MORE THAN A COOKIE

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Sometimes, a cookie is not as simple as it seems to be. Sometimes, it’s a symbol, a rite of passage or a measure in time. This sounds silly, right? You’re thinking Effie’s been up too many late hours writing novels or cooking up new recipes. Let me explain. Several years ago, quite accidently, I started making cookie favors for special occasions. In an earlier post, I showcased the wedding cakes and dresses I made for a bridal shower. It had become a word of mouth side business for me, one that I ended a few years ago when I began to write Evanthia’s Gift. These particular cookies are very labor intensive and I simply had no time to continue taking orders. I did, however, make them on occasions for family and close friends.

A few weeks ago, one of my past customers, who also happens to work with my sister, asked her if I still make the cookie favors. Her daughter was graduating high school and she wanted favors to give out at the party they were throwing her.

Normally, I would have said no, but when I heard it was for Brianna, I told my sister to tell her coworker that I would be happy to make them. I made Brianna’s First Communion cross-shaped cookies, and when her father came home from serving our country, I was commissioned to make ribbon-shaped cookie favors for his welcome home party. It’s hard to believe that Brianna is already graduating high school.

Each one of these cookies marked a major event in Brianna’s life. Maybe someday, I’ll be asked to do her wedding cookies, or ones to commemorate passing her medical boards. Maybe even the Presidential seal cookies. Who knows where Brianna’s dreams will take her.

To all the graduating classes of 2016, congratulations and may you all help to make this world a better place. We’re counting on you!

 Step by step instructions on making cookie favors *warning – patience needed

Step one

The obvious—The cookies have to be baked. You can use any recipe you like, but make sure it is a recipe without baking powder or baking soda. The dough needs to be firm enough to retain the shape. You don’t want the dough to spread or rise. Below is the recipe I use. They yield around 30 – 38 cookies depending on the size of the cookie cutter.

6 ounces cream cheese

1 pound butter, softened

2 cups sugar

5 cups flour

1 teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon cinnamon

2 egg yolks, lightly beaten

2 teaspoons vanilla

Mix flour, salt and cinnamon in a bowl – set aside. In a large bowl, cream the butter and cream cheese. Add the sugar gradually. On medium speed, beat in eggs and add vanilla. Slowly add the dry mixture until fully blended. Form dough into four balls, wrap in saran wrap and flatten into discs. Refrigerate for one hour. Line baking sheets with parchment paper and pre-heat oven to 350°. Roll out the dough to ¼ inch thickness and cut out to desired shape. Bake for 10 – 12 minutes. Cookies should still be white – just beginning to turn color. The edges should not be brown. Cool on a baking rack.

Step two

You will need:

2 – 3 pounds fondant

Clear piping gel

Powdered sugar

2 pastry brushes

The icing or fondant. Most bakers pour icing onto the surface of the cookies, let them dry and then decorate them. This is certainly a choice, but I prefer to use fondant. By rolling out fondant and using the cookie cutter, I get a clean, neat edge. Fondant can be purchased in many colors or you can color white fondant using icing color gels. Fondant has a taffy-like consistency. However, if left exposed, it will dry up quickly. I cut a chunk and place the rest in a zip-lock bag. I microwave the fondant for 7 seconds when I am ready to roll it out. By doing this, it softens it up, making it easier to roll it thin. Make sure you sprinkle powdered sugar on the rolling surface and the rolling pin to avoid sticking. Use the cookie cutter to cut out the shapes. Place the excess in the zip-lock while you apply the fondant to the cookie. With a pastry brush, apply the piping gel on the top surface of the cookie and place the cutout fondant over it. With the unused pastry brush, remove excess powdered sugar. Line up all the cookies on a work surface lined with either tinfoil or wax paper.

*Hint – This step goes a lot faster with two people. One person can roll out and cut out the fondant. The other person can apply the piping gel and lay the cut out fondant onto the cookie.

**Save some fondant for decorating. You can roll out dough and use tiny cutters to decorate your cookies. Stars, flowers, leafs, shapes, etc. can be cut out and adhered with royal icing. You can use royal icing and make flowers with various tips, but if you are not talented with a pastry bag the fondant cutouts are a great alternative.

Step three

Decorating. Whether you choose to decorate with royal icing or with fondant cutouts, you will need to make a batch of royal icing. This icing hardens like glue and will hold whatever you use to decorate your cookie. You may want to pipe the border of each cookie using a #1 or #2 tip, or you may use a flower, leaf or star tip. If you are simply using the icing to adhere fondant shapes to the cookie, a #2 or 3 is fine.

Royal icing – 1 pound powdered sugar, 3 tablespoons meringue powder, 6 tablespoons warm water. Mix for 8 minutes. Keep in an airtight container when not in use.

When your decorating fun is complete, let the cookies dry for a day. The next day, I like to brush each cookie with an edible pearl glitter. It really looks beautiful, especially on bridal dresses and wedding cakes.

Step four

Wrapping. Take my advice on this one—if you can get someone to help you, do it! This is the most tedious part of the process. But, with a friend and some good conversation, the job is done before you know it! Get some cello bags, the ribbons of your choice and design some occasion tags on your computer.

*Buy the bags and bows on the Internet. I use Nashville wraps. Their prices are most reasonable and they have a huge selection.

COUNTDOWN OVER! TONIGHT IS ANASTASIA – GREEK EASTER – RECIPE FOR KOULOURAKIA

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The day has finally come! Tonight is Anastasi—the night Orthodox Christians around the world celebrate the resurrection. After forty days of lent and another week for Holy Week, the wait is finally over. In between our normal daily routines, we’ve spent each evening this week attending solemn church services, as well as cooking and baking for the Easter celebration.

Tonight we shed our sadness of the crucifixion and rejoice, and no one does it better than the Greeks! Thousands will be out in the streets holding candles while the priest shouts out to the masses, “Christos Anesti – Christ has risen!

Afterward, the celebration will continue by consuming all the food that was prepared all week. It doesn’t matter that it’s two in the morning, or that some people may have lost a few inches of hair to the flaming candle behind them, they will eat until the wee hours of the morning.

Mayaritsa (traditional Easter soup), an array of cheeses, dolmathes, spanakopita, pastitsio – too much food to name. And each region of Greece has its own specialties.

After a few hours of sleep, family and friends gather the next day on Easter Sunday to continue the celebration. From the reverence for the holy days to the celebration after, the Greek spirit is evident. There is a joy and passion we call Kefi. It’s a love and appreciation for life.

Koulourakia

 

Pre-heat oven to 350º

Ingredients

9 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.

LINZER TART COOKIES – CHRISTMAS COOKIE MARATHON

 

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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

 

Koulourakia – Christmas Cookie Marathon

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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!

Koulourakia

 

Pre-heat oven to 350º

Ingredients

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.