This is a post about love. True love, pure love, everlasting love, and sweet, sweet love. We are so humbled to be able to give you a glimpse into the beautiful story of Κυρία Βασιλεία (Kyria Vasilia) and the love of her life, while at the same time sharing her recipe for what may be the loveliest cookies you’ll ever have.
Several months ago, we were at our Thea Voula’s house (THE Thea Voula of cheesecake fame) for a party. As is typical for any large family gathering, there was a lot of food, and a lot of dessert. Good thing we were there for hours; enough time to eat, digest, and eat again. When it was finally time for coffee and cake, we of course expected her cheesecake, maybe some baklava and likely a galaktoboureko or two. What we didn’t expect was a platter piled high with syrup soaked, pear-shaped cookies called Ahladakia. These were cookies we recalled eating and loving in a past so distant we couldn’t even remember the last time we had enjoyed them. We quickly turned to our aunt and asked her where they came from and she responded “Stella brought them”.
Dear Stella, a newer addition to our family gatherings, told us that these cookies were a specialty of her mother, Kyria Vasilia. After taking a bite, it was clear, this recipe would be our next More Kouppes installment; thankfully both Stella and her mom were on board!
When we first met Kyria Vasilia we fell in love, immediately. Forget the fact that she is adorable, she is also kind hearted, generous of spirit and she was incredibly patient as she showed us, step-by-step, how to make her signature cookies. And, as with any memorable kitchen lesson she shared more than her list of ingredients and techniques.
Kyria Vasilia is originally from Mytilini, the capital city of the beautiful island of Lesvos. Between measuring, mixing and shaping of cookies she spoke of the life she left behind in the early 70’s in order to come to Canada. This was a bittersweet parting for her, as she was leaving behind not only her family, but also her first and only love, Manoli. Her relationship with Manoli was complicated for a number of reasons, and the possibility of marriage seemed unlikely. Because of this and other reasons, her father encouraged her to make a new start for herself in Canada and so, she ventured off. Before she left, Manoli told her that she was not to worry, that one day he would find her and they would be together.
With heavy heart, Kyria Vasilia headed to Canada, not knowing the language or the culture. She was fortunate however in that she had an aunt already in Canada whom she was able to live with, and so she did. Kyria Vasilia spent these first years working long, hard hours in the textile trade, grateful for employment. Still, she missed her home, her family, and mostly her beloved Manoli. With every passing month, with little to no communication between them, her hopes of seeing him again dwindled more and more.
What Kyria Vasilia did not realize at the time was that as she was settling into her new life in Canada, Manoli was working on an elaborate plan to leave Lesvos and his own family in order to follow through on his promise. Although the circumstances of his departure were unfortunately complex, he did succeed and boarded a plane out of Athens to Montreal one late December day.
A day later, when Kyria Vasilia returned home after a long shift at work she was met by her aunt, uncle and cousins in the living room of their apartment. Her aunt, smiling, told her that a large package had arrived for her, and was in the back room. Kyria Vasilia was excited, expecting it to be the Canadian residency card that she had been waiting for. Instead, she found Manoli, sitting on a chair, making good on his promise to find her, asking for her hand in marriage.
Kyria Vasilia and Manoli were married, and had 2 children. To hear Kyria Vasilia speak of their life, you can’t help but feel the love, passion and commitment to each other that they shared. They had many beautiful years together. Unfortunately, Manoli died several years ago, but Kyria Vasilia maintains that he is still very much alive through her children, her grandchildren and in her memories and heart.
Make no mistake, the hardest part of making these cookies will be shaping these cookies. Even with the skilled hands of Kyria Vasilia right there with us, her gentle guidance, her literally taking our hands between her own as we rolled and shaped…it’s hard. We finally got the hand of it…barely. Do yourself a favour and aim low, at least the first few times you bake these. The funny thing is, one of our daughters asked why we bothered struggling making pear-shaped cookies, when there was no pear flavour here at all. When she took a bite and tasted citrus she asked, “Why not just keep them round, and called them Portokalakia (little oranges), since that’s what they taste like?!”. Smart girl! We suppose you can do that of course, but we still think you should give the pear shape a try. They are delightful, and they are the way Kyria Vasilia makes them! We have included a video of her method in the recipe below.
We’re not sure if it was our rolling and shaping technique or not, but it seemed that the cookies that we shaped tended to crack a bit during the baking. Kyria Vasilia assured us that this was perfectly fine. In fact, she said that this was actually a bonus as it allowed more syrup to easily seep into the cookie. We told you, she is a very nice lady!
Mia Kouppa:Pear-shaped cookies
- 5 3/4 – 6 cups (1430 – 1500 ml) all purpose flour
- 2 tablespoons (30 ml) + 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) powdered vanilla
- 1 tablespoon (15 ml) + 1 teaspoon (4 ml) grated lemon peel
- 1 1/4 cup (310 ml) granulated white sugar
- 1 1/4 cup (310 ml) vegetable oil
- 3 large eggs, separated
- 3/4 cups (180 ml) freshly squeezed orange juice (about 2 oranges)
- 1/2 teaspoon (2 ml) baking soda
- whole cloves, approximately 65 – 75 For the syrup:
- 2 cups (500 ml) water
- 2 cups (500 ml) granulated white sugar
- 1 cinnamon stick
- juice from 1/2 a lemon
- 1 teaspoon (4 ml) orange blossom water (optional)
- In a large bowl whisk together 3 cups of the flour with the baking powder and the powdered vanilla. Set aside.
- In a large bowl combine the grated lemon peel with the granulated sugar. Mix well. Next, add the oil and using a hand held mixer beat all of this quite well. Add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
- Combine the baking soda with the freshly squeezed orange juice. Mix well. It will froth up a bit; this is fine. Add this to the bowl with the sugar, oil and egg yolks. Set aside.
- In a medium sized bowl using a cleaned and dried hand mixer beat the egg whites until soft white peaks are formed.
- Add half of the egg whites to the bowl with the sugar, oil and egg yolks, beating well until they are well combined. Add the remaining egg whites and continue to beat until combined.
- Add flour from the bowl which contains the flour and baking powder combination about 1/4 cup at a time, beating well after each addition. When you have added all 3 cups of the flour and baking powder mix stop using the hand held mixture. Continue to add plain flour until you have added between 5 3/4 cups to 6 cups flour TOTAL and do all of the mixing by hand. Your dough should be soft, fluffy and almost velvety. It should not stick to your hands, and should be very easy to shape and handle. For the syrup
- In a large pot combine 2 cups white granulated sugar with 2 cups water. Add one cinnamon stick, the juice of 1/2 a lemon and if you like, 1 teaspoon of orange blossom water. Allow this to heat up over medium heat until the sugar dissolves. Heat for about 5 after sugar melts, and then remove from heat and allow to cool completely To shape the cookies:
- Take one tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball using the palms of your hands. Then, place the ball at the edge of your right palm, so that half the ball is on your palm and half is off of it. You will not move this hand. Then, take the palm of your left hand and move that hand back and forth over the ball of dough in order to create the tapered end of your pear shape. Allow gravity to help a little bit by holding your hands vertically. You can probably get a better sense of what we mean by watching this video
- Once you have shaped your cookies, insert a whole clove into the rounded end of the cookie; this represents the bottom of the pear.
- Place the shaped cookies on a parchment lined cookies sheet and bake in the middle rack of your oven for about 20 minutes, until the cookies are golden brown and a darker brown on the underside of the cookie.
- Allow them to rest on the cookie sheet for approximately a minute and then carefully dunk them into the cool syrup and let them soak there for about 30 – 60 seconds. Place the cookies on a parchment lined counter in order to for them to cool completely. Enjoy.