Once again, I have turned my home into a cookie factory. I remember my mother baking traditional Greek pastries and cookies to gift to friends and neighbors. Mom always took pride in whatever she cooked or baked, and she taught me that the most important ingredient was not the flour, butter or eggs, it was the love you poured into your food.
I carried on my mother’s tradition, using her recipes and “hugging and kissing” my food as she instructed. Over the years, I’ve given out hundreds of boxes and trays of cookies to classroom teachers, music teachers, dance and gymnastic teachers, and classroom aides. My children are grown now, but I continue to give them to friends, family, doctors, neighbors, and coworkers.
I typically make about seven or eight different types of cookies/pastries – about 200 of each. For me to do this, along with working, writing, shopping, and decorating, I need to be very organized.
The one thing I don’t want to do is to lose sight of the reason behind the holidays. This season shouldn’t be a time of stress. It should be a time of joy. A season where we enjoy family and friends – maybe lend a hand to someone in need – show a little extra kindness and reflect on how that can be carried out throughout the year.
It saddens me that we work ourselves to exhaustion for that one day or eight days for some of my friends, but then feel let down in the end. It’s not that the gifts weren’t good or the gathering with family wasn’t fun. We were let down because we didn’t enjoy the journey of the whole season. 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. If you enjoy the whole season, you will appreciate the day itself.
Often, when I see old friends and they reminisce about coming to my home when we were children, one memory always comes to mind—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.
Today was my day to make mom’s 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 that she did. These cookies are easy to make, taste just as good after freezing and thawing, and they’re a proven 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 pounds unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons Crisco shortening
16 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, and mix well. In a separate bowl, beat eggs and sugar. Add it to the butter mixture, and continue mixing. 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.