I love the Christmas holidays.
While many people comment on how commercial they have become, how it is all about consumerism, has lost its true spirit and link back to religion – it is one side to look at things, the cynical side. As you know, I am an optimist by nature, and prefer to look at things in their positive light. For me, it is a time when I feel blessed to always be surrounded by loving family and friends, where there is a lot of feasting, board game playing, and generally jolly, merry mood within everyone I see and finally, there is no amount of times I can hear Mariah Carey’s “All I want for Christmas Is You”.
This was the first year that I did not spend Christmas with my parents and sisters, and while both J and I were sad we wouldn’t be spending our holidays with either of our parents or siblings, we had a chance to focus on celebrating it as our new family. So we did everything to really make our home and our hearts be filled with holiday cheer. J went and bought a real Christmas tree in the early hours of the morning early December, to ensure we had a beautiful and lush tree throughout December (and hopefully January too). And I baked the typical Greek Christmas cookies, which should be in every Greek household without fail throughout the holiday season. Actually, they are offered to you complimentary everywhere you go during this time, pastry shops, cafes, bars, even clothing stores.
We have previously spoken about Melomacarona, as the ultimate Greek Christmas cookie. That is because I have never had anything like them anywhere else in the world. Rich orange and clove notes, honey syrup drenched, walnutty cinnamonny goodness in every bite.
However, Kourambiedes are by far my favorite of the two, they are simply irresistible. My great-grandmother and Mina made/make the best ones I have ever tasted, they are perfect. Their texture is like a lime melt-away, in that it instantly dissolves as soon as you bite down on it, punctuated by chunks of fragrant toasted almonds and very generously coated with powdered sugar – that you cannot help but make a mess of anywhere you sit or anything you wear. However their recipe for the perfect Kourambie (singular form of Kourambiedes) remains a mystery. So I reached for a great book my Yiayia Matina had given me on Greek breads and sweets, which features 5 different recipes of this cookie, depending which part of Greece they came from. The below recipe I share, is a fusion of a couple of recipes which comes very close to the legendary Kourambiedes, adding very subtle notes of rose and orange blossom water for a little twist.
Yields 164 cookies (Greek recipes are not for the faint hearted), I am sure you can half or even quarter the recipe – just have not done so to be sure. I baked half the dough and froze the rest in logs, so I can quickly bake some batches when the craving strikes next year 🙂
- 1 kg butter
- 10 tbsp sugar
- 1.5 – 2 kg flour
- 3 egg yolks
- 3 tbsp brandy or cognac
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp orange blossom water
- 1 tsp rose water
- 3/4 cup water
- 1 orange zest
- 300g raw almonds
- 250g powdered sugar
- Pre-heat the oven to 180˚C (375˚F). When ready, toast the almonds for a few minutes, until their skins have blistered and they are fragrantly toasted. Be careful, they burn quickly!
- Beat the butter and sugar together, as much as possible until pale and fluffy. Beat in the egg yolks, brandy, vanilla, orange blossom water, rose water and orange zest.
- Switch to paddle or hook attachment for your mixer, slowly starting adding the 1.5 kg flour in 4 batches, alternating with the 3/4 cup water. Check the consistency of your dough to see how much more flour you need, you are aiming for a firm dough, I ended up using 250g more.
- Taking about a heaped tablespoon of dough at a time, form into a ball, slightly flatten, and make an indent with your thumb in the middle placing on a lined baking sheet. Repeat until all your cookies are shaped.
- Bake for 15-20 minutes. Remove from oven, they will be very pale, and let cool. Once cool, sift powdered sugar over the cookies until completely covered. Then, organize into pyramid formation, again sifting powdered sugar over every layer.