Originally, made this entry during the holiday season of 2010. I think I mentioned at Thanksgiving that my family is imbedded in tradition and I don’t think that’s about to change, nor do I want it to.
This time of year my home turns into a cookie factory. Each Christmas, my mother baked traditional Greek pastries and cookies and gave them out to friends and neighbors. I carried on that tradition—times ten! When my girls were in grade school there were so many people to give gifts to—classroom teachers, music teachers, dance and gymnastic teachers, and classroom aides. Honestly, the last thing any of them needed was another mug or #1 teacher paperweight, so I gave each teacher a tray of Greek cookies. They were unique and not at all like the usual Christmas cookies they’ received in the past. I continued this right through the girls’ high school years, even though there were several teachers to remember.
In order to bake the number of cookies I do in such a short amount of time, I need to stay focused and organized. I don’t want to loose sight of the reason and feeling behind the holidays. I don’t want the baking, decorating and shopping to become a chore. I want it to be something to look forward to and to enjoy with my family. It saddens me that we work ourselves to exhaustion for that one day or even eight days for some of my friends, but then we feel let down in the end. It’s not that the gifts weren’t good or the gathering with family wasn’t fun. We are let down because we didn’t enjoy the journey of the whole season and after all the planning and preparing, it was over in the blink of an eye. I like to watch corny Hallmark Christmas movies while I bake and wrap gifts. I choose less crowded times to shop and enjoy finding the perfect gift for each person. Driving through my neighborhood is like being on the set of a Christmas movie. Each home is beautifully decorated, and I love driving around blasting Christmas music. I think if you enjoy the whole season, you will appreciate the day itself.
Whenever I see old friends or someone mentions my mom and coming to our home when we were children, it seems that the same comment is made across the board—Those cookies your mom made with the powdered sugar were my favorite. To this day I get requests to make them or to share the recipe. Yesterday, I kicked off my baking marathon by making the famous Kourabeithes—butter cookies with crushed toasted almonds, blanketed in powdered sugar. My husband’s family calls them Petedespina cookies, named after My Aunt Despina and Uncle Pete who made platters of these cookies for each table at my wedding. You’ll find these cookies in a few shapes—crescents, discs (like my mom made them), or pyramid shaped. Aunt Despina made the pyramids and I always liked that shape the best, so although I use my mom’s recipe, I don’t make them the same shape she did. These cookies are easy to make, taste just as good after freezing and thawing, and they’re a crowd pleaser. This recipe yields about 140 cookies.
* Do this prep work ahead
Let butter sit out at room temperature
Toast almonds in oven for about 15 minutes at 350 degrees. Cool.
Zest and juice one orange.
2 lbs.-unsalted butter
2 tablespoons Crisco shortening
12 ounces slivered almonds, toasted and crushed
1 teaspoon vanilla
Zest and juice of 1 orange
4 tablespoons baking powder
4 tablespoons sugar
5 pound bag of flour
Rose water (optional)
Cream butter and Crisco shortening. Add crushed almonds. Add zest, juice, vanilla and baking powder. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar, then add to the butter mixture. Add half the flour and mix well. Keep adding flour and mix with your hands until you get soft dough that can form a shape and not stick to your hands. You may not necessarily use the whole bag of flour. Shape into circle, crescent, or pyramid (similar to a Hershey kiss). Bake at 450 degrees until tops just begin to get slight golden color. The cookies should still be somewhat pale when you take them out. The amount of time in the oven will depend on the shape. I would say about 12- 18 minutes. The kiss shape takes the longest. Sprinkle with rosewater if you choose to use it. Cover the cookies with powdered sugar.
These freeze great. If you want to make weeks ahead, store them in a large container and freeze. Do not sprinkle with rosewater or powdered sugar until thawed.