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!
1 1/2 cup oil (traditionally we use olive oil although over the years cooks have used a half-and-half mix 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
2 cups honey
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
1 1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 tbs cinnamon
1/2 tbs ground clove
Mix for 4 minutes at high speed the first 6 ingredients.
Mix the flour with the baking soda and baking powder in a large enough bowl.
Make an opening in the center and pour the liquid ingredients. Slowly mix the flour and liquid progressively, mixing well until you have a manageable dough.
Roll small pieces of dough in your hands to make a slightly-flattened oval (as in the picture) or roll out the dough and use a cookie cutter to make other shapes.
Place 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 the honey, sugar and water for 5 minutes. Be sure to skim off any foam that may form and let the syrup cool.
When the cookies come out of the oven, pour the warm (not hot!) syrup on top of them and let them soak for a few minutes until the syrup is absorbed. Then turn the cookies over and let them cool.
To garnish, mix the chopped walnuts with the cinnamon and the clove and sprinkle over each cookie one by one. Place the cookies on a large platter and cover with plastic wrap to keep them fresh. They should keep for a month without refrigeration.
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