Growing up in a close-knit Greek family within a strong Greek community makes a significant impact on your values, your beliefs and, of course, your ideas about food. As young children we were taught about kindness, generosity and hospitality. We learned that one way to show love and caring was to cook and bake and to then share what you had made with your family and friends.
Around the holidays, baking reigned supreme and our kitchen churned out cakes and pies and cookies, especially cookies, at breakneck speed. As children we were not permitted to visit another home without bringing along a platter of Greek Christmas cookies. And this is where things got interesting. As we started to venture out into the big, old, non-Greek world proudly offering homemade koulourakia, kourambiethes and melomakarona, we learned that what our parents called cookies were not what Jack and Jill’s parents called cookies. Our friends looked at our cookies quizzically and then led us into their kitchens where we were introduced to cookies called chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin, and peanut butter chunk! Their flattish, roundish sweets were delicious and perfect for dunking into a tall glass of milk. We felt confused, and slightly betrayed. Our parents are great cooks and great bakers, but they have never, ever, made a chocolate chip cookie and we don’t think that they have ever even tried peanut butter. Slightly bitter, we made our way home where we were immediately greeted with warm hugs and the smell of freshly baked Greek goods. A favourite was melomakarona. These spiced, honey soaked, and walnut topped cookies melted in our mouths and melted away any other-cookie envy.
This recipe makes approximately 100 cookies. We suppose that sometimes (although we actually can’t imagine when) this is too many cookies. If you need fewer cookies, you can easily half the recipe. Or, do what our parents do. Prior to being soaked in honey, these cookies keep very well, and for a very long time, refrigerated in a covered container. You can honey dip only the cookies you want to have immediately on hand and save the rest for another day. Those honey soaked cookies will keep for several weeks, in a covered container, at room temperature. That way, if you have last minute guests you will have something sweet to serve with your Greek coffee and you will feel super organized and pulled together.
Your other option for being prepared is to make the dough and keep it in the fridge. It will keep, covered, for several days (remember, there aren’t any perishable ingredients in there). When you are ready to do some baking, bring your dough to room temperature and re-knead it, in order to have the oil incorporated into the dough again.
Our parents use a couple of different techniques to create a pattern on top of each cookie before baking it, and some of their methods are stranger than others. The pattern you end up making is not so important because after the cookies are baked, soaked in honey and covered in the crushed walnut and sesame seed mixture, you won’t actually see it. That doesn’t mean it’s not important however. The ridges or indentations that you create will help to keep the crushed nuts and seeds sprinkled on top in place. Also, we sometimes like to eat the cookies naked, that is, without the honey soak and walnut topping. Naked cookies with a pattern just look fancier.
When reading through the ingredient list don’t balk at the amount of oil used, and please don’t question it. We have taken great pains to turn our parents’ cryptic notes into a recipe you can actually use, so trust us. Yes, it’s a lot…but remember that this recipe makes A LOT of cookies. If you do the math, each cookie only ends up with about 7 ml of oil. That’s less than half a tablespoon! Okay…it’s still a lot, but on the flip side, these cookies are almost vegan, which automatically makes them healthy…right?!
Our parents add cognac to their melomakarona. If you want to avoid alcohol, you can substitute the cognac for more orange juice.
In the recipe which follows the dough is mixed entirely by hand. You can probably use a mixer, but using your hands gives you a good feel for the dough as you slowly add the flour. It should not end up being a stiff dough, therefore it is easy to mix. Also, all that oil means that the dough is a bit greasy, making it very easy to clean off of your hands. In mixing the dough we use one hand to hold the bowl in place and the other hand to do the actual mixing. Spread the fingertips of your mixing hand across the bottom of the bowl and make circular movements. It is helpful if you have someone there to add the flour a bit at a time, but it’s not necessary.
Because of the ingredients in this dough, once everything is combined, you actually have to knead the mixture together as if you were making bread. Do this for several minutes, and you will see that the oil will be entirely incorporated in the flour and other ingredients. As you are shaping your melomakarona, and the dough sits unattended to, you may find that the oil is rising to the surface. That is okay; simply knead the dough again and continue.
We like to use a small ice cream scooper to portion out the dough for each cookie. This ensures that each cookie uses about 1 tablespoon of dough, and that all the melomakarona are the same size. In shaping the cookies, knead the dough in your hand and then roll it into a ball. Then, using your hands turn your ball into a oval shape, the length of about 2 1/2 inches. We use the width of the palm of our hand as a guide…but that only works if your hands are a certain size of course. 🙂
We think that one of the important factors in baking is the relationship you develop with your oven. That’s why the time to cook the cookies will vary depending upon how your oven works. In one of our homes, melomakarona are ready in 10 minutes; in the other’s, you need 15 minutes.
When it comes time to add the syrup to your cookies, you need to be sure that your cookies are entirely cool. This recipe will give you a cookie which is crisp on the outside, and soft on the inside; perfect for soaking. Because our parents use only honey to soak their cookies, the flavor of the melomakarona will alter somewhat, depending upon the honey used.
Use a small saucepan to add the syrup as you want to have some depth to the honey. A saucepan that fits 3 – 4 melomakarona at a time is ideal. Our parents like to soak their cookies in the honey for about 45 seconds. You can try this, and then adjust to your liking, either soaking them for longer or shorter amounts of time.
Looking for more festive treats? Check these out:
- 1 tablespoon grated orange rind (tightly packed)
- 1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (approximately 6 oranges)
- 3 cups vegetable oil
- 3 tablespoons honey
- 1/3 cup cognac
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3/4 cup crushed walnuts
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 8 cups all-purpose flour, sifted (plus more if required)
- 1 tablespoon + 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 1/4 teaspoons baking soda This amount for the syrup is for approximately 25 Melomakarona
- 1 cup honey
- 2 tablespoons boiling water
- 1 cup crushed walnuts
- 2 tablespoon sesame seeds
- Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
- In a large bowl combine the orange rind, orange juice, vegetable oil, honey, cognac, sugar, crushed walnuts, ground cloves, and ground cinnamon.
- In a smaller bowl mix together 3 cups of your sifted flour with the baking powder (the entire quantity) and baking soda. Mix well with a fork or wire whisk to combine. Add this flour mixture to the large bowl containing the previous ingredients.
- With your hands, mix everything together. Once everything is mixed well add the remaining flour, one cup at a time, mixing after each addition. You will end up with a dough which is somewhat greasy, not stiff, and with which you are able to form a ball that will keep it’s shape. You may need to add more sifted flour, in order to get your cookie dough to resemble the consistency pictured. If you do add more flour, add 1/4 cup at a time. Be sure to knead the dough very well, and for several minutes. This will ensure that all of the oil is incorporated into the flour.
- Taking one tablespoon of dough at a time form oval shaped cookies which you will flatten slightly so that they are approximately 1 centimeter thick. When shaping your cookies, knead the dough in your hand, make a ball, and then turn that ball into an oval shaped cookie which is about 2 1/2 inches long. Place them on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, leaving a one inch space between cookies. Using a fork, make a few indentations on top of each cookie.
- Bake in middle rack of oven for 10 – 15 minutes until the bottoms are golden brown.
- Remove from oven, let rest on baking sheet for about 1 – 2 minutes and then place cookies on cooling rack.
- Meanwhile, combine the crushed walnuts with the sesame seeds and mix well.
- Once your cookies are fully cooled, (we actually like let them cool overnight) heat in a small saucepan, one cup of honey. Once the honey has liquefied (which will happen when the honey is brought to a boil) carefully add 2 tablespoons of boiling water. Skim off any foam which may develop on surface of honey. Reduce heat to a very low simmer.
- Prepare a sheet of parchment paper near the stovetop. This is where you will place your honey dipped cookies. Sprinkle some of the walnut-sesame seed mixture onto the paper (this will keep the bottoms of the cookie from sticking to the parchment).
- Place as many cookies as will fit into the saucepan containing the honey. Let them soak for about 30 – 45 seconds. Depending upon the size of your saucepan, you may need to occasionally push down on them gently with a spoon if they are floating in the honey, in order to soak the entire cookie. Alternatively, you can use a spoon to carefully drizzle some honey on top of the cookies. You can also carefully flip them over. Remove from honey with a slotted spoon, place on parchment paper and while still hot sprinkle some of the walnut-sesame seed mixture over the top.
- Let cool. You can now place individual cookies in cupcake liners. This makes them easier to pick up and eat without getting your fingers too sticky. Enjoy!