Thursday, 10 April 2008

Koulourakia - traditional Greek Easter cookies (Κουλουράκια για το Πάσχα)

I've been using a Greek koulouraki recipe that always seem to make successful koulourakia (κουλουράκια), the Greek butter cookies often made in preparation for Easter. I found it in a book I bought when I first came to Greece, nearly two decades ago, the Greek Calendar Cookbook by Anne Yiannoulis (Lycabettus Press). The recipe makes a small batch of cookies; hence they are eaten too quickly! I've found that making cookies in small batches ensures greater success in taste and texture; the dough never seems to mix properly when I make it in larger doses. The recipe is the simplest cookie recipe I have ever come across; I have copied it pretty much as stated in the book. The fun part about it is creating the most intricate biscuit shapes - a great activity for children.

You need:
250g butter
3/4 cup sugar
2 egg yolks (free-range eggs give that extra yellow colour)
grated zest of an orange
1/4 cup orange juice (you can use milk here, as the recipe states, but as we have our own oranges in our own fields, we use them, and the smell of orange-flavoured cookies will scent your kitchen beautifully)
1 vial of vanilla essence
1 tablespoon cognac (brandy)
4 cups 'strong' flour (the kind used to make pie pastry, as opposed to 'soft' flour, used in cakes)
1 teaspoon baking powder
extra egg yolk for glazing the cookies
Cream the butter and sugar, add the yolks, rind, vanilla and brandy and beat well. Add the flour and then the liquid, mixing with floured hands to form a stiff dough. Break off small pieces and roll them out into the traditional biscuit shapes that Greek housewives and bakers have been crafting over the years. Place them on a lightly greased baking tin. Brush them with beaten yolk mixed with a tablespoon of water. Bake in a moderate oven for about twenty minutes.

The biscuits are cooked when they take on a rich golden colour. I lift them off the baking tin with a metal scraper; sometimes the egg runs onto the tin, and this is what causes them to stick. Try to let them cool a little before scraping off, as these biscuits harden as they cool. This mixture makes about 50 cookies - just enough for a family of four to eat them in one day...

Sesame is often used as a garnish on Greek pies and biscuits, but never on Easter cookies (κουλουράκια Πασχαλινά); cookies with sesame seeds are often eaten during Lent or in plain less sweet biscuits. And if you're wondering what to do with the egg whites, I'd do what all New Zealanders would do with them - make a pavlova!

As I said, these biscuits never fail to please: here they are in 2009 in my Cretan kitchen:

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New Year's cake
Clean Monday
25 March (Independence Day)
Ash Thursday

Cretan meat pie
Red eggs
Lent pies
Bakaliaros for Palm Sunday
Clean Monday