Greek Christmas Butter Cookies: Kourabiedes
Up until the last couple of weeks the weather was very kind to us here in Greece; lots of sunshine and warm temperatures, allowed for long walks and enjoying the scenery.
If the leaves hadn’t already fallen off the trees, one may had the impression it was spring and not autumn! This changed a few days ago and it seems now that the winter is finally here. The first snow has fallen up in the mountains, especially in the north, helping us to get into a festive mood, which is after all, appropriate for Christmas and the New Year celebration!
Of course, the winter was already here, at least according to the calendar, providing us with lots of yummy fruits and veggies. We especially enjoyed the quinces, made quince spoon sweet (you can read more about spoon sweets here) and cooked a wonderful ancient Greek recipe with roasted pork and quinces, which Panos learned from his grandfather (who also learned it from his own grandfather before). It’s a very old recipe and of course we’ll share it in the blog at some point).
Fresh carrots are also amazing this time of year, and are very versatile. We used them in soups (especially in the fasolada bean soup), in coleslaw, made carrot cakes, and so on and so forth:)
Another delicious sweet fruit you can enjoy this time of year is the persimmon. If you haven’t tried persimmons before, you’re missing out. They usually have a mild aroma and are very juicy and sweet. They’re packed with vitamins and are full of antioxidants. You should’ve seen us devouring those like kids eating candy, all smiling and making a mess.
Do you remember the green oranges back in the summer (in this post)? Check them out in their photo we are sharing now! Ripe and sweet, this year’s oranges are perhaps the best we had for a long time. And for some strange reason the trees in Evia were very generous, we got much more than we could eat and then turned some into jams, preserves etc. So we started sharing them with friends, like an Orange Santa, passing by on a weekly basis.
Speaking of Santa, we’re so excited that the Christmas season is here! Greek Christmas food is delicious and full of memories of times passed. Just like everywhere around the world, wherever people celebrate this season, the food this time is special, and it's shared among family and friends. It’s this loving setting that sears these memories in our hearts and makes them so unique.
The main ingredient of the season here, is pork. Back in the day people didn’t consume much meat, but they raised a pig which was slaughtered around Christmas and then shared in a large table with family and friends. Some of the parts were also used in sausages, while others were put in salt or were smoked, in order to preserve some of the meat for the next weeks (or months). By the way, if you’ve never tried Greek sausages, called Horiatiko Loukaniko, you should try them at least once!
Another popular recipe this time of year is chicken avgolemono (egg-lemon) soup. It’s a creamy delicious soup, usually including starchy rice, which is served with lots of fresh ground pepper and artisan old-school crusty bread. Even as we type those lines and remember all about it, we’re drooling all over the keyboard :)
A big part of the Greek Christmas tradition, is of course enjoying the local sweet treats: Melomakarona, kourabiedes and diples. Melomakarona and kourabiedes are the most popular ones, and if you’re in Greece around Christmas you’re bound to fall in love with them. You will find them in every household, any pastry shop, even in super markets and grocery stores. When you’re a guest, you know you’ll be treated a melomakarono (singular for melomakarona) or a kourabies (singular for kourabiedes). And even though you most certainly will have tasted many of them already, you will again devour another one with excitement :)
Melomakarona and kourabiedes are traditionally homemade. When we were kids ourselves, singing carols, many neighbors were giving us kourabiedes or melomakarona as a holiday treat. Back at home of course, we also had our own families’ versions.
They’re pronounced “koo-ra-bee-ye-thes”, and yes, it’s not that easy for a non-Greek speaking person to pronounce the word! But, if you only say “kourab-yeh” to any Greek, he will immediately understand what you’re asking for, and will give you the proper cookie. With a big smile on his/her face.
Those traditional, shortbread butter cookies include almonds, lots of powdered sugar, vanilla and usually rosewater or another flower water.
Edible rosewater (or flower water), adds an amazing scent to these cookies. But we know it may be difficult to find it in some places (it’s available online though). If you do buy it, you'll be able to make the traditional kourabiedes with their exceptional and unique aroma. If you’re thinking that rosewater is something you’ll buy once and then it’ll stay on your pantry gathering dust, that’s not the case.
There are many recipes which call for rosewater, plus you can try it in cookies, cakes and other desserts you're already baking and create something different and delicious! Try substituting vanilla with flower water in some recipes and you’ll get the idea:)
People who may not like the aroma of rosewater or flower water may also try adding some bitter almond liqueur (Amaretto) which also makes for wonderful kourabiedes.
The main ingredient for kourabiedes is of course, butter. You want to use the best quality butter you can afford, for this recipe. It will define the texture and the taste of the cookies. The traditional way to make kourabiedes is with sheep’s or goat’s butter. The flavor is a bit intense for any non-Greek though, plus it’s a bit hard to find such butter abroad. That’s why we used regular cow’s butter in this recipe. Feel free to use any type of butter you prefer, or even a mix of butters (like half sheep’s butter and half cow’s butter). If you can get the famous –in Greece- Corfu butter give it a try; it’s a pure, excellent quality butter.
Regarding the shape of those cookies, some people may be confused, due to their variety. There are 3 main shapes for kourabiedes: thick round cookies, crescents and balls. We think the easiest and nicest are the thick round cookies, as their shape helps us stacking them up in layers. This is the way they’re traditionally served.
As for the size of the cookies, they may be large (about 40gr/1.5oz of dough per cookie), or smaller, bite-sized. The ones sold in pastry shops are usually bite-sized, and the homemade ones are usually larger.
So go ahead and give them a try! You won’t regret baking those; your home will be filled with the aroma of the butter and the rosewater, and you’ll enjoy dusting them with lots and lots of icing sugar. They’re both pretty and delicious! So follow the recipe below and make some festive Greek cookies!
- 500g / 17.5oz / 1.1 lb (4 cups) all purpose flour
- 250g / 9oz butter (2 sticks and 1/4), softened (room temperature, see preparation)
- 150g / 5.5oz (1 1/4 cups) powdered sugar, and more for dusting the cookies
- 150g / 5.5oz (about 1 cup) almonds, unsalted and toasted
- 1 egg yolk (from a large egg)
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract or vanilla essence
- edible rosewater or other flower water
Remove the butter from the fridge at least a couple of hours before using it. This will allow it to soften. Cutting it into pieces also helps.
If using raw almonds, place them in a single layer on a lined baking sheet/pan and bake them for 10-15 minutes at 180C/350F (in preheated oven) (pic. 1). Grind the toasted almonds into coarse pieces, using a food processor. Do not grind them completely into powder.
Making the cookies
In a large bowl, beat the butter (pic.2) for 8-10 minutes, using a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on medium-high speed (until soft and fluffy, pic.3).
Add the powdered sugar (pic.4) and beat for 10 more minutes until you get a "whipped cream" -like result (pic. 5).
Add baking powder and vanilla (pic. 6) and mix with a rubber spatula. Add the egg yolk (pic. 7) and mix until it's incorporated.
Add 1 tablespoon of rosewater or flower water and mix (pic. 8). Start adding the flour (pic. 9), a couple of tablespoons at a time. Mix with the spatula each time you add some.
When you've added half of the flour, you'll get a fluffy, almost rubbery dough (pic. 10).
At this point add all the remaining flour, wear single-use gloves and start incorporating the flour into the dough, with your hands (pic. 11). Do not overmix. Once the flour is incorporated,stop.
Important: USE gloves in the recipe. It will help insulating the warmth of your hands (to avoid melting the butter while handling the dough).
Add the ground almonds (pic. 12) and fold them into the dough. Shape the cookies (pic. 13). If using 40gr/1.5oz of dough per cookie, you'll make about 25 cookies.
Place the cookies in a lined baking dish/pan (pic. 14) and bake for 15-18 minutes in the middle oven rack (use the oven fan, in preheated oven).
When ready, remove from the oven, let them cool for 2-3 minutes, and then place them on a wire rack to cool completely out (pic. 15).
When cool, spray them with rosewater or flower water (pic. 16) and then dust them with powdered sugar (pic. 17), using a strainer. Be generous with both rosewater and sugar.
Your yummy treats are ready, place them in cookie box or in a cake stand, in layers (and place a lid on).
Kala Christougenna and Kali Chronia!
1. You can use sheep, goat or cow butter or mixed butters. In any case, choose high quality butter for this recipe.
2. You can shape the kourabiedes in thick round cookies (like we did here), crescents or balls.
3. Leave a little space between the cookies before you bake them, as they will expand a little during baking.
4. If you want to make more cookies, feel free to double the ingredients above. The result is exactly the same.
5. If you don’t like rosewater or flower water (or can’t find any), add some vanilla powder in the icing sugar when you dust the cookies at the end of the recipe. And add a little almond liqueur (Amaretto) in the dough.
6. Always wear single-use gloves when you handle the dough and shape the cookies, to insulate the heat from your hands.