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.

Kourabeithes – The Christmas Cookie Marathon Begins!

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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.

Kourabeithes

* 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.

Ingredients

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.

Baklava & The Release of EVANTHIA’S GIFT

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With the release of my debut novel, EVANTHIA’S GIFT, I will be reposting recipes that are mentioned in the story. Food always plays an important role in the lives of the Greek people, and for this reason, I’ve included a few recipes within the novel. Below is an excerpt where baklava is mentioned in one of the chapters.

“For Valentine’s Day she baked a delicious batch of baklava, while daydreaming how Dean would lick the sticky phyllo and walnuts off her fingertips, and she would kiss the rest of the honey off his irresistible lips.”

EVANTHIA’S GIFT is available on Amazon in print or on kindle.

Baklava

Filling

1 pound finely chopped walnuts

½ cup sugar

1tablespoon cinnamon

Pastry

1 package phyllo dough

1-½ cups melted unsalted butter

Syrup

1-½ cups honey

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Orange rind and 2 tablespoons juice from orange

2 cinnamon sticks

First, don’t be intimidated by the phyllo. It does dry fast so you need to work quickly. I’ve seen it suggested that covering the phyllo with a damp towel would keep it from drying or flaking. This doesn’t work for me—it makes the dough mushy. I keep Saran wrap on top of the sheets I am not working with. 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 the smaller pan fits perfectly with the sheet size. I use a Pyrex baking dish and it works beautifully.

Method

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 more times. The bottom layer will have eight sheets in all. Spread 1/3 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 1/3 of the filling on the phyllo. Lay two sheets of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat two times. Spread the last 1/3 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, cut the baklava into squares and then cut each square diagonally to form 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 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 300 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Check the color after the first 30 minutes. If the top is golden, and the color is where it should be, lay foil on top to keep it from getting too dark. Do not wrap; just lay it on top.

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 over hot pastry, or the pastry should be cooled and the syrup can be hot. I prefer the have both slightly warm when I pour the syrup. I like to let the syrup absorb into the baklava for a day before I serve or wrap for gift platters.

This is actually one of the easiest pastries to make. Once you get a feel for handling the phyllo it’s a breeze.

Baklava

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Tonight I finished the last of my holiday baking. It’s been quite a week or so trying to fit the baking in between my job, gift shopping and wrapping and all the other obligations that consume my day. But It’s done! I spent the better part of the evening making baklava and revani. Tomorrow, I’ll begin to put the many platters of pastries together.

I do wish for each of you for your holidays to be filled with laughter and the makings of happy memories with family and friends. For me, the next two weeks will be busy visiting and entertaining cherished friends and my wonderful extended family—and that is truly what makes this season special.

Baklava

Filling

1 pound finely chopped walnuts

½ cup sugar

1tablespoon cinnamon

Pastry

1 package phyllo dough

1-½ cups melted unsalted butter

Syrup

1-½ cups honey

2 cups sugar

2 cups water

Orange rind and 2 tablespoons juice from orange

2 cinnamon sticks

First, don’t be intimidated by the phyllo. It does dry fast so you need to work quickly. I’ve seen it suggested that covering the phyllo with a damp towel would keep it from drying or flaking. This doesn’t work for me—it makes the dough mushy. I keep Saran wrap on top of the sheets I am not working with. 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 the smaller pan fits perfectly with the sheet size. I use a Pyrex baking dish and it works beautifully.

Method

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 more times. The bottom layer will have eight sheets in all. Spread 1/3 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 1/3 of the filling on the phyllo. Lay two sheets of phyllo and brush with melted butter. Repeat two times. Spread the last 1/3 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, cut the baklava into squares and then cut each square diagonally to form 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 degrees for 30 minutes, then lower temperature to 300 degrees and bake for an additional 30 minutes. Check the color after the first 30 minutes. If the top is golden, and the color is where it should be, lay foil on top to keep it from getting too dark. Do not wrap; just lay it on top.

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 over hot pastry, or the pastry should be cooled and the syrup can be hot. I prefer the have both slightly warm when I pour the syrup. I like to let the syrup absorb into the baklava for a day before I serve or wrap for gift platters.

This is actually one of the easiest pastries to make. Once you get a feel for handling the phyllo it’s a breeze.

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Koulourakia – A Traditional Greek Christmas Cookie

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These traditional Greek Christmas cookies are one of my favorites. Plain, but delicious, they are great with a cup of tea or coffee. Forming each cookie is the longest part of the process, however, they are one of the simplest cookies to make. If you have any leftover after the holidays, don’t hesitate to freeze them. They taste just as good when thawed.

I remember watching my mother make these cookies and asking to help her. For years, I only got to do the “grunt work”—Juicing the oranges or cracking and beating the eggs. She didn’t trust that I would form the shapes to her standards. But I learned from watching and eventually she let me do the “fun” part. And now I carry on the tradition she set for our family and pass it down to my own children.

Koulourakia

Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

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 to room temperature

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, blending well. Mix in the flour. Form a dough that can be worked without sticking to your hands. If necessary, add more. Roll 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.

Ready to go into the oven.

                                           Ready to go into the oven.