Koulourakia (Κουλουράκια)

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When our girls were little and we returned to work after blissfully long (but not long enough!), maternity leaves, we were blessed to have them cared for by our parents.  We would drop sleepy children off at their place in the morning and, after settling in to work, we would call our parents to make sure everything was okay.  The morning report we received would often go something like this:

Either of our parents: She (grand-daughter # 1, 2, 3 or 4) wasn’t that hungry for breakfast.  I hope she is feeling well. I’m quite worried. She only ate half her egg, two pieces of toast, a banana and she only drank one glass of milk. 

Either of us: Hmmm…well, that sounds alright.  She IS only 4 years old.

Either of our parents: Yes, well she has to eat, otherwise her stomach will close (this sounds much more ominous in Greek).  At least she ate 9 koulourakia when she first arrived.

If you try these cookies, you will understand our girls; these koulourakia are mildly addictive.  Although there are many Greek cookies, and many variations of what are collectively referred to as koulourakia, we like this recipe because it is simple, and sometimes, simple is nice.  This is a traditional Easter cookie baked to help celebrate the end of lent, and the arrival of spring.  These cookies are firm on the outside, but soft and almost cake-like on the inside; a substantive cookie that keeps well, especially stored in the fridge.  They are perfect as a school or work snack, a late night nibble, and of course, as a pre-breakfast breakfast.

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Helpful hints:

This recipe makes a LOT of koulourakia (between 140 – 160 depending on the size).  If you don’t want to make quite so many, you can half the recipe.  Permit us to suggest however, that instead of making fewer koulourakia, gather a few families and make an event out of it.  Because making koulourakia takes several hours, the company and extra hands will be welcome, and it is a wonderful way to get children involved in the kitchen.  At the end of your lovely time together, the families can split the cookies.  You can, of course, decide to make the complete batch yourself. Although koulourakia can be left in a covered container at room temperature for a few days, after that you can keep any extras in the refrigerator where they will stay fresh for a long time.

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We think that the best way to eat koulourakia is with something to dunk them into. Whether it is Greek coffee, xeno non-Greek coffee, tea or milk, this is the perfect dunking cookie.

There are many ways to shape koulourakia, some traditional and others more original. Choose what you like! Encourage your kids to make whatever they think looks beautiful! Experiment!  Our only advice would be to try and keep each tray of cookies similar in the size to one another, so that they bake evenly.

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These koulourakia will get larger as they bake.  For this reason, leave at least 1/2 inch of space between cookies on the cookie tray.

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In the ingredient list below you will see eggs listed twice; this is not a mistake.  You will use a total of 15 egg whites and 12 eggs yolks in your koulouraki dough.  The remaining 3 egg yolks are used for the egg wash.  This way, you waste no part of any egg.  Waste is bad!  We heard this often growing up…we still do.

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Separating eggs can sometimes be difficult, and there are many different techniques for doing so. There are even egg-separating gadgets that you can buy.  We find that one of the easiest ways to separate the yolks and the whites is to use your hands.  Crack an egg, pour it into your hand and allow the whites to slip into a bowl between your fingers.

Our parents make their koulourakia with 2% lactose-free milk for those of us who are lactose intolerant.  However, you can also use full lactose milk, full fat milk, 1 % milk, or probably any other type of milk you have lying around.  Hmmm…. we wonder what would happen if you used chocolate milk!!  Try it…and let us know 🙂

Our parents usually use vanilla powder in their baking instead of vanilla extract.  If you cannot find vanilla powder, simply substitute an equal amount of vanilla extract and add it to the melted vegetable shortening while it is in the mixer.

This recipe calls for ammonium carbonate.  If you have never baked with ammonium carbonate, here are some things you may like to know.  Ammonium carbonate is used in baking as a leavening agent, and was very popular before modern day baking powder was made available.  It does have a very strong odour, which you will notice particularly when you add the milk and ammonia mixture to the melted vegetable shortening.  Don’t worry, the smell will dissipate.

If you prefer not to use ammonium carbonate in these cookies, or simply can’t find it, the general rule of thumb is to substitute any quantity of ammonium carbonate with twice as much baking powder. So, in the recipe below, you would replace the 2 tablespoons of ammonium carbonate with 4 tablespoons of baking powder.  You would also still add the original 4 tablespoons baking powder the recipe calls for (so, a total of 6 tablespoons baking powder).   Yes…this is A LOT of baking powder, but remember…this is A LOT of cookies which are meant to puff up and be quite soft and fluffy in the center.

It has also come to our attention, from one of our Australian followers, that vegetable shortening is not readily available throughout the world (at least, not in Australia).  There are substitutes you can use however and we found this link which is really quite helpful.  The most obvious substitution for our Aussie friends is something called copha! (Us Canadians have never heard of copha…but it appears to be very similar to what we  know as vegetable shortening, and it is readily available in Australia).

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Mia Kouppa: Koulourakia

  • Servings: 140-160 cookies
  • Time: 3 hours
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

Ingredients

  • 12 eggs, separated
  • 3 eggs, separated (the whites will be used for the koulouraki dough, the yolks will be used for the egg wash (see below))
  • 1 pound vegetable shortening
  • 4 cups + 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 tablespoons ammonium carbonate
  • 4 tablespoons baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla powder
  • 14 cups sifted all purpose flour
  • For the egg wash
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 1 tablespoon milk
  • 1 tablespoon water

Directions

  • Always a good idea to read the Helpful Hints, above.  🙂
  • Melt the vegetable shortening in a small saucepan, or even in the microwave. Set aside to cool slightly.
  • In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat all 15 egg whites for approximately 5 minutes over medium speed.  Continue to beat until they are very fluffy.
  • To the egg whites, with the mixer still working, add the 12 egg yolks, a few at a time.  Continue to beat for approximately 3 – 5 more minutes. Periodically, using a rubber spatula, push down any of the egg which has found its way onto the side of the mixing bowl.
  • When well incorporated, pour the beaten eggs into a very large bowl.  Wash out the bowl of the mixer and add the melted vegetable shortening.  Beat over medium speed for about 3 minutes.  Slowly add in the granulated sugar.  Continue to beat well over medium heat.
  • Meanwhile, in a small saucepan mix together the  milk and the ammonium carbonate.  Stir continuously until the milk looks like it is going to bubble over (approximately 5 minutes).  At this point, pour the milk + ammonium mixture carefully into the mixing bowl which contains the vegetable shortening and sugar.  Turn off the mixer while you are making this addition.  Stand back…it’s going to smell!  Turn mixture back on and whisk together for another 2 – 3 minutes.  To this mixing bowl, add one cup of all purpose flour.  Mix well until all ingredients are well combined.
  • In a small bowl combine the baking powder, the vanilla powder and 1 cup all purpose flour.  Mix well.
  • Now, into the large bowl where you have your eggs you will add the various combinations of ingredients.  Add the flour/baking powder/vanilla powder combination.  Add the vegetable shortening/sugar/milk combination.  Then, add an additional 11 cups of all purpose flour.
  • With your hands, mix all ingredients well.  You are almost massaging the ingredients together to incorporate everything.  After mixing everything together add an additional 1 cup of all purpose flour.  You should get to the point where you can knead the dough in the bowl.
  • You may need to add 1/4 – 1/2 cup more flour if your dough is still wet.  Keep in mind that the dough for the koulourakia will be somewhat sticky.  Cover the dough with a clean kitchen towel and set aside for 15 – 20 minutes.  This period of rest will allow the dough to “stiffen” up a bit, making it easier to work with.
  • Line your baking sheets with parchment paper.  Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  • Start forming your koulourakia.  Take a small piece of dough (about the size of a walnut) and roll it into a long strip.  Fold this strip in half and then twist the two halves together. This makes the traditional twisted shape. Alternatively, you can make a circle with your long strip.  You can also make any kind of shape you like, so long as they are all pretty much the same size. You can watch a video here.
  • Prepare your egg wash by mixing together the 3 egg yolks, milk and water. Brush on top of each koulouraki.
  • Bake in top third of the oven for 20 – 25 minutes until a beautiful golden colour.

11 thoughts on “Koulourakia (Κουλουράκια)

    1. Hi Cleo. Ammonia does sound ominous doesn’t it!…and sometimes it is not so easy to find (depending on where you live). Actually, you can substitute ammonia for more baking powder. The basic rule of thumb is to use double amount of commercial baking powder as you would ammonia…so if a recipe calls for 2 tablespoons ammonia, use 4 tablespoons baking powder. In this koulourakia recipe you would have to use the original baking powder we call for, and then some more to exchange for the ammonia. Hope this helps, and that you enjoy the koulourakia!

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    1. Oh, thank you Lisa 🙂 They are actually pretty easy…a bit time consuming, but simple. Let us know if you ever try them. Dunked in coffee, tea or milk, they are delicious 😉

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