I just love the winter holiday season. I have so many beautiful memories of this time of year, especially since we usually travel to meet my extended family and spend these festive days together. As always, there are lots of good meals, endless lively discussions, even playing cards.
I love the smells, the flavors, the special dishes, because, as everywhere, we have so many festive dishes in Greece. They're often sweet, like baklava, which we can enjoy here in the US in many Greek and Mediterranean restaurants. We also make kourambiés, special butter cookies coated with powdered sugar. But my childhood favorite is melomakarona, which we only make over the Christmas holidays. Made with olive oil, orange and spices, melomakarona are dipped in a honey syrup and sprinkled with chopped walnuts or pistachios.
Last Christmas I shared my mother's spanakopita recipe in this blog, so this year I thought it only appropriate to share her favorite melomakarona recipe. She wasn't ashamed to admit she had taken it from Vefa Alexiadou, the Greek Julia Child. Enjoy!
Ingredients for Greek Melomakarona
1 1/2 cup oil (traditionally we use olive oil, although some prefer a 50/50 blend of olive and sunflower oil to make the cookies a little lighter)
1/2 cup butter
1 cup sugar
3/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1/4 cup brandy or cognac
2 tsp orange zest
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
8 cups all purpose flour
For the syrup
2 cups honey
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
For the topping
1 1/2 cups chopped walnuts
1 tbsp cinnamon
1/2 tbsp ground clove
How to make Greek melomakarona
Preheat your oven to 350F.
Mix the first 6 ingredients for 4 minutes at high speed.
In a separate large mixing bowl, combine the flour with the baking soda and baking powder.
Make a crater in the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid ingredients. Slowly mix them well until you have a manageable dough (it will be a bit oily and shouldn’t stick to your hands).
Take a teaspoon and scoop out small pieces of dough and roll in your hands, shaping into a slightly-flattened oval (as in the picture), or roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter to make other shapes.
Place the cookies on a baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees for approximately 30 minutes, until the cookies are a nicely browned.
In the meantime, prepare the syrup by boiling together the honey, sugar and water for 5 minutes. Skim off any foam that may form and then let the syrup cool.
When the cookies come out of the oven, transfer them onto a plate and spoon over the warm (not hot!) syrup, letting the syrup soak for a few minutes until it’s fully absorbed. Let them cool completely.
Make the topping by mixing the chopped walnuts with the spices, and then sprinkle over each cookie.Transfer the melomakarona to individual paper or foil baking cups. They’ll keep fresh in a sealed container for up to a month.
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