour and sugar to combine. Add boiling milk and rapidly whisk until mixture thickens to pudding-like consistency and registers between 155 to 170˚F (68 to 77˚C). (See notes.)

Two image collage of scalding milk
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Scatter butter over the scalded rice flour mixture, cover bowl with plastic wrap, and let sit until butter has melted and mixture has cooled to at least 80˚F (27˚C), about 1 hour.

Two image collage of butter before and after melting
Serious Eats / Debbi Wee

For the Dough: Add milk and egg yolk to the scald mixture. Whisk until well-combined and at or below 75˚F (24˚C); if not at temperature, cover and let sit until it reaches 75ºF.

Two image collage of adding eggs and whisking together
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, combine flour, salt, and yeast, and mix on low speed until well combined, about 15 seconds. Turn off mixer, then add scalded rice flour mixture all at once and mix on low speed until dough is uniform, about 2 minutes, using a flexible spatula to scrape down sides of bowl and dough hook as needed.

Two image collage of mixing dough in stand mixer bowl
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Increase speed to medium and mix until dough just starts to come away from sides of bowl, about 8 minutes. (The dough will remain sticky and webby. Do not overmix here; the dough should not be bouncy.)

Dough on dough hook
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Using nonstick baking spray, grease a large bowl; the bowl should be big enough for dough to double in size. Transfer dough to the greased bowl, and cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap. Let sit at warm room temperature (75-80˚F; 24-27˚C) until the dough is puffy and expanded by about 1 1/2 times its original volume, 60 to 90 minutes.

Two image collage of dough proofing in bowl
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Using lightly moistened hands, deflate the dough until it is restored to its original volume. Cover tightly and refrigerate until dough is at least 55˚F (13˚C), at least 2 hours and up to 24 hours.

Overhead view of punching down dough in bowl
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

To Bake a Yama ("Mountain") Style Loaf (see notes below for how to adapt this recipe to produce a perfectly square kaka-style loaf): Using nonstick baking spray, grease a 9- by 4- by 4-inch loaf pan. Lightly flour top of dough and transfer to a lightly-floured work surface. Using a knife or dough scraper, divide dough into 3 equal pieces, about 225g each. Gently shape each into a round. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let sit for 30 minutes.

Two image collage of folding dough balls
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Working with one ball of dough at a time (seam-side up), lightly flour exterior of dough and, using a rolling pin, flatten and roll each ball into a 5- by 8-inch oval. Fold the long ends into the center to form a 4-inch wide strip. Roll strip into 9- by 4-inch rectangle, flouring dough on both sides as needed to prevent sticking. Starting at the short end, roll dough into a 4-inch-wide log, stretching it gently as you go and keeping the spiraled edges even. Pinch the seam closed, set aside. Repeat with remaining dough balls and place each shaped cylinder of dough into greased loaf pan, side-by-side, seam-side down, and evenly spaced apart. (The spiraled ends should be facing the long side of pan.)

Four image collage of how to roll dough
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee
Four image image collage of adding rolls to pann
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Loosely cover with plastic wrap and let sit at warm room temperature (75 to 80˚F; 24 to 27˚C) until top of loaf is 1/2 inch below lip of pan, 1 to 2 hours.

Overhead view of rolls proofed
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Halfway through proofing time, adjust oven rack to middle position and preheat oven to 300ºF (150ºC).

When loaf is ready to bake, transfer loaf to oven. Bake until loaf is well-browned and has an internal temperature of at least 195ºF (88ºC), 50 to 60 minutes.

Two image collage of domed bread and butter being added
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Transfer the pan to a cooling rack and brush the exposed surface of loaf with butter. (See notes.) Let cool for 5 minutes, then remove loaf from pan and cool on wire rack, to room temperature, at least 1 hour.

Finished milk bread sliced in half
Serious Eats / Debbie Wee

Special Equipment

Whisk, instant-read thermometer, stand mixer, rolling pin, nonstick baking spray, 9- by 4- by 4-inch rectangular bread pan, bread knife, pastry brush, wire rack

Notes

This recipe was developed using weight and not volume and will work best if you have a scale.

Unlike active dry yeast, instant yeast does not have to be bloomed in warm liquid.


Glutinous or sweet rice flour is available in supermarkets, Asian markets, or online. It can also be made by grinding sweet or Thai white sticky rice to a fine powder in a tabletop mill, high-powered blender, or spice mill. Do not use white rice flour.


If in step 1 the scald mixture is below 160˚F (70˚C), transfer to microwave-safe bowl, cover, and microwave in 30-second intervals, whisking after each, until it thickens and reaches 160˚F. If you do not have a microwave and need to continue cooking the scald after doing the pour-over, transfer the mixture to a small nonstick skillet and heat it over medium-low heat, whisking constantly, until it thickens and reaches 160˚F (71ºC). Take care not to overcook it. Immediately transfer the paste to a bowl and proceed with step 2.


The overnight cold proof is optional, but adds flavor and convenience. Either way, chilling the dough before shaping makes the otherwise sticky dough easier to handle and is essential.


This recipe is written to work with a perfectly rectangular 9- by 4- by 4-inch loaf pan. If you have a smaller flared bread pan instead of a pullman, or are baking in a covered 9- by 4- by 4-inch pullman pan, reduce the dough ball size to 200g and use the remaining dough to make a single bun as a baker’s treat. Proof bun on a small, lightly-greased pan that will fit next to loaf pan on your oven rack. To bake bun, transfer to oven and bake until golden brown, 17 to 20 minutes.


If baking loaf in a flared bread pan, proof until top of loaf is 1/2 inch above lip of pan. When loaf is ready to bake, cover with the pan lid, and transfer loaf to oven and bake. Carefully remove lid after 30 minutes and continue to bake until loaf is well-browned and has an internal temperature of at least 195ºF (88ºC), another 20 to 30 minutes.


The melted butter is only used when baking the loaf without a lid (or on a bun), and gets brushed on the exposed top of the loaf after baking.

Make-Ahead and Storage

The dough can be refrigerated for up to 24 hours before shaping. To freeze the loaf, wrap it tightly in foil then place in a zip-top bag. The bread can be frozen for up to 3 months.

The Tools You Need to Make, Maintain, and Bake Sourdough

The most essential tools for making bread (including a scale, instant-read thermometer, and lame), according to an expert.

a bread loaf cut in half to display the crumb
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Most sourdough bread can be made completely by hand, without the need for an expensive stand mixer. Still, nevertheless, there are numerous tools essential to the practice, and others that will simply make your sourdough baking better or easier.

I’ve put together a list of what I consider some of the most important tools in my sourdough toolkit. (To be clear, though this collection is sourdough-focused, many of these items are useful no matter what sorts of bread you bake!)

Scales

The one essential tool for any bread baker is a precise digital scale—one that reads in 1-gram increments and is accurate to within ±2 grams. And preferably one that is high-capacity, meaning it can weigh up to 10 pounds or more; not only will that allow you to scale up your doughs to multi-loaf amounts, but it also leaves extra capacity to cover the extra weight of the containers you mix your doughs in. Here are our recommendations for the best kitchen scales for bakers.

It’s also nice to have a pocket scale that can accurately weigh small-quantity ingredients like salt, yeast, or sugar. While larger digital scales usually read in 1-gram increments, they are far less accurate when it comes to measuring small amounts—less than five grams or even fractions of a gram—and they sometimes won't even register changes to the weight until you exceed a certain threshold. Pocket scales often don't have the high capacity of larger scales, but they are far more accurate with smaller amounts. Most are inexpensive, so an easy addition to a bread baker's toolkit. There are a lot of them out there, but this one from AWS has served me well for years.

Weighing water on a digital kitchen scale.
Serious Eats / Emily Dryden

Dough Whisk

While you can certainly mix your dough using your hands or a wooden spoon, my go-to mixing tool for sourdoughs is a Danish dough whisk. This stiff metal curlicue-on-a-stick is far better than any other tool for turning a mass of wet and dry ingredients into a uniform dough. It can mix drier dough as efficiently as a balloon whisk can do with more liquid ones while being thin and open enough to not get glommed up with dough. I’ve written extensively about my love for the Danish dough whisk in many places, including here at Serious Eats

A Danish dough whisk incorporating flour and wet ingredients
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Starter Containers

Most home sourdough bakers proof their starters in tall, narrow containers since it makes it easy to observe the expansion of relatively small quantities of starter so that you can know when it is ready to use in a dough. (I, like many other bakers, wrap a rubber band around the container to mark the initial starter volume.) I prefer my starter containers to be straight- and smooth-sided, so it is easy to stir and remove the starter cleanly. You can certainly use mason jars or plastic deli containers to store and proof your starter, but I’m a big fan of these clear glass 3/4 liter Weck canning jars, along with matching plastic lids, to replace the all-too-easily broken glass lids they come with.

If you, like me, often feed and store your sourdough starter in small quantities between bakes so as to conserve flour, Weck also makes a mini, 5.4-ounce version of the same jar, with a smaller matching plastic lid.

a jar of sourdough starter inside of the sourdough home
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Starter Proofer

While you can certainly proof your starter at “room” temperature, most kitchens are on the cool side, since the “ideal” temperature for a starter is between 75˚F and 85˚F. (At other times, kitchens can also be too hot for a starter, at least in mine in the summer months.) So it's nice to have a dedicated proofer as a “home" for your starter so that it will proof at a consistent and optimal rate. While you can use a larger bread proofer to do this (more on which below), there are two small-footprint starter-specific proofers available, namely the Brod & Taylor Sourdough Home, and the Sourhouse Goldie. I've used them both, and both work well, though I am partial to the Sourdough Home because it can be set to any temperature, even colder ones, for those times you want to slow the starter down without putting it in the fridge, where temperatures can be a little too cool for short-term starter storage.

the sourdough home on a wooden countertop
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Instant-Read Thermometer

Sourdoughs are as sensitive to temperature as sourdough starters, so it's useful to have a way to track the temperature of your dough and the ingredients that go into it. (One key bread-baking practice is setting your dough at a specific temperature at the start of proofing by raising or lowering the temperature of the water you use since that is usually the only component that can easily be adjusted up or down.) For this reason, every sourdough baker will want to have an accurate instant-read thermometer.

Thermapen ONE on a marble background
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Dough Proofer

Professional bread bakers use proofers to hold their doughs and loaves at the ideal temperature range (again, usually between 75˚F to 85˚F). For home bakers, there’s the Brod & Taylor Folding Proofer, a collapsible box that can hold a tub of dough or a couple of shaped loaves and keep them at a precise temperature, anywhere between 70˚F and 195˚F (provided ambient temperatures outside of the proofer are lower than the desired temperature—the Folding Proofer can only warm the bread, not cool it down if your kitchen is too hot).

Bench and Bowl Scrapers

A bench knife (or “scraper”) is another essential tool for working with dough, whether to divide larger quantities of dough into smaller ones, to move pieces of dough around, or to shape a dough piece into a loaf (not to mention cleaning the work surface of flour and stray bits of dough once you are done). You can find our recommendations for the best bench scrapers here

A flexible bowl scraper is also useful for sourdough baking, whether to help detach the dough from the sides of a bowl, or to fold the dough in the bowl. Here are our recommendations for bowl scrapers.

one of the kitchenaid scrapers in a bowl
Serious Eats / Irvin Lin

Bannetons

While some sourdoughs are proofed and baked in loaf pans, most are “hearth” breads, baked freeform in a pot or on a hot baking stone. Hearth loaves are usually proofed upside-down in concave baskets known as bannetons (proofing them upside down helps retain the rounded shape of the loaf as it proofs). Bannetons come in various shapes: round for boules or oblong, for bâtards. And they can be made of many different materials—wicker, cane, paper pulp, or plastic, lined with cloth or not—but the best ones are able to wick away moisture from the outer surface of the loaf, to help form a skin and to ensure it comes out of the basket easily when it comes time to bake. Find our round-up of the best bannetons here.

two baked round loaves of bread on a cooling rack in front of two proofing baskets
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

Shower Caps

A loaf needs to be protected from drying out as it proofs in a banneton. You can cover the banneton with a slip of plastic wrap or set the entire thing in a plastic bag, but many bakers like to cover the top half of the banneton with an elastic shower cap, preferably washable and reusable ones, like these.

Lame

Once a sourdough loaf is proofed and ready to bake, it needs to be scored, so that it expands fully and in an ordered, symmetrical way in the heat of the oven. While you can get away with using a sharp serrated knife to do this, most bakers use a dedicated tool known as a lame. Scoring bread dough cleanly and quickly requires an especially sharp tool, preferably one where the blade is easily replaced after just a few uses, and a lame is a double-edged disposable razor blade held on the end of a handle. We’ve got recommendations for the best lames here (both of which I personally use myself).

A loaf of bread dough rests on a cutting board next to a bread lame and the bottom of a cast iron pan.
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

A Dutch Oven or Dedicated Bread Vessel

Most sourdough loaves need two things for maximal oven spring, an open crumb, and a crackly, crisp crust: lots of heat under and around the loaf, and steam. While there are a variety of ways to get both, the simplest is to bake the loaf inside of a covered, heavy pot like a Dutch oven. By preheating the pot along with the oven, it pumps heat into the underside of the loaf, to cause it to spring up quickly. Covering the pot causes moisture in the exterior of the loaf to fill the surrounding area with steam, which keeps the crust soft during the phase of baking in which it is expanding. (Once the loaf has sprung fully, the lid is usually removed to allow the crust to brown and crisp.)

Just about any heavy pot large enough to hold the loaf comfortably will work, which is why a cast iron Dutch oven of at least five quarts works well. However, many bakers prefer to use dedicated bread vessels, which have features that make them easier to use and more effective. Some, like the Challenger Bread Pan (my favorite) and the Lodge Combi Oven have “lids" which make up the bulk of the device, so that once it is removed, the loaf is more fully exposed to the heat of the oven, for better browning. (The Challenger is also large and rectangular so that it can hold loaves of many shapes and sizes easily.) Others, like the Fourneau Bread Oven, are like miniature bread ovens, with a door on one end for inserting the loaf. You can read my recommendations for dedicated bread pots here.

The Challenger bread oven on a wooden surface
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Bread Sling

While you could just invert the loaf directly into your Dutch oven or bread pot, and then score it, you risk burning yourself and/or missing the mark, leaving you with a misshapen loaf. It's better to invert the loaf onto a sling of some kind, score it, and then use the sling to gently guide the loaf into the pot. While many bakers just use a sheet of heat-resistant parchment paper cut or folded into a long rectangle, I prefer to use a dedicated bread sling, which is a reusable slip of heatproof material much like a Silpat, cut to hold the loaf perfectly, with just enough extra length to provide two handles at either end. You can find my review of my favorite bread sling right here.

a baked loaf of bread on a bread sling on a wire cooling rack
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Heatproof Gloves

Moving a heavy, blazing-hot Dutch oven or bread vessel in and out of the oven is a risky business without some serious heat protection for your hands. While you can use a pair of folded, heavy towels, you might want to invest in some heatproof grill gloves, which will protect your hands more fully. We’ve got a roundup of the best grill gloves right here.

a hot cast iron pan held by two hands in heat resistant grill gloves
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

Bread Knife

Once the bread is out of the oven (and cooled down—don’t cut into your sourdough before it cools to room temperature, or the open crumb you’ve worked so hard to achieve will smear and collapse!), you’ll need a razor-sharp knife to do it justice, especially given the crusty crust most sourdough have. One of the best (and least expensive) bread knives out there is the Tojiro Bread Slicer.

using the tojiro to slice a loaf of bread
Serious Eats / Jesse Raub

A (Fancy!) Toaster Oven

One of the best things about sourdough bread is how much longer it stays moist and tender compared to yeasted bread (thanks to the organic acids produced during fermentation). But even sourdough breads eventually go stale, which is why you might want to consider upgrading to a Balmuda toaster oven. This amazing device uses a burst of steam to tenderize and crisp up even rock-hard bread and pastries, and it even enhances fresh bread, for perhaps the best slice of toast you'll ever have. Check out my review of the Balmuda right here

a piece of toast in the center of the Balmuda's oven rack
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

FAQs

Is sourdough bread gluten-free?

While sourdough bread has less gluten in it than traditional yeast bread, it still has gluten and is not gluten-free. It is not recommended those with celiac disease eat sourdough bread unless it's expressly labeled as gluten-free.

How do you make a sourdough bread starter?

You can find our sourdough starter recipe and guidelines here. The starter should take two weeks to get up and running before you can begin to make bread with it.

Why We're the Experts

  • Andrew Janjigian is a frequent contributor to Serious Eats. He previously worked for America's Test Kitchen.
  • Andrew is working on an upcoming bread-focused cookbook and teaches baking classes at King Arthur Flour.

This Pretty Sourdough Starter “Sourhouse” Looks Like Decor, But Performs Admirably

We used the Goldie Sourhouse for a few weeks to proof a sourdough starter and test its performance and usability.

The Goldie Sourhouse on a wooden kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Not long ago, I wrote a review of the Brod & Taylor Sourdough Home, a micro-fridge for proofing and storing a sourdough starter (or a collection of them). I’ll let you read that post for the details on the hows-and-whys of sourdough starter maintenance, and why I think the Sourdough Home is such a useful tool for home bread bakers.

Today I want to take a look at a competitor in the world of small starter proofers: the Goldie, from Sourhouse. The Goldie has a smaller footprint than the Home (a cylinder nine inches tall and five inches wide, compared to the Home’s 11- by 10- by 8-inch box) and a slightly higher sticker price ($129, versus $99 for the Home). The design of the two is very different too: Whereas the Home is literally a tiny, boxy fridge with insulated walls and a door, the Goldie consists of a plastic heater base with an upside-down-mug-shaped bell jar that together form a home for the sourdough starter within.

But the most important difference between the two devices is that the Goldie is much more limited in scope and function. While the Home can both warm and cool a starter (from 41-122˚F, or 5-50˚C), the Goldie does one thing and one thing only: warm a (cooler) starter to its “ideal" temperature zone (around 78˚F or 25˚C) and hold it there.

a sourdough starter in the sourhome
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Right from the start, I’ll say that Goldie does this job very well. I used it to proof my starter for a few weeks straight and set a temperature probe in it the entire time so I could keep a precise eye on what it was doing. The temperatures inside the Goldie held at a steady 78 to 80˚F, despite ambient temperatures on the far side of the bell jar being closer to 68˚F, the temperature I keep my kitchen thermostat on when it’s colder outside. And the starter proofed wonderfully, just as you’d expect. It is large enough to hold a container up to one quart in volume, which is plenty of room for the average home sourdough baker most of the time. And, unlike the Sourdough Home, the transparent glass cloche lets you keep an eye on the state of the starter inside of it, which is nice.

The sourhome on a wooden countertop
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The Goldie is exceedingly simple to use: You plug it in via the attached USB cord (though you’ll need to supply your own power brick), flip the switch on the rear of the base, and it begins to warm up. The base has a heater built into its top surface and a thermostat that monitors its temperature, turning the heater on or off as needed to maintain that “just-right” temp. (Goldie is short for “Goldilocks,” a nod to that children’s tale character’s desire for a porridge neither too hot nor too cold.) On its front, the base has two small LED lights: A larger one that lights blue when the base is below the target temp, yellow when it is at the target temp, and red when it’s too hot. A smaller light just beneath it illuminates yellow when the device is heating and goes dark when not, so you can see when it is active.

The Goldie only works in one temperature direction (up), so what are you to do when the top light turns red? Unlike the Sourdough Home, which both heats and chills as needed, the Goldie instead comes with a gel-filled puck that you store in your freezer when not in use, and set atop your starter jar, to cool it down from above while the Goldie warms it up from below. This works, but the puck is only effective as long as it remains colder than 78-80˚F. In my testing, it took a little more than four hours at a not-all-that-hot 82˚F for the puck to warm up beyond 80˚F, and it’s not uncommon for starters to proof for 12 hours or more. When ambient temperatures are much higher than 82˚F, the puck will lose its chill even more quickly. (I suppose you could purchase extra pucks and swap them out as needed.)

Another limitation to the Goldie is that it’s really an on-or-off sort of device: Beyond having any real way to cool a starter down, there’s also no way to adjust the “ideal" temperature higher or lower. While 78-80˚F is ideal for proofing most sourdough starters most of the time, there are instances when you might want to use a higher or lower target temperature—many rye starters need to be proofed at around 85˚F, for example—and it would be nice if you could change this setting somehow.

If you have air conditioning in your kitchen or live somewhere where ambient temps rarely exceed 78˚F, the Goldie could very well be the “just right” home for your sourdough starter, and it does work as advertised. But if you—like me—commonly run up against temperatures higher than 78˚F, or if you ever have reason to proof (or store) your starter at another temperature (also like me), I think the Sourdough Home is the better choice, even before you consider the more attractive sticker price.

FAQs

How do I know if I killed my sourdough starter? 

Sourdough starters are actually quite hard to kill, as long as you refresh them on a regular basis and store them at the proper temperature between refreshments! If you refresh it—meaning take a small amount of the old culture and add it to fresh flour and water—the mixture should begin to expand with activity within a few hours; a very weak one might need 12 to 24 hours to wake up. If it doesn’t show activity after 24 hours, it means you need to start (or find) a new one.

Should a sourdough starter be in the sun or dark? 

Sourdough starters aren’t really sensitive to light, so it’s fine to expose one to sunlight. But be careful the light isn’t too intense, because they are temperature-sensitive, and you don’t want it to overheat!

What is the best temperature to keep a sourdough starter? 

This all depends on how often you refresh it. If you refresh it once or twice daily, as most bakeries do, it should remain at “room” temperature all the time, meaning somewhere between 70˚F and 80˚F. If you don’t use or refresh your starter that often, it should be stored in the fridge in between refreshments; long durations at room temperature without refreshments will lead to over-acidification and its eventual demise.

Why We're the Experts

  • Andrew Janjigian is a baking expert and Serious Eats contributor.
  • He worked for Cook's Illustrated for several years and is a baking instructor. He's currently working on a cookbook.
  • Andrew tested the Sourhouse for a few weeks to thoroughly evaluate it.

This Tabletop Dough Sheeter Will Inspire You to Make Croissants (and Other Laminated Pastries) at Home

We tested the company’s dough sheeters by making batches of croissants and laminated pastries with them—evaluating their performance and usability.

a dough sheeter on wooden kitchen countertop
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

One reason people rarely make croissants at home—or do, but fail to achieve those as beautifully produced in bakeries—is that they don’t have access to a dough sheeter. Croissants and other laminated pastries like danish, puff pastry, and kouign-amann are made by gradually rolling layered slabs of bread dough and butter to thinner and thinner depths, both evenly and quickly, before the butter warms up. While it is entirely possible to make laminated pastry doughs by hand, it’s also something of a bear to do, especially for beginners. 

Bread dough is naturally elastic, particularly when subjected to force, so it can tighten up quickly under a rolling pin. Not only does this mean it resists repeated elongation—potentially ending up misshapen—the longer it takes to roll out to the necessary dimensions, the greater the risk the butter will soften to the point that it begins to smear, causing the layers to separate. And even when done swiftly and deliberately by someone with experience, making laminated dough by hand requires a lot of upper body strength and brute force.

All of this is why most professional bakers rely on dough sheeters to do the work instead. A sheeter is a mechanical device consisting of a pair of adjustable-height rollers and a sliding platform and/or belts that sit between them; the baker places a slab of dough on one side of the rollers and it emerges on the other side elongated and reduced in thickness. With each pass through the sheeter, the baker brings the rollers closer and closer together, the slab gradually transformed into a wide, long sheet of even thickness from edge to edge and corner to corner. 

A sheet of dough on a dough sheeter's platform
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Most dough sheeters are driven by electrical motors and are large and heavy enough to require a dedicated tabletop or floor space. And they are complicated, precision machines, costing many thousands (or tens of thousands) of dollars. All of which makes them out of reach and impractical for home bakers.

But now there is an affordable and compact alternative option for the serious amateur or professional “cottage” home baker with limited space and financial resources: the two Brod & Taylor compact manual dough sheeters—a “compact” model for $495, and a larger one for $850. Both models disassemble down to a smaller footprint for storage; the larger of the two compacts into a slick briefcase-sized package with a carrying handle for easy transport. (The one element that does not break down for either model is the solid sliding sheeter board, but in both cases, the board is lightweight and relatively easily stored when not in use.) I’ve recently tested both models extensively and can recommend them unequivocally. I’ve made batch after batch of croissants and other laminated pastries in them, and they’ve all come out beautifully. 

two dough sheeters on a wooden surface
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Unlike electric dough sheeters, the Brod & Taylors are manual in action, with a crank arm that rotates the rollers and pushes the sheeter board through them. But despite being 100% human-powered, they require little effort to use—the rollers turn easily with a minimum of force, and the dough slides easily from one side of the rollers to the other.

A sheet of dough being rolled through a dough sheeter
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

There are significant differences between the two models, beyond overall size and price tag.

The “compact” model can produce doughs up to 12 inches in width; the recommended total dough weight for it is about 700 grams, including the weight of the butter, which translates to enough dough for six standard-sized croissants. The sheeter board is 23.5 inches long and 12 inches wide (60 x 30cm), and the base is about 20 inches deep. You’ll need at least another six inches of extra counter space on at least one side to easily insert and remove the board from the sheeter, so its effective overall dimensions are 32.5 inches long, 19 inches deep, and eight inches tall (82.5cm x 41cm x 20 cm). When closed, its dimensions are five-and-a-half inches wide, 14.75 inches deep, and eight inches tall (14cm x 37cm x 20 cm), so it is easily stored in a cabinet. The stainless-steel base for the compact model weighs 10.5 pounds (4.7kg), about the weight of an average cast-iron Dutch oven.

a dough sheeter on a wooden countertop
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The compact model has more limited thickness selections than the larger one—from 17.5mm down to 5mm, in 2.5mm increments, and from 5mm to 1mm, in 1mm increments. In practice, however, these are more than adequate for most applications, since it’s rare a baker would need to reduce a thick slab by more than 2.5mm with each pass, especially when the dough is on the thicker side. The maximum width of 17.5mm is slightly limiting, though it is easy enough to get a slab of dough thin enough for its initial pass through the sheeter using a rolling pin on a floured countertop.

A dough sheeter folded up into its case
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The larger “folding” model can produce doughs up to 15 1/2 inches wide and around 1350 grams in total weight, including butter, nearly double that of the compact model (and enough dough to produce at least 12 average croissants). The larger sheeter board is 39 inches long and 15.5 inches wide (100 x 39cm), and the base is about 19 inches deep. As with the smaller model, you’ll need a little extra space on at least one side to insert and remove the board from the sheeter, so its effective overall dimensions are 45 inches long, 19 inches deep, and nine-and-a-half inches tall (104cm x 47 cm x 24cm). When closed, its dimensions are 10.5 inches wide, 17.5 inches deep, and four-and-a-half inches tall (11cm x 44cm x 27 cm), and all parts fit snugly within the stainless attaché-like case, which weighs 14 pounds (6.4kg) with everything stowed away. 

The width adjustments for the folding model range from 27mm at the widest, all the way down to 0mm (though in practice the lowest setting is unusable). Unlike the compact model, the folding one has two adjustment knobs, one that reduces the distance between the rollers by 2.5mm with each tick, and a second one that can be adjusted in 0.5mm increments from 2mm down to 0mm.

a sheet of dough being fed through a dough sheeter
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

This is one feature of the device that is a little fussy to take advantage of: For example, in order to hop from 25mm down to 24.5mm, you need to set the coarse knob to forward 22.5mm and then move the fine adjustment (which normally sits in the “zero” position) backward 2mm. And you have to remember to reset the fine adjustment knob back to zero as you continue rolling out the dough if you want your thicknesses to be precise. Fortunately, it is rare that anyone needs to reduce a pastry dough by such narrow increments, and I usually just leave the fine adjustment knob alone myself. (The feature is useful when rolling out certain types of doughs thinly—crackers or pasta, for example, two non-laminated doughs which can also be made in a sheeter—and the good news is that it's not necessary to futz with it until the dough is already most of the way there.)

The current version of the folding sheeter comes with a double-sided polypropylene sheeter board, which is slightly more versatile than the one provided in the compact model: A nonstick-soft(er) side for rolling and a rigid blue side for rolling and cutting the finished dough. (My model shipped with a single-sided board identical to the one from the compact model, and I haven't tested the newer version myself.) When using the single-sided sheeter board of the compact model, you'll want to transfer the dough to another surface to do the final cutting, or at least slip a sheet or two of parchment paper beneath it, to avoid gouging into the sheeter board itself.

baked laminated pastries on a parchment-lined baking sheet
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

There is also an optional “artificial marble” sheeter board for the folding model, which adds another $199 to the price. (I haven’t tested the marble board myself.) It’s made of a harder, heavier material, which lets it move through the rollers in a slower, more controlled manner (the lightness of the standard boards is nice when you are moving them around, but it doesn’t provide much resistance, which means you need to be a little more deliberate as you crank the rollers or the dough can pass through the rollers faster than you might like). The denser marble-like board also should stay cooler than the standard one, which would be helpful when working with laminated dough on warm days. The marble board is shorter than the standard model, at 23.6 in long x 15.5 wide (60 x 39 cm), which limits the size of the sheet of dough you can make with it.

Given the yield (and the easier sticker price), the compact model is probably the best choice for the casual, once-in-awhile croissant baker. It can easily make enough dough in a single batch for six croissants, more than enough for a nice weekend breakfast. Anyone looking to make croissants and other laminated pastries professionally, however, will definitely want to spend the extra money for the increased capacity of the folding model. At the price, it’s no minor investment, but it’s still a fraction of the cost of an electric sheeter, and takes up very little space, especially when stowed away. Either way, the Brod & Taylor manual dough sheeters are an excellent upgrade to anyone’s croissant-making toolkit.

FAQs

What can you use a dough sheeter for? 

Any dough that needs to be rolled out thinly and precisely, especially when it’s best done gradually, a few millimeters at a time. This could include pasta, pie, and cracker doughs, and spiraled, filled breads like cinnamon rolls and sticky buns. But sheeters are most commonly used to roll out butter-laminated pastries like croissants, danish, and kouign amann, where speed and precision are paramount.

What’s the difference between a dough sheeter and a dough roller?

A dough roller is a device that is used to roll out balls of dough into discs in a single pass; they are most often used to make flatbreads like pizza and pita. A dough sheeter is used for doughs that require repeated, gradual manipulation to elongate and widen. Working gradually allows the dough to relax in between each pass so that it doesn’t turn elastic and deform or tear.

Why We're the Experts

  • Andrew Janjigian is a Serious Eats contributor and a former editor at Cook's Illustrated.
  • Andrew teaches bread-baking classes and is currently working on a cookbook.

Editor's note: We may have received some of the products in this review as press samples, but all of our opinions are our own.

Ghapama (Armenian Stuffed Pumpkin)

As beautiful as it is delicious, this honey-butter–glazed pumpkin stuffed with rice, dried fruits, and nuts makes for a gorgeous centerpiece on a holiday table during pumpkin season.

Overhead view of Ghapama on a purple background
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Ghapama is a dish so beloved by Armenians that it even has its own traditional song, titled “Hey Jan Ghapama,” which translates to, “Hey Sweet Ghapama” or “Hey Dear Ghapama.” The song tells the story of a pumpkin farmer who returns home from toiling in the fields with a single pumpkin, only to find his house invaded by a hundred hungry friends and relatives ready to party. His solution to this conundrum is to turn it into ghapama, which—though it couldn’t actually feed a hundred people—is an excellent way to feed a crowd, especially for a festive occasion. The song has been covered widely, even by Armenian hardcore band System of a Down, but the most famous version is by the singer Harout Pamboukjian, who put out his memorably psychedelic video for it in 1983.

Meant to Impress: When and Why to Make Ghapama

It’s easy to see why ghapama is worth singing about. A honey-butter glazed pumpkin is stuffed with a jeweled rice mixture that’s studded with a medley of dried fruits and nuts, sealed up, then slowly roasted to caramelized perfectionu ntil the pumpkin flesh is silken and buttery, and the rice perfectly plumped and evenly cooked.

Side view of ghapama
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Once baked, the stately pumpkin is presented to its adoring crowd and carefully carved into wedges that fan out flat on the platter into a beautiful flower—the pumpkin wedges being the flower petals and the mounded rice stuffing its center cone. 

The presentation is meant to impress and is perfect for a holiday gathering. Armenians traditionally serve it on New Year's Eve or Christmas. While ghapama’s show-stopping presentation might give the impression that it is challenging to make, it’s actually relatively easy to assemble and bake (aside from its lengthy hands-off baking time). A true “low effort, high reward” recipe that’s ideal for serving guests.

Get Those Hands Dirty: How to Select and Clean Your Pumpkin

I recognize that cooking a whole pumpkin is no everyday task, even if the assembly and baking are relatively easy. Maybe the hardest part of making ghapama is finding the right pumpkin to use and cleaning it properly. 

First, when selecting a pumpkin, it needs to be a sugar (also sometimes sold as “pie”) pumpkin with thick walls and flesh that bakes sweet and tender like other edible winter squashes; you don’t want to use a decorative carving pumpkin here. Carving pumpkins are grown for size, not flavor or tenderness once cooked. 

Secondly, size and shape matter. The pumpkin needs to be large enough to hold the stuffing while leaving about one inch of headspace to accommodate the rice plumping up as it finishes cooking inside the pumpkin. For this recipe, the ideal pumpkin size is between four and five pounds.

Side view of pumpkin in oven
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

It’s also important that the pumpkin is spherical and wider than it is tall. This ensures that as the flesh softens during cooking, the baked pumpkin will stand up and hold its shape. If the pumpkin is too tall and narrow, it will likely topple over once you try to transfer it to the serving platter.

If you have a hard time finding a pumpkin that fits perfectly into these guidelines, pick one that is slightly on the larger size, which will ensure sufficient room to hold the stuffing. Since you will unseal and carve the pumpkin for presentation, it’s ok if there is a little extra empty space at the top while baking the pumpkin.

How to Guarantee Properly Cooked Rice

The components of the stuffing are fairly straightforward: rice with a medley of dried fruits and nuts combined with ample butter and sautéed onions to bind it together. But it’s important that the cooking treatment of the rice is spot-on so the rice and the pumpkin flesh cook at the same rate in the oven. You don’t want overblown rice with well-cooked pumpkin, or still-raw rice with overcooked pumpkin.

Recipes for ghapama use different strategies for cooking the rice to overcome this challenge. Some merely stuff the pumpkin with dried rice and a small amount of water, letting the rice steam as it bakes. I found this to be unreliable, as it was hard to ensure the rice was evenly cooked by the time the pumpkin was tender. 

I prefer to parboil the rice instead. I found the simplest way to do this without overcooking the rice was to add it to ample boiling water and cook it until al dente (there should still be a firm core of undercooked rice in the center of each grain). Once par-cooked, the rice only needs a quick rinse to cool it down rapidly and halt further cooking, and also to remove any excess starch so that the grains don't stick together while steaming inside the pumpkin.

Bejewel My Heart: The Key Stuffing Ingredients and Flavor Variations for Ghapama

Recipes for ghapama vary widely from one Armenian cook to another, but there are two main flavor directions for the dish: savory-leaning or sweet-leaning. Savory versions contain minced onions that are cooked in butter until softened, then stirred into the rice. Sweeter versions forgo the onion in favor of warm spices, especially cinnamon. Both are excellent. I’ve written my main recipe as the savory version, but I’ve given guidance for a sweet version in the notes as well. And while not traditional, there’s no reason you couldn’t create your own savory and sweet version by adding the warm spices to the oniony version, as I also mention in the recipe notes.

Whether sweet or savory, ghapama includes a lot of butter. The butter adds needed richness to the otherwise lean pilaf stuffing. A portion of the butter is also combined with honey and used to coat the inside flesh of the pumpkin and the remaining honey-butter mixture is added to the rice stuffing (don’t let it go to waste!). Most recipes I’ve seen in my research call simply for melted butter. In my recipe I chose to brown the butter, for an added layer of nutty complexity.

Overhead view of all ingredients in a bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

The mix-ins for the jeweled rice vary widely too. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts, or pine nuts are always included, often in combination. My recipe calls for both slivered almonds and walnuts, which I toast to ensure they are crisp once the rice is baked, but you can adapt the recipe with your preferred combination of nuts. Just make sure to swap equal parts by weight, and to toast the nuts first to ensure their crunchy bite in the final baked dish.

Fruits such as raisins, dates, prunes, dried tart cherries, dried apricots, and crisp (fresh) apples are also included, again in combination. My recipe calls for a colorful array of golden raisins, tart cherries, prunes, and apricots for a welcome sweet-and-sour accent. Again, feel free to use your preferred combination of fruits, provided you keep the total amount about the same. (Dried cranberries, though not traditional to Armenian cooking, would be a great swap for the tart cherries, for example.)

The Grand Reveal: Assembling and Baking Ghapama

Once the filling is all prepared, it's spooned into the cleaned pumpkin, leaving an inch or so of headroom to accommodate the rice expanding as it finishes cooking (another reason to err on the slightly-larger side when selecting your pumpkin). Cover it with its lid, and then place it into a 350˚F oven on a lined baking sheet.

Side view of adding filling to ghapama
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Now here comes perhaps the hardest part to this recipe: Be patient! It can take up to two hours for the pumpkin and the rice to bake through. It’s important to not rush it to ensure the pumpkin is baked long enough for its flesh to render tender and sweet—it should yield easily when pricked with a paring knife. It might even slump a little, a good sign that it is tender through and through. Don't bake it so long that it collapses, but definitely err on the side of well-baked.

Once the ghapama is baked and cooled slightly, transfer it to the center of a serving platter—one large enough to hold the fanned-out pumpkin wedges once cut into. A sharp paring knife is the best tool for cutting the pumpkin into wedges. While it may seem logical to slice into wedges as one would cut a cake, it's better not to cut through to the center of the filling. Instead, use a paring knife to cut only through the pumpkin flesh itself, going all the way from the top to the bottom. This will prevent the wedges from falling onto the platter prematurely, and will also leave the mound of stuffing intact. 

Overhead view of ghapama
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Then you can gently nudge the wedges to encourage them to open onto the platter, arranging them in a fanned-out symmetrical pattern. Finally, gently scrape any of the filling that’s stuck to the inner surfaces of the pumpkin and mound it all on the center of the platter.

Your beautiful bejeweled pumpkin flower is now ready for your guests to enjoy. And while savoring those first few bites, remember these lines from “Hey Jan Ghapama:


“Hey! sweet ghapama

Whoever eats it is satiated

Hey! dear, sweet ghapama

Whoever doesn’t eat it, understands nothing!!”

In a medium saucepan, bring water to boil over high heat. Add rice and return to full boil, stirring occasionally, until rice is al dente, 5 to 7 minutes (there should still be a firm core of undercooked rice in the center of each grain). Drain through a fine-mesh strainer over the sink, then immediately rinse with cold running water until rice is cool and water runs clear, about 1 minute. Set strainer over now empty pot and set aside to drain.

Side view of dumping drained rice
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Meanwhile, adjust oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat oven to 350˚F (176℃). Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil or parchment paper; set aside. Using a paring knife or pumpkin carving knife, remove the top of the pumpkin in one piece by cutting a 3- to 4-inch wide circle around the pumpkin stem to form a lid (see notes). Remove the lid and set aside.

Side view of removing the lid
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Carefully run knife or edge of a large spoon along the cavity of the pumpkin to loosen seeds and stringy pulp, then use a spoon to scoop them out and scrape the cavity clean. Using the paring knife, scrape seeds and pulp from the lid as well. Discard seeds and pulp or reserve for another use (try roasting the seeds with one of our seasoning combinations for a snack). Set pumpkin with lid aside.

Close up of pumpkin with lid
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

In a large skillet, toast nuts over medium heat until very lightly browned, about 4 minutes. Transfer to a plate. Wipe out skillet, then add butter and melt over medium heat, swirling skillet regularly, until milk solids separate and just begin to brown, 4 to 6 minutes. Remove from heat and let cool slightly.

Side view of brown butter
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Pour all but 2 tablespoons butter from skillet into a medium bowl; set aside. Add onion and salt to skillet with remaining butter and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until onion is softened and just beginning to brown, 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to an empty large bowl and set aside.

Overhead view of onions cooked in butter
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add drained rice to the bowl with onions along with the almonds, walnuts, apricots, cherries, prunes, and raisins.

Overhead view of all ingredients in a bowl
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Add honey to the reserved browned butter and whisk to combine. Using a brush, coat the insides of the cleaned pumpkin, including the rim and underside of the lid, with the honey-butter mixture (about 1 tablespoon). Pour remaining honey-butter mixture into rice mixture and stir gently until everything is well combined. Scoop rice mixture into the prepared pumpkin and gently pack into pumpkin, leaving about 1 inch headspace from the pumpkin rim. Cover with the pumpkin lid and transfer to the prepared baking sheet. 

Four image collage of adding browned butter, mixing rice mixture, spooning rice mixture into pumpkin and overhead view of pumpkin
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Bake until a paring knife inserted into the side of the pumpkin yields no resistance and the pumpkin begins to slump very slightly, 1 hour 45 minutes to 2 hours.

Side view of pumpkin in oven
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Remove baking sheet from oven and transfer to a wire rack. Let cool slightly, about 15 minutes.

Side view of pumpkin after it's been baked
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Using one or two large spatulas, carefully transfer pumpkin to the center of a large serving platter (see notes). Remove the lid and set aside. Using a paring knife, cut pumpkin through the flesh from top to bottom into eight equal wedges without cutting into filling; make sure to cut all the way to center of base so that wedges can fully separate. Gently allow pumpkin wedges to fall open onto the platter, coaxing them as needed. Mound rice in center of the pumpkin, scooping off any filling stuck to the pumpkin wedges and mounding it onto the rice pile. Sprinkle with parsley and serve.

Four image collage of cutting and displaying ghapama
Serious Eats / Amanda Suarez

Special Equipment

Rimmed baking sheet, parchment paper, fine-mesh strainer, wire rack

Notes

Look for a pumpkin that is wider than it is tall, if possible, and at least 5 pounds in weight or up to 7 pounds. (If possible, choose one larger rather than smaller, to ensure adequate room to accommodate all of the filling.) There's a chance you will have a small amount of filling left over; you can save it and bake it seperately, covered, in a small vessel, gratin dish, or ramekin to avoid wasting it.

To ensure a round circle when removing the pumpkin lid, use a pen or pencil to trace a 3- to 4-inch wide circle, then cut out the circle to form the lid.

This onion version leans more savory than sweet. For a sweeter spiced version, omit the onion (and its cooking step) and stir 1 teaspoon cinnamon and 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg into the butter at the end of step 2. Though not traditional, you can also create a version that is both sweet and savory by adding this spice mixture to the onions at the end of step 3.

Make-Ahead and Storage

Ghapama is best made just before serving.

Put a Lid on Your Sheet Pan to Achieve Food Storage Glory

Lids turn baking sheets into food storage containers: They can even be easily stacked in the fridge.

a stack of sheet pans with lids on them with one sheet pan in front
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Loads of recipes require covering the contents of a rimmed baking sheet with plastic wrap, whether to shelter its contents for refrigerator storage, to keep them from drying out at room temperature, or to transport them from one place to another. Plastic wrap works fine in a pinch, but it has numerous drawbacks. One, it’s finicky to get the pan tightly covered, at least without using enough to cocoon the pan completely, which is wasteful. Two, the plastic wrap will touch the top of the food unless you go to great lengths to lift it up off of the pan, also a finicky business. (There are numerous instances where some clearance between the cover and the food is essential, such as when the pan contains bread dough or a cake with a layer of carefully applied frosting.) Three, you can’t really stack anything on top of the pan without compressing its contents, which means it will take up more real estate in the fridge (or in transport). Finally, plastic wrap is disposable and unrecyclable—I don’t know about you, but I try to avoid using it wherever possible, especially in large quantities.

Fortunately, there’s a better way: Nordic Ware sheet pan lids. The hard plastic, snap-on lid keeps foods protected from both exposure to the elements and compression from above. The lid fits snugly enough to shield from drafts (or anything else, for that matter), something I've tested extensively by using them to hold bread doughs and balls of pizza dough for cold proofing.

Two balls of dough proofing in a sheet pan with a lid on it
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

Bread doughs are notoriously quick to dry out when exposed to air, and Nordic Ware lids prevent this entirely. (That said, the lid isn't 100% airtight or waterproof, so it's not going to keep liquids from leaking out should you tip the pan, but it's tight enough to do the job in just about any other instance.) The lid is also the same shape and size as the pan, so it can be nested into or under the pan when not in use. And it’s very sturdy, which means you can comfortably stack multiple sets of pans atop one another, or set the pan beneath a stack of other items without fear of breaking it or compressing the food.

While I (as a bread baker) mainly use these lidded pans to hold dough for proofing bread, pizza, and flatbread dough balls in the fridge, once you have one, other uses become obvious: Covering marinating meats, transporting a sheet of brownies, sheet cake, or pan pizza to a party (or storing it on the counter for later consumption), or freezing a single a layer of berries before transfer to a storage bag. 

Nordic Ware also makes quarter sheet pans with lids, which I love because they are more conveniently sized for fridge storage (and more portable). They also make two deeper pans that take the same lids, a sheet cake pan with a lid that's twice as deep as a half sheet (two-and-a-half inches versus 1-inch), and a 9- x 13-inch cake pan with a lid, a 2.5-inch deep version of a quarter sheet. I often use these deeper ones for proofing bread doughs, because they provide ample room for the dough to expand as it proofs. (They are obviously also great for holding any other foods in need of extra real estate.) 

a stack of differently sized sheet pans with lids on them
Serious Eats / Andrew Janjigian

The lids and the pans are also sold individually, should you need to buy one or the other to complete a set. One important thing to note: Unless you already own Nordic Ware sheet or cake pans, you'll probably want to buy these as sets to be sure the lid and the pan fit together snugly. Baking sheets, even ones that stack together neatly, are differently shaped, and the lids won’t necessarily fit on any old pan (they match on a few, but not all, of my other baking sheets). If you have stacks of sheet pans already, it might be a hassle to invest in new ones in order to acquire matching lids, but they are reasonably priced. And the good news is that Nordic sheets pans themselves are excellent in their own right. They are solidly constructed, which means they don't warp during use, even at high oven temperatures, heat evenly, and are built to last for years of use. (They nabbed our top recommendation when we tested seven half-sheet pans.) 

FAQs

What sizes do sheet pan lids come in?

The Nordic Ware sheet pan lids come in two sizes: a 9- by 13-inch model that fits on quarter sheet pans, and a 13- by 18-inch model that covers a half sheet.

Can you clean sheet pan lids in the dishwasher?

No, you cannot clean these lids in the dishwasher. Nordic Ware recommends hand-washing these lids only.

Why We're the Experts

  • Andrew Janjigian is a Serious Eats contributor and a former long-time test cook at America's Test Kitchen.
  • Andrew's been teaching baking and pizza classes for more than 10 years. He's authored many Serious Eats reviews and recipes, including an evaluation of the Le Creuset bread oven and a comparison of baking steels and stones.