Savoury Christmas koulourakia
Much of the beauty of Greek cuisine is that it varies from region to region. In part this is due to agricultural possibilities (think mountainous landscapes versus islands surrounded by the sea), connections with other cultures, and local customs and traditions. Every recipe tells a story, and offers a glimpse into the rich web of history, both cultural and culinary, that makes Greece and Greek food such an important and fascinating area of study. Although many of these unique regional dishes are well known (think kalitsounia from Crete or lalagia from Messinia), others are so local that they are known only to isolated villages. The recipe which we are sharing here is one such example.
Unless you come from one of the small villages in Messinia near where our parents grew up, you have probably never had these Christmas koulourakia. Both of our parents however grew up eating these when the Nativity fast started, as they contain no dairy and no eggs. As we were baking these with our parents most recently, our mom told us that every year her mother and aunts would gather into the home to spend the day making tons of these koulourakia, which are really more like round breadsticks than the sweet cookie you usually expect when you hear the word koulourakia. They would use the orange peels from the oranges which grew on their property, olive oil from their olive trees, flour that they produced in their mill and other simple ingredients which they had on hand; all coming together to create a unique and flavourful koulouraki.
Because these Christmas koulourakia contain yeast, there is time which needs to be set aside for rising of the dough. The first rising is after mixing all of the ingredients together, and the second rising is after the koulourakia are shaped and before baking them. Our mother remembers that with their small kitchen, this second rising meant that shaped koulourakia were spread out on clean table cloths laid across all the beds in the home. A great and practical idea except for the one time that her uncle came in after a long days work and plopped himself on the bed, too tired to realize that he had just ruined hours worth of work. Fortunately for him, everyone was already in the Christmas spirit!
It is a very good idea to read this recipe carefully before you set out to make these Christmas koulourakia. There is a bit of prep work which needs to be done, including preparing your flour the night before.
When oranges are in season, our parents like to dry orange peel to preserve it and to use it in recipes such as this one. You can learn more about how they do that here, but if you don’t have dried orange peels, don’t worry, fresh peels will work just as well.
When you combine the liquid you will prepare with the yeast, the liquid should be warm. This helps to activate the yeast but be careful; if the liquid is too hot it will kill the yeast and you dough will not rise. The best way to test the temperature is to put your clean finger in the liquid; it should feel hot, but comfortable enough for you to leave your finger there.
When reading through the recipe you will see that it calls for a total of 4 cups of liquid; you are asked in the ingredient list however to prepare 4 1/2 cups of liquid. That extra 1/2 cup is there to be available in case you need to use some of it to get your dough to the right consistency because types and brands of flour, altitude and precipitation levels all impact dough making.
As mentioned, these are not sweet cookies. Indeed, they are savoury and much more like breadsticks. We love to dunk these into a nice warm bowl of fakes, or chickpea soup. They are equally good on their own, and if your diet permits, go great with feta.
Kept in an air tight container, these Christmas koulourakia keep very well for a couple of weeks at room temperature. Alternatively, you can keep them in the refrigerator where they will stay fresh even longer.
Mia Kouppa: Christmas Koulourakia with yeast
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup vegetable oil
- 1950 grams all purpose flour (about 69 ounces)
- Orange peel from 3 oranges, dried or fresh
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
- 1 whole nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 teaspoon dry thyme or a sprig of fresh thyme
- 1 liter + 1/2 cup water
- 2 tablespoons dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil
- The night before you are planning to make your koulourakia, mix your flour with the olive oil and the vegetable oil. The flour will be somewhat crumbly; cover it with a clean kitchen towel and leave at room temperature until you are ready to use it the next day.
- Several hours before you are planning to make your koulourakia you must prepare the liquid which will be used for the dough.
- In a medium size pot combine the orange peel, cinnamon stick, nutmeg, cloves, thyme and salt. Add 1 liter and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat to medium high and cook, covered, for 20 minutes. Turn the heat off and allow to rest with the cover still on for approximately 2 hours, or longer. If you prepare the liquid the night before, you can keep it in the refrigerator after it has come to room temperature. You will have to reheat it to warm for the next step.
- In a small mixing bowl combine 1/2 cup of the warm liquid with the yeast. Mix well and allow to sit for 2 – 3 minutes.
- Add the yeast to the large bowl of flour along with 3 1/2 cups of additional water. Mix well and knead the dough for apprimately 7 – 10 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil to the bowl and continue to knead. Watch video here, to see what the dough should look like. Shape the dough into a ball and cover with a clean kitchen towel. Place in a warm, draft-free place and allow to rise for approximately 2 hours or until doubled in size.
- To prepare the koulourakia take approximately 1 tablespoon of dough and roll it on a clean surface to make a strip which is approximately 6 to 8 inches long. Pinch the ends together to make a round. Place on a parchment lined baking sheet and allow to rise for an additional 20 – 30 minutes.
- Bake in a 350 degree pre-heated oven for 20-22 minutes, until golden brown. Enjoy!