One of the perks of living in California is that one gets to experience different cultures and cuisines. Sometime back I found these wonderful sweetbreads called Gata in a middle eastern bakery . A bit of research led to Armenian Gata . It is a sweet bread , almost like a pastry . There are many regional variations of this bread One popular version is a bread filled an almost custard like filling of butter , sugar and flour . This is the one we have here.
An internet search will bring up many version of gata recipe – many tied to family histories and traditions. All the recipes agree on one thing that there is bread/pastry and the filling . Some are richer than others and some downright decadent. The one that became a hit with us is a lightly sweetened bread with the walnut filling . I like the filling to be a thin layer, but feel free to double the filling if you like. The standard filling , koritz, is a simple mix of butter , flour and sugar . This unassuming filling gives the most delectable taste and texture .
The recipe starts as a standard sweet dough recipe. You start by activating the yeast . Warm 1/4 C milk to 110°F or just warm to touch . Mix one tbsp honey with the milk and sprinkle the yeast on top . Let it sit aside for 5 to 10 minutes for the yeast to become bubbly . Here is the thing though, this is a pastry so none of that skimmed stuff.
Now to make the dough. This is going to get a little sticky. Take the flour in a large mixing bowl . Add salt and sugar and stir to mix evenly . Make a well in the center of flour mix and pour the activated yeast followed by half the remaining milk and the egg . Knead gently for a minute till the liquid is absorbed by the flour . Add the melted butter and enough of the remaining milk to make slightly sticky dough . Cover and set aside for 10 minutes. During the 10 minutes of resting, the flour absorbs a lot more moisture and it gets easier to knead. I would recommend it , even if you were using a stand mixer to knead.
Knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes until it becomes soft and very pliable. If needed add a few more drops of milk or a few tablespoons of flour. As always a little wet dough is preferable to a dry one. Form the dough into a ball . Oil the bottom of a bowl and place the dough ball in it . Turn the dough to coat all sides with oil . Cover the bowl (kitchen towel, plastic wrap, any airtight lid ) . Set aside in a warm place for it to double – about 1 hr.
While the dough is proofing prepare the filling . In a bowl mix the sugar and flour with a pinch of salt . I usually add finely chopped walnuts as well. Mix well . Melt the butter for filling and add it slowly to the dry ingredients along with vanilla essence and mix well . If you take the filling in the palm of your hands and press it close it should just come together . Do not add water. If necessary add a bit more melted butter . Set aside .
Once the dough has doubled in volume , punch it down and invert into a well floured kneading surface . At this point you can choose to make a large single gata or mini gatas . Here I have made 3 medium sized ones .
Divide the dough into 4 pieces . Take one piece and flatten into about 6″ disc . Place a third of the prepared filling at the center of the disc . bring up the sides of the dough around the filling and pinch it close . Using a rolling pin gently roll it back into a disc about 7 to 8 inch in diameter . Transfer to a baking sheet . Repeat with 2 more pieces .
Take the 4th piece of dough and roll it out to a fairly thin disc – 12 to 14 inches in diameter . Cut into thin strips and place over the gata discs in a decorative pattern. This is an optional step, kind of a baker’s secret. All that decoration on top helps to hide tide any imperfections. When breads were made in the communal ovens, these decorative touches were the mark of the owner.
Trim and tuck in the ends of the dough strips under the discs . The handle of a dinner spoon / fork comes handy here. In another bowl whisk an egg with 1 tsp of milk and set aside for egg wash . Brush the tops with egg wash and use a fork to poke holes on the top of the breads as well . This is an important step as otherwise the filling might break the top and ooze out .Transfer to the oven pre heated to 375 °F and bake for around 30 minutes, until the tops are dark golden. When done the the internal temperature should read 200°F.
Cool , Slice , Serve 🙂
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