Easy to keep, share, and enjoy anytime, cookies are undeniably the stars of holiday baking. In Greece, the cookies that dominate Christmas baking and snacking are melomakarona and kourabiedes.
Although we won't say no to a buttery, crumbly kourabie and its wintery cloud powdered sugar, our family loves melomakarona with a passion. More intense and decadent in their syrupy glory, more intriguing with their combination of flavors, textures and spices, melomakarona are the Christmas treats after our heart and the cookies we serve Santa Claus every Christmas Eve before bedtime.
Lacking dairy, or eggs, they are actually not that rich and if you don't add honey in the syrup they can be vegan. Having said that, honey is so central in their identity that it's part of their name ('honey pasta'). A lot of Greeks bake them with all purpose flour only, but we are big proponents of adding semolina flour. It adds an extra layer of texture and retains more syrup. It's not the easiest ingredient to find in the US, but well-stocked supermarkets and international grocery stores will sell it.
(Makes around 80 cookies. It may seem like a lot, but trust us; between sharing with friends and wolfing down a few every day, they will be gone soon. Also, they keep extremely well.)
For the syrup
- 2 cups of water
- 4 cups of sugar
- 3 cinnamon sticks
- 3 cloves
- 1 orange, cut in half
- 5.5 oz of Greek raw honey
For the dough
- 2.2 lbs all-purpose flour
- 7 oz semolina, finely ground
- 14 oz vegetable oil
- 6.5 oz extra virgin olive oil
- 1.7 oz confectioner sugar
- 1/2 tsp ground cloves
- 2-3 tsp cinnamon
- 1/4 tsp nutmeg
- zest from 2 oranges
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 13 fl oz freshly squeezed orange juice
- 1 fl oz cognac
- 2 cups chopped walnuts - some more fine, some coarse
- More honey!
- Make the syrup at least 3 hours ahead (even the day before), as it needs to be completely cooled down when you combine it with the hot cookies.
- Add all of the ingredients for the syrup apart from the honey in a sauce pan and heat until the sugar melts. When it reaches a boil remove from heat and after a couple of minutes add the honey and mix until well combined. Let cool completely.
- Preheat the oven to 410° (375° if you have a fan oven)
- Mix the semolina and all purpose flour in a bowl and set aside.
- In a separate, big bowl add the oils, sugar, spices and orange zest and mix well. You don't have to use a mixer, a spoon will do just fine. Add most of the orange juice and add the baking soda in what's left. It's going to bubble! Add it to the mixture and finally add the cognac. Make sure it's all combined.
- Now add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture. Combine gently and quickly. Overworking the mixture will harden the cookies. Use your hands to fold, and once it's all blended into a rather wet dough, stop.
- Now it's the perfect time to engage little helpers to join while you shape this huge amount of dough into small oval shaped cookies that you will place on lined baking sheets. They will rise in the oven, so aim for smaller ovals, weighing around 1oz. Score or poke the shaped cookies with a fork; it will help absorb more syrup.
- Bake for 20 to 25 minutes, until they're golden brown. There will be a few batches, unless you have very big baking sheets! As soon as you take a batch out of the oven put a couple of cookies in a slotted spoon and dip inside the cold syrup. If you have company you can split the syrup into two containers and work in tandem. Dip them for around 10"-15". The more you leave them in, the more syrupy they will be. If they absorb too much they will fall apart, so dip responsibly!
- Don't put too many hot cookies at once inside the syrup because its temperature will rise. We put the syrup pot inside a bowl of ice, so that it keeps its cool.
- Place the melomakarona that you pull out of the syrup on the lined trays and when you are done, transfer on plates.
- Drizzle honey over the melomakarona and then scatter the walnuts on top.
- Melomakarona keep very well. They don't even have to be in air-tight containers. Just cover the serving platter(s) with foil, or plastic membrane and they will keep fresh and moist for weeks. They just won't last that long!