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Friday, 3 December 2010

Kourambiedes - Greek Christmas shortbread biscuits (Κουραμπιέδες)

I am not a creative recipe writer. Nor do I collect recipes that I hope to use some time in the future. I never fall in love with a recipe by looking at a photograph of it that makes me want to make it. I am also not a sweet- or cake-recipe person. Not that we don't eat sweets or cakes; I just prefer not to make them very often, and when I do, they are usually the 'healthy' type, like zucchini bread, beetroot muffins and banana cake. Looking through my blog, you will find that I am mainly a main-meal kind of cook. 

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New recipes rarely move me. But when I read the notes from a friend for a kourambiedes recipe, I fell in love with it immediately. Kourambiedes are the Greek answer to shortbread. Their pure white colour symbolises purity, which explains why they are used as a Christmas symbol, as well as their use as a wedding biscuit. Most recipes for kourambiedes use eggs and brandy for flavouring, but not hers, which is the simplest recipe I have ever come across for kourambiedes.

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Elisabeth wrote:
"I love my kourambiedes recipe. The only tricky thing is that you need sheep's milk butter. I love that it's so basic - no egg yolk, no cognac, no flavouring, nothing; it relies on the lovely aroma of sheep's butter."

Her original recipe was found in an old recipe collection on the island of Ikaria where she lives. It represents the simplicity that was inherent in Greek island cooking of the past. I'm sharing it with you, in time for Christmas, just as she gave it to me. (The notes in brackets are mine.)

500g sheep's milk butter (if you can't get this, you can replace it with the freshest most aromatic butter available to you)
1/2 cup icing sugar (confectioner's sugar)
1 kilo flour (approximately; I used about 900g)
1 cup blanched, roasted and chopped almonds (I buy raw almonds which I blanch myself by placing them in boiling water for 2-3 minutes; their skins pop off easily - then I place them on a baking tray and roast them in a very hot oven until they turn golden in colour, which takes about 7-8 minutes)
rosewater for sprinkling (if this is unavailable to you, use cognac instead)
more icing sugar for coating (I'm glad I bought two 425g packets - you will get through quite a lot!)

Beat butter and sugar till very white and fluffy. Stir in enough of the flour so that it's no longer sticky. Then stir in the nuts. Shape kourambiedes and bake 20 minutes at 175C. Cool for 2 minutes, then sprinkle with rosewater. Lift them off the tray and sift icing sugar over them. Place the next layer on top of the ready iced biscuits and repeat the sifting procedure, sifting over more sugar just before serving. I got 50 large kourambiedes using this recipe.

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What made this recipe very special was that the measurements were given to Elisabeth in the old measurements used in Greece during Ottoman rule, the oka and the drami (1 oka = 400 dramia), right up to a few years after WW2. The recipe yielded 50 kourambiedes.

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I make kourambiedes every year, but this is the best recipe I have ever used. Thanks, Elisabeth, for this special recipe, and to another Elizabeth who started the recipe sharing idea among her friends.

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