December’s here again, and that means it’s time to get in the kitchen and make these wonderfully seasonal Greek Christmas cookies, kourabiedes.
I absolutely love kourabiedes – that’s why I featured them in the new Greek Detective short story The Demons of December (I believe Hermes may be partial to them too).
Actually less cookie and more shortbread but with a uniquely Greek flavour, they’re really easy to make – so easy they’d be great fun to do with the kids or grandkids (though the icing sugar could get messy). And when they’re done, they’re pretty and perfect for packaging as gifts or sharing round the neighbours – which is what Christmas is all about. So tie on your apron, put on your favourite Christmas CD and get baking!
The amounts given will make about 20 cookies – if you want to make more (and why wouldn’t you?), just double everything up.
75g flaked almonds
80g icing (powdered) sugar
250g butter, well chilled
350g plain (all-purpose) flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 egg yolk
half tbsp flavouring – rosewater, orange flower water, ouzo or brandy (or a combination of these)
1 tsp vanilla essence
few drops almond essence (if you have it to hand)
extra icing sugar for coating the finished kourabiedes (see photo above)
1. Turn on the oven and set to 375F or 190C.
2. Prepare the almonds. They will add texture and depth of flavour to your kourabiedes. Spread them out on a baking sheet and bake near the top of the oven. Keep checking them after ten minutes and turn them over a couple of times. You’re aiming for them to be lightly toasted and pale golden brown. You can toast them in a microwave but take great care and process them for only 20/30 seconds at a time – they have a high oil content which makes them prone to burning. When the almonds are toasted, allow to cool slightly before blitzing to a fine powder in a food processor (or go mother-in-law old school and chop them as fine as you can).
They should look something like this:
3. Whisk the butter and icing sugar together. This is far easier in a food processor but again, you can go old school if you wish and do it by hand. The idea is to create a mound of pale yellow lusciousness which might take as long as ten minutes even in a processor. If you are doing this in a warm kitchen (as most of us do), you may find your butter quickly goes soft – if it looks as if it is actually melting, stop whisking and go on to the next stage. The quality of your cookies won’t be drastically affected.
4. Mix in the vanilla and almond oil if you’re using it, followed by your chosen flavouring(s). Rosewater (as used in The Demons of December) and orange flour water give the lightest touch of scent; ouzo and brandy are traditional. If you’re using two flavours, don’t double the quantities of liquid, add just a quarter tablespoon of each.
5. Mix in the egg yolk and the almonds.
6. Add the baking powder and about two thirds of the flour and blitz until mixed or stir well. At this stage, make a judgement on the consistency of your mixture. You’re aiming for a soft but not sticky dough. Continue adding flour until it’s a consistency you can shape easily. If 350g flour isn’t quite enough, add a little more.
7. Shape the dough and place on a non-stick baking sheet or a sheet covered with baking parchment. If you want to make traditional round cookies, roll it into balls slightly larger than a golf ball. You can also roll the dough out very gently and use cookie cutters to make stars or anything else which takes your fancy. Leave a little room for spreading between the cookies.
8. Bake for about 10 minutes. Again, you’re aiming for golden brown. If the cookies aren’t quite ready, give them a few more minutes but make sure they don’t burn.
9. While the cookies are baking, prepare a bowl of icing sugar for dipping.
10. Cool slightly, but while the cookies are still warm, brush each one on both sides with one of the flavourings (I used rosewater again) and dip into the icing sugar, coating it generously. If you’ve made special shapes, handle them very carefully at this stage as they’re fragile and it’s easy to lose a point or two off your stars (the voice of experience here).
11. When all the cookies have been dipped, do them all again so the icing sugar is thick. This is where you’ll be thinking they’re in need of edible glitter. Go for it.
Author of the Mysteries of the Greek Detective, books with a touch of mythology set in almost-contemporary Greece, and featuring lots of fabulous Greek food.
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