With just a couple of days left until Christmas Eve, I finally finished boxing and cello wrapping trays of cookies. The pastries that require syrup I always make last—baklava, melamakarona and revani. By the time they will be consumed, the sugary liquid will have fully absorbed into the pastry, yet will still taste freshly made.

There are other pastries drenched in delicious syrup—ones I’ll share with you on another occasion—Karithopita, a cinnamon walnut cake. And Galaktoboureko, a semolina pastry cream, layered between fluffy phyllo dough.

But today, if you are looking to make a quick dessert, nothing could be easier than a pan of revani.

This ends my Christmas cookie blog posts for this year. If you are celebrating Christmas, I wish you a joyous and peaceful one. If you’ve already celebrated your holiday, I hope you had a very Happy Hanukkah. And for those celebrating other holidays this season, I hope the message of your holidays bring happiness to your lives.



1 1/3 cups flour

1 cup farina or semolina

8 eggs

¾ cup sugar

2 teaspoons baking powder

½ teaspoon salt

2 teaspoons vanilla

Zest of 1 orange


Preheat oven to 350°

Combine flour, farina, baking powder and salt. Beat sugar and eggs with a mixer. Mix in vanilla and orange zest. Slowly add the farina mixture and mix through. Pour batter in a buttered 11x 14-inch baking pan and bake 35 minutes. The cake should take on a light golden color. While the cake is baking, prepare the syrup.


4 cups water

3 cups sugar

1 cinnamon stick

1-2 slices of orange rind

Juice from ½ orange.

Add all ingredients into a pot. Boil for 10 minutes and simmer for another 10 minutes.

The juice from the orange is optional. I decided to put the orange juice in the syrup so not to waste the orange I took the zest from. The cake had a more intense orange flavor than usual. If you only wish to have only a hint of orange flavor, omit the juice and use only the rind.

After the cake has cooled a bit, cut it into serving size squares or diamonds. Pour the warm syrup over the cake and let it absorb the syrup before serving.






The Linzer tart cookie is one of the newest additions to my assortment of cookies I make during this holiday season. Originally, I made heart-shaped ones for Valentine’s Day, dipping the corner in chocolate and garnishing with pink and red nonpareils. When people asked me when I would be making them again, I decided to make them for Christmas along with all the other cookies and pastries I already make.

The Linzer tart originated in Linz, Austria, hence the name. Typically, the dough is made with finely ground almonds, and the filling is raspberry preserve.

Cheffie’s version is a little different. I’m not fond of raspberry, but give me anything with cherries and I’m happy. You can use blueberry, or mixed berry, or whatever you like, but I make them with cherry preserves.

The other difference is that I use finely ground pecans—just my little way of changing it up to make it interesting. The combination of the cherries and the pecans is divine.

So now it can be said that my box of cookies fully represents my nuclear family, and my husband can’t tease me that everything is Greek only. Ray is three-quarters Italian, and I make his mother’s Italian wedding cookies. The Linzer tart cookies represent his one-quarter German. But the rest is ALL GREEK!

 Linzer Tart Cookies

 16 ounces pecans

1 cup cornstarch

6 sticks unsalted butter, softened

2 cups confectioner’s sugar

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

1 ½ teaspoon salt

2 large eggs

5½ cups flour

Cherry preserves

Preheat oven to 325°

In a food processor, pulse pecans and cornstarch until pecans are finely ground.

In a large bowl, beat butter and sugar until blended, about 2 minutes. Add vanilla, salt, and eggs. Slowly add flour and then the pecan mixture until fully blended. Divide into 6 balls. Flatten each ball into a disc and wrap in saran wrap. Refrigerate for at least1 hour.

On a floured surface, roll out cookie dough and cut out desired shape with a cookie cutter, making equal amounts of tops and bottoms. The tops have the extra cutout in the middle.

Bake about 17 minutes. The edges should just be starting to golden a bit, but the cookie should not brown. Cool on a wire rack. Spread cherry preserves on bottom half of cookie and place top half carefully over the preserves. When each one is assembled, dust powdered sugar generously on each cookie.

Yields about 40 cookies




Yesterday, I began to assemble trays and boxes of my cookies and pastries to hand out to neighbors, friends and others that I am in contact with during the course of the year.

In the past, I filled each tray or box exactly the same, but this year, each package was just a little different. About a month ago, I began to get little reminders from my friends as to which cookie was their favorite. None of my “Xeno” friends could pronounce any of the treats I’ve gifted to them, so they describe them to me instead. Richie told me he wants plenty of the ones with the sesame seeds – (koulourakia). Jo at work said she’s waiting for the revani. Maureen, the doctor I work with said the ones with the clove in the middle and drenched in syrup is her favorite – (melamakarona). And Ron down the block wants baklava — all the time. Every time he sees me — not just for Christmas.

Baklava is one of my quick and easy desserts to make. Most people think it’s difficult to make, but it’s quite simple, especially when you buy the packaged phyllo. I rarely make anything that is not completely from scratch, but rolling out dough as thin as paper would take all day.

My friend, a very talented chef, Krystina Kalapothakos, recently told me she was making her own phyllo. Youth and patience – that’s all it takes! Krystina’s blog is She has some amazing recipes on it. And if that isn’t enough, she just finished writing her first cookbook, Back To My Roots.

There’s plenty more trays to be assembled, so you’ll have to wait and see what else I’ve baked this season.

~ Baklava ~



1 pound finely chopped walnuts

½ cup sugar

1 tablespoon cinnamon


1 package phyllo dough

1½ cups unsalted butter, melted


1½ cups honey

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Orange rind and 2 tablespoons juice from orange

2 cinnamon sticks

*Don’t be intimidated by the phyllo. It does dry fast so you need to work quickly. Most people like to cover it with a damp towel. This doesn’t work for me. I find it gets mushy and the leaves stick together. I just keep some Saran wrap on top of it. The regular long size phyllo is great when I double the recipe and make a large pan. (The size of a full size sterno pan) If you find the shorter phyllo sheets, a 9x 13 pan works perfectly. I use a Pyrex baking dish and it works beautifully.

Combine the filling ingredients in a bowl and set aside.

Brush the inside of the pan with some melted butter to coat. Lay two phyllo sheets in the pan. Brush the phyllo with butter using a pastry brush. Repeat three times. The bottom layer will have eight sheets in all. Spread one third of the filling onto the phyllo. Lay two sheets on top of the filling and brush with melted butter. Repeat two more times. Spread another third of the filling on the phyllo. Lay two sheets of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat two times. Spread the last third of filling on the phyllo and cover with two sheets of phyllo. Repeat three more times. The top and bottom layers should have eight sheets. The layers in between the filling should have six sheets and there should be three layers of filling.

Carefully score the baklava into squares, and then cut each square into two triangles. This must be done before baking or the top layers will crumble if you try to cut them after baking. If you have any leftover butter, drizzle it over the top before baking. Bake at 350° for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 300° and bake for an additional 30 minutes. The top layer should be golden brown.

While the Baklava is baking, combine all the ingredients for the syrup in a pot. When it reaches a boil, lower to a simmer. Simmer for twenty minutes.

The syrup should be cooled if you are pouring it over hot pastry, or the pastry should be cooled if the syrup is hot. I prefer to have both slightly warm when I pour the syrup. Let the syrup absorb into the baklava for a day before serving.




Koulourakia – Christmas Cookie Marathon


With friends, neighbors and colleagues anticipating a cookie delivery from “Pastries by Effie,” I’m receiving a lot of inquiries as to what might be in the trays and boxes I gift out.

Everyone seems to have a favorite. “I hope you’re making the ones with the powdered sugar.” “There better be extra baklava in there for me.” “Last year my husband ate all the linzer tart cookies and he didn’t leave any for me.”

Koulourakia, a simple butter cookie, and a perfect pair with a cup of tea or coffee, is a “fan favorite.” I love them myself at the end of the evening with a cup of tea on the sofa while I unwind with a good book. In a rush, I’ve also been known to grab a few as a quick breakfast to nibble on in the car on my drive to work.

Naturally, I can’t help but think of my mother when I make koulorakia. I always wanted to help her, but she gave me the “boring” job of zesting the oranges and squeezing the juice, or beating the eggs. I wanted to form the cookies. But Mom was so fussy and wanted them perfect. She would give me a small mound of dough to practice with, but it wasn’t until I was much older that she let me make them.

Now, I just laugh when my own girls try to form the cookies and I tell them it just takes practice!



Pre-heat oven to 350º


8 cups flour

3 tablespoons baking powder

Juice and zest from 1 large orange

1 dozen large eggs

4 cups sugar

1 pound unsalted butter, softened

1 additional egg

Sesame seeds

In a bowl, mix together the flour and baking powder. Set aside. In a separate bowl, mix together eggs, sugar, orange juice and zest. In a large bowl, cream butter. Add the egg mixture to the butter, blending well. Mix in the flour. Form into a dough that can be worked without sticking to your hands. If necessary, add more flour. Form into small braid-like twists, circles, and S’s. Lightly beat an egg with 1 teaspoon of water. Brush the egg mixture onto each cookie and sprinkle sesame seeds. Bake for approx. 20 minutes. Yields approximately 120 cookies.



The holidays can be a season of bittersweet memories. It’s a time of joy and happiness — a time to count our blessings and to be thankful for all that we have, and for the people we have in our lives. But there are moments when we reflect on all the people we’ve lost, and who are no longer with us to share in the traditions as they once had.

It’s impossible for me not to think of my mother when I’m making hundreds of Greek cookies, using the recipes she passed down to me. It’s as though it were yesterday when she was correcting my technique on how to shape the cookies in just the way she wanted them, or showing me how to know when they were ready to come out of the oven.

Tradition is what keeps our loved ones alive. Through the generations, we pass down their words, advice, customs and recipes.

I don’t remember my late mother-in-law to be a big baker. My sister-in-law, Donna, is the baker in my husband’s family. But I do remember that she made a cookie that I loved, and I had asked her for the recipe. I still have the original handwritten one she gave me, although now, splattered with vanilla, flour and butter. She called these cookies Pecan Balls. They are the quickest and easiest of cookies to make, and since people seemed to love them, I added them to my Christmas cookie platters.

So, I’d later learned that the cookie was actually a traditional Italian cookie, which made sense, since my husband’s mother was Sicilian. Even though she referred to them as Pecan Balls, I knew they had to have an Italian name. I searched the Internet and I could not find one. However, every site with a similar recipe called them Italian Wedding Cookies.

So as my dad likes to say, “That’s the story.”

Pecan Balls or Italian Wedding Cookies


1 pound unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

4 teaspoons vanilla extract

4 cups finely ground pecans

4 cups flour

Preheat oven to 300º

Cream the butter and sugar. Add the vanilla, nuts and flour. Shape into a mini meatball size. Bake for 30 minute on a parchment lined baking sheet. Cool on a wire rack. Sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar.

Yields approximately 90 cookies

Kourabeithes – The Christmas Cookie Marathon Begins!




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

2 eggs

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.