Christmas provides another opportunity for Greeks to celebrate a holiday season with family and friends. Here in North America, we celebrate Christmas much like many others; we decorate trees, exchange gifts, and enjoy festive meals with relatives and close acquaintances. We also remember those who are less fortunate, and we show our gratitude for all we have by providing a helping hand to those who need it most. In the Spirit of the Season, I would like to ask each of my readers to click here for an easy and free way to help people in need via The Hunger Site. It will only take a moment of your time, it will not cost you anything, and you will be helping to ensure somebody somewhere gets a meal they desperately need. Thank you for your kind consideration.
Now, on to the fun stuff- a sweet Greek recipe!
One of the quintessential Greek holiday cookies is immediately recognizable by its confectionery sugar- dusted coat. Though they may be made in a variety of shapes, Kourabiedes (pronounced “koo-rah-bee-YEH-thess”) are most often fashioned into an S shape or lady finger style biscuit. My own preference is for a round bite-sized type of cookie, and that is how I make them.
Kourabiedes are butter cookies traditionally baked for Christmas and Easter festivities, but they keep well when stored, so you can enjoy them with a morning Greek coffee long after both holidays have passed. In some regions of Greece, the Christmas Kourabiedes are adorned with a single whole spice clove embedded in each biscuit. This is done to commemorate the spices which were among the gifts presented by the Biblical Magi to the baby Jesus. As I am a soft touch for quaint sentimental customs, I add the spice cloves to my Kourabiedes at Christmas too.
During the Holidays, most Greek homes will have a plate of Kourabiedes on hand to share with guests. Each matron in any Greek household on the planet has a family recipe for these cookies. Nonetheless, there are some universal points of confluence among the variations. One prerequisite for fine Kourabiedes is that they are light and fluffy- airy to the point of being slightly brittle to the touch; and, they must NOT taste of flour. I have tried many Kourabiedes in my time, most were good, some were bad, but they all had a little raw almond in the mix to keep the mastication interesting, as the rest of the cookie should practically melt on your tongue.
This recipe is from my mother in law, though I have added a twist or two of my own. (Note: the flour measurement is an approximation based on the resulting “feel” of the dough after its “rubbing”, more on that below.)
7 ½ - 8 cups flour, sifted (“Five Roses” All Purpose, if you can find it)
1 lb good quality unsalted butter (Gay Lea is excellent)
1 lb Crisco® vegetable shortening
½ cup of well-chopped raw almonds
¼ cup mastic liqueur (or brandy)
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
Whole spice cloves
1 ½ cups powdered/confectionery sugar
Extra powdered/confectionery sugar for the dusting
- In a deep pan, melt the butter together with the Crisco® vegetable shortening, then pour into a mixer bowl and start whisking at a moderately high speed for 10 minutes or so.
- Add 1 ½ cup of powdered/confectionery sugar to the mixer bowl and continue whisking for another 10 minutes.
- Add the baking soda and baking powder to the mastic liqueur (or brandy) and mix together thoroughly, then add liqueur to the mixer bowl and continue whisking for another 10 minutes.
- Separate the egg yolks and whites of 2 of the eggs, then add the yolks to another bowl and add the remaining 2 eggs to that bowl. Combine and add the 4 yolks and 2 egg whites to the mixer bowl; continue mixing at medium-high speed for 30 – 40 minutes. (Save the 2 extra egg whites for a low-fat omelette on Boxing Day!) By this point the mixture should have the consistency of a velvety smooth well-whipped butter.
- Add the chopped almonds to the mixer bowl and mix for a further few minutes.
- Transfer the now velvety smooth mix to an extra large mixing bowl and roll up your sleeves.
- In stages, without rushing, start adding the flour by sprinkling a cup at a time into the mixture. When incorporating the flour, once past mixing the initial paste, do not knead the dough; rather, you should hold the edge of the bowl with one hand and rub the flour into the dough with a downward spiral motion towards you. As you add flour, the dough will become harder to work and you must continue to “rub” it until soft again. Once you have incorporated the flour, test the consistency of the dough by rolling some between your palms. It should stay together and be very soft and malleable. The key is to make sure the dough will have enough rigidity to keep the cookies from going flat on your baking sheet while in the oven. You may need to add a little flour to achieve the desired consistency. However, be careful you don’t add too much flour and end up with hard cookies. This part may take you a few tries to perfect.
- Once the dough is ready, break away small pieces (about the size of a walnut) and roll between your palms to form a sphere. Place your cookies on a greased or parchment paper lined baking sheet in neat rows.
- Preheat oven to 350°F/180°C. Be sure to adjust the oven racks so that one is at the bottom of your oven and one at the top.
- When your baking sheets are ready to go into the oven, start by putting one (or more) onto the bottom rack of your oven and bake the cookies for 20 minutes. Then, move that sheet (or sheets) to the top rack of the oven and put another one (or more) on the bottom rack. Bake the cookies on the top rack for a further 10 minutes before removing them from the oven. In this way, each cookie sheet will bake for approximately 30 minutes. Rotate the trays as needed if uneven browning occurs. The cookies are ready when small cracks start to appear in their surface and an even light golden-brown colour is achieved.
- Remove cookies from oven and immediately sprinkle with rosewater such that a couple drops falls on each cookie.
- Take several trays/flat pans and sprinkle their bottoms to completely cover them with powdered/confectionery sugar. Place still warm cookies onto these trays/pans in neat rows and proceed to sprinkle a first covering layer of powdered/confectionery sugar over top.
- Once all the cookies have been covered with the first sprinkling of powdered/confectionery sugar, let the cookies stand to cool for a few hours (overnight if possible).
- Dust the biscuits with another thicker coating of powdered/confectionery sugar and then serve or store. (Note: If you add the spice cloves to the cookies you will need to slightly wet your fingertip with a little rosewater and dab overtop of the sugar covered cloves to make them appear again. Cookies can be stored in plastic Tupperware® style containers with lids that seal closed.)
*A word to the wise on eating and serving Kourabiedes: I remember viewing a TV show where Chef Gordon Ramsay choked because he inhaled while taking a bite of one of these cookies. Not to worry, Chef, we’ve all been there! LOL! So, whatever you do, do not breathe in (or out) through your mouth when biting into one of these biscuits; the powdered sugar will either end up in your larynx or on your clothes, or both! A glass of water will help once the coughing subsides. Always make sure to serve Kourabiedes with a glass of cold water. ;)
Wishing Celebrants a Very Merry Christmas, and Compliments of the Season to All!
Greek Food Recipes and Reflections
Copyright © 2008, Sam Sotiropoulos. All Rights Reserved.