Today I am getting my Greek on. I have exactly zero Mediterranean blood in my veins, but I have some in my heart. This thanks to my favorite Greek friends, who are warm and sometimes fiery; they are generous in spirit, passionate in their beliefs and above all FUN.
One of my faves recently enlisted my son in making a mega batch of traditional Greek cookies, Koulourakia. Seeing them in the kitchen together via Facetime, working on the cookie-production line, made me smile. It reminded me of being in the kitchen with my own mom.
As we have documented here on this blog, Nina was not invested in cooking unless the cooking was collateral necessity for some messy crafting or shenanigans that brought together kids or grandkids. Despite her own holiday baking ennui, she encouraged us to pursue our own culinary itches, which were usually things that bore little resemblance to the magazine pictures that had inspired us. Cases in point: rock-hard pretzels from ZOOM (the show not the app), a gloppy soft cheese “pine cone” flavored with bacon bits and studded with almonds, dentally challenging popcorn balls, and so, so many more.
My point is….Nina had her priorities straight. Our holiday kitchen experiments brought us together in one place. The only really important part about the holidays are the people—the family you are born into and the family you grow into. If you’re living a rich life, that family ends up being big and varied and sprinkled all over the country, if not the globe.
That is why seeing the kitchen production half a country away inspired me to try out the Koulourakia recipe I’ve been eyeing (and trying to pronounce) for quite a while. The cookies did not disappoint and will be a holiday staple here. They are sturdy, keep well, travel well and as a bonus are both nut-free and Vegan. They’re low-key addictive—not quite as sweet as a cookie, and less of a commitment than a muffin, making them the perfect late morning or mid-afternoon accompaniment to a cup of something comforting. Book group? Cookie exchange? Hostess gift? Holiday snack arsenal for unexpected guests? Yes and yes on down the line.
There are admittedly many versions of Koulourakia, using seasonal flavors and sweeteners, or butter vs olive oil. I went with Mina Stone’s favorite orange- and cinnamon-flavored version, from her book Lemon, Love and Olive Oil, (purchased at the always magical Woody’s Mercantile). She does the pro option of brushing the tops with honey water and pressing the cookies in sesame seeds. Other versions skip the honey wash and simply roll the rope in sesame seeds before forming the cookies into a circle. You do you, preferably in a messy kitchen with good company and an excellent playlist!
From Lemon, Love and Olive Oil
The Wet Ingredients:
- 1/2 cup (120 ml) light olive oil or vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup tahini (120 ml)
- 1 cup (240 ml) orange juice
- 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
The Dry Ingredients:
- 4 cups (480g) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoons baking soda
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 Tbsp honey
- ½ cup water
- ½ cup sesame seeds
Preheat the oven to 350 °F, 180 °C
Line 2-3 baking trays with parchment paper.
Make the Cookie Dough:
- Combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk them together.
- Combine all of the wet ingredients in a large bowl and whisk them together. Add the dry ingredients in 2-3 batches and whisk together. Switch to a spatula and mix until a smooth soft dough, adding another spoonful of flour if it’s too sticky. Cover loosely with a towel and set aside to rest for 20 minutes.
Make the Cookies:
- Take about a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball. Roll the ball into a 5-inch (12-13 cm) long rope. Shape it into an S or into a circle.
- Dissolve 1 Tbsp honey in 1 cup water. Form the cookies on the baking tray, brush tops with honey/water mixture then press each cookie into sesame seeds and replace on sheet. Alternatively, roll the rope in the sesame and then place on the prepared baking pan.
- Bake the cookies 13-15 minutes, until golden brown on the bottom and lightly toasted on top). Cool on rack.
- Transfer the cookies to cookie jars or to an airtight container and store at room temperature up to 2 weeks.
Serve with cozy bevvie of choice, or go full Greek and shake up a cold frappe. It’s totally a thing.