How to Make Curd Cheese (Kesmik) and Farmer Cheese (Shor)

Indian paneer,  Italian ricotta,  Russian tvorog and Azerbaijani kesmik.  What do they have in common? A lot. These are similar variations of soft cheese made from curdled milk. (In fact, curdled milk translates as kesilmish sud in Azeri. The name kesmik comes from “kesmek” or “kesilmek” which  means to curdle.) The common technique in making these cheeses involves combining milk with a small amount of acid and heating it up until the curdles form. The acidity here may be provided by vinegar, lemon juice, buttermilk, yogurt, sour cream or even citric acid. Azerbaijanis  use good old plain yogurt for this purpose.

In Azerbaijan, kesmik is eaten for breakfast, wrapped around lavash flatbread slathered with butter, or it is used as a filling in a variety of pastries. Kesmik is also a popular baby food.

You can make your own  kesmik using the following foolproof recipe. Plus you will get extra bonus here – from curd cheese you can also make farmer cheese, Azerbaijani shor!

I often use homemade curd cheese in place of  ricotta cheese in recipes that call for the latter. Here are some of the past AZ Cookbook recipes that will help  you  make good use of your homemade curd cheese. Enjoy!

“Banana” Pastries
Crumb Cake “Fragile”CrumbLemon-Cardamom Ricotta CookiesCheese and Yogurt Cake with Lemon Zest

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Sweet Milk Bread (Shirin Chorek)

Do you see yellow in the picture? I mean the beautiful yellow inside the slice of bread?

Don’t rush to blame photoshop for this. The poor thing is not to blame (at least not completely) and does not deserve a possible “color enhancement” accusation. It’s all because of turmeric. The power spice is blame as I happened to add it to the dough of this bread I made a couple of days ago. Not only did the turmeric add a nice yellowish tone to the  bread but it also added a surprising flavor to it, yes, surprising, as you would never guess there is turmeric in it, a very subtle flavor, one that is blending incredible gently with the sweetness of the sugar and the milk. No, turmeric was not an accident in the dough. It was supposed to be there, in the recipe for one of the most popular dessert breads of Azerbaijan.

Meet shirin chorek, or sweet bread, also known as sud choreyi, or milk bread (note that I’ve combined the two names to arrive at a new name, which I think conveys the gist of the bread much better). In the past this unusual bread was mostly baked on holidays such as Novruz or Ramadan, but nowadays Azerbaijanis don’t wait for a special occasion to indulge in this delectable bread – they bake it any time they feel like to, which also applies to me.

Shirin chorek can be prepared with either baking soda- or yeast-leavened dough. I personally prefer the latter as it yields a softer bread and one that keeps fresh for longer. Out of several shirin chorek recipes that I have, I particularly like one by my friend Gullu. Gullu was generous enough to share her old family recipe with the readers of her web site, and I am grateful to her for allowing me to share it with you.

Enjoy shirin chorek with a cup of strong black tea as Azerbaijanis would typically do. Or, if you are not into tea as much as Azerbaijanis are, enjoy it as a snack, for no reason at all. Just so. It is good. And subtly sweet. And Milky. And Yellow.

Sweet Milk Bread
(Shirin Chorek)
Adapted from here

Makes 2 breads

1 package (1/4 oz / 2 ¼ teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups warm milk, divided
6 +  1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ¾ cups sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 egg, at room temperature
7 oz (200 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 egg, to glaze
1 teaspoon poppy seeds

In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in 1 cup milk and let stand for 5 minutes. Put the flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, salt, and turmeric powder. Stir to mix. Make a well in the center. Add the yeast mixture, the remaining milk, egg, and melted butter to the well. Stir with your hands until a sticky ball forms. Scrape the dough onto a flat surface and knead until elastic. The dough will appear to be very sticky in the beginning, but it will come together nicely and will be less sticky as you knead. The final dough should not be very tight, so don’t be tempted to add more flour unless the dough is still very sticky.

Shape the dough into a ball and put it back in the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and leave the dough to rise in a warm spot for about 1 ½-2 hours, or until doubled in bulk.

Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Punch the dough down and divide it into 2 equal pieces. Pat them into balls. Place the balls on your working surface and using your hands, flatten them into disks 9 inches (22 cm) in diameter and ½ inch (1.2 cm) thick.

Arrange the disks on the baking sheets. Cover the bread with a clean kitchen towel and leave aside for 1 hour, until they rise again.

Preheat the oven to 375F (190C).

Stir the egg to mix the white and the yolk, and brush the breads with this mixture. Decorate the surface of the breads by tracing cross-hatching patterns with the back of the fork tines, 4 times in each direction, each time at an equal distance from one another.

Sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake on the middle rack of the oven until golden, 30 to 35 minutes (if your oven doesn’t fit two baking sheets on one rack, place one sheet on the lower rack, and another on the top rack, bake for 15 minutes, then switch and bake until ready). Remove from the oven. Allow to cool completely, then cut into pieces and serve. Nush Olsun!

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