Mahlab (also known as mahlep and mahlepi) is a spice that comes from the stone of the St Lucie cherry. It has a nutty-marzipan sweetness and a hint of cherry blossom, which is harnessed in Middle Eastern pastries and bakes. Mahlab is a delicate spice. The pale kernels should freshly ground on demand because the powder quickly loses potency, which is why it's always best to buy whole. Lightly crushed mahlab kernels might be infused in milk for a fragrant rice pudding, crème brulee or custard base for ice cream.
Mahlab features in lots of traditional, celebratory recipes – from tsoureki bread eaten over Easter in Greece, to kandil rings served in Turkey on Islamic holy nights. We don't think there's any need to wait for a special occasion though. Honey and freshly ground mahlab is a great porridge topping. It is delicious worked into shortbread, dusted over chocolate tarts or used to flavour sponge cake mixes or finish bunt cakes and breads.
Whole mahlab kernels retain their potency far longer than pre-ground. Still, they should be kept in a dark, airtight tin and ground on demand.