Koulourakia - Traditional Greek Orange Butter Cookies
There is nothing better than ending a hard day’s work and go off for a walk. It helps your mind unwind and your body to get in balance. It doesn’t matter if you live in a city or in the countryside. A good walk is beneficial no matter where you live.
How many times didn’t you leave work and were frustrated, or had a personal problem and wanted some time to get your thoughts together? Well, walking helps. It doesn’t solve any problems (or does it)? It sure helps though. How?
Walking with a friend or your loved ones makes you want to talk somehow. It makes you want to open up. And by doing so, you might hear a different approach to an issue you have. That helps. Even by walking by yourself helps you clear your mind and concentrate.
And the timing is perfect for such walks. It’s spring, the air is full of scents from blooming flowers, the weather is getting warmer and the day is getting longer. So, we walk every afternoon, to enjoy nature and get a little exercise. Our advice is to take a friend, a family member, your special someone, and go for a walk; you’ll love it. If none of them want or can’t, take your dog. Don’t have a dog? That’s ok, this is an activity you can also do by yourself. No more excuses dear friends!
And when you are back home with a clear mind, try to do something nice for the people you love. How about some home baking? The recipe we share this time, is an easy recipe for homemade Greek orange butter cookies (or koulourakia in Greek). With our step by step instructions there is nothing to worry about, even if you don’t bake cookies often.
A bit of history
Historical fact: According to sources, koulourakia were prepared and baked since the ancient times, in the Minoan civilization, in a snake-like shape. The reason is that the Minoans worshiped a goddess with snakes on her hands who was supposed to be related to the blossoming of the earth and fertility.
In more recent years though, koulourakia are simply sweet treats and are shaped in ring shapes and hairpin twists. Some shape them like snakes and some make spirals.
As long as you are creative the possibilities of shaping the dough are endless!
But what the word koulourakia means? Koulourakia is the plural of the word koulouraki.
So it’s one koulouraki and then two koulourakia and so on.
The word is precisely the description of the form/shape these pastries are formed. Koulouraki is the small version of kouloura (or koulouri) a word we have in Greek language to describe anything in circular shape with a hole in the middle, meaning a ring or a wreath. Example: A doughnut is a koulouri (ring) shaped pastry. A bagel is a koulouri (ring) shaped pastry.
Koulourakia – A family affair
These delicious and crisp cookies are a staple in Greek cuisine, especially during Easter. They are baked along with tsoureki on Holy Week just in time for the Holy Saturday and Easter Sunday. So it seems, there is a connection to the ancient past, and the Minoans, since the Easter is always in spring, when nature rebirths.
Making koulourakia is a custom that goes from generation to generation. Although in recent years most households grew accustomed to buy their koulourakia from the neighborhood’s bakeries, this habit tends to change lately as more and more people prefer to bake at home rather than buying their baking goods from stores. Perhaps it’s related to being more aware on what one eats and selecting which ingredients to use.
And just like that, families are gathered once again like their grandparents did before them, to make koulourakia for Easter. The Orthodox Easter is this weekend this year, and houses are filled once more with the enchanting scents of vanilla and orange.
However, one does not have to wait until Easter to enjoy koulourakia. They are so popular, that people make and enjoy them all year round.
Well…friends…koulourakia is an addiction. This is not a joke; once you start, you can’t stop. We haven’t met anyone so far, that eats just one koulouraki at a time. No one!
It’s the combination of the simple ingredients along with the crisp texture that koulourakia have, that simply makes them irresistible.
As a baking recipe, it’s almost basic. Very simple to follow, but there is a catch; you have to follow the recipe to the letter. Otherwise the koulourakia will turn either soft or too dense. Don’t worry though; this recipe is tried and true.
The koulourakia must be both crispy and not very dense. Crispiness is the texture you are looking for. You want these cookies to crack and leave crumbs, just like biscotti or English biscuits do.
One thing is certain. Koulourakia must be stored into a cookie jar, hidden from plain sight. Otherwise you will be facing the following situation. Every time you will pass by the cookie jar, we promise you, you will open the lid and grab one for the road. Even if this “road” is the way to your living room.
We warned you! These crisp cookies are an addiction!
As aforementioned this recipe has simple ingredients and easy to follow step by step instructions.
There are two important aspects you should pay attention to while making the dough. The first one is beating the butter and the sugar very well. So well that it will have a whipped cream-like texture. Soft, white and fluffy. It will look like frosting.
The second one is not kneading the dough for a long time. You just want the incorporate the flour to the butter-sugar-eggs mixture.
There are many variations for this recipe. Some include orange juice, others use only the egg yolks, some people add mahleb or cardamom. In this recipe we tried to be as traditional and simple as possible.
We made a lot of testing before posting this recipe on the blog and share it with you. We wanted to be absolutely certain that the recipe for koulourakia will be foolproof. This way you would not struggle to make these amazing crispy cookies.
How to enjoy koulourakia
Koulourakia is a very versatile sweet treat. It can be served as a grab-and-go breakfast, a treat and a dessert. But mostly koulourakia are an excellent afternoon companion for a cup of coffee or tea.
They are easy to take with you in the office, or on a trip. It’s an exquisite travelling treat and your children will love them. Just put some on a bag and share them with your family along the way.
Koulourakia can also make you the talk of the day at work. Bake some and share them with your colleagues. You’ll score a few points there! ;)
But most importantly koulourakia is about creating something with your loved ones and sharing it. Get your kids in the kitchen to shape them with you, and it’s one of these moments you will remember and cherish. Perhaps this will make them forward the tradition to their children. After all, love is the best ingredient to any recipe. It makes everything taste so much better!
So, don’t wait for Easter to make these delicious, aromatic crispy butter cookies! You can make them anytime, throughout the year.
Enough said; let’s take some action! Pull out your mixer and your baking sheets and let’s make some cookies!
For about 40 cookies
- 1kg / 35oz / 2.2lb (8 cups) all-purpose flour
- 250g / 8.8oz (2 sticks and 1 1/2 tablespoons), softened unsalted butter *
- 350g / 12oz / 0.7lb (1 3/4 cups) sugar
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 4 medium-sized eggs (+1 for glazing)
- 2 tbsp (from 2 medium-sized oranges) orange zest
- 1 tbsp vanilla
- 125ml (1/2 cup) milk
*leave the butter in room temperature for at least an hour before using it.
Add the flour and the baking powder in a bowl (pic.1). Mix well with a whisk (pic.2).
Use a stand mixer or a hand mixer and beat the butter and the sugar (pic.3) until it turns extra soft and fluffy like whipped cream or frosting (pic.4). It will take about 10-15 minutes on medium speed.
Beat the eggs and slowly add them into the butter-sugar mixture (pic.5). When incorporated, add the milk, the vanilla and the orange zest (pic.6-8). Sometimes, when adding the milk, the mixture seems like it has lumps. Do not worry! Continue with the recipe and your cookies will turn out just fine!
When they are also incorporated (pic.9) stop mixer and detach the mixer’s bowl. Add the flour mixture into the butter-sugar-eggs mixture a little at a time (pic.10), folding it until all the flour has been incorporated.
Using your hands knead the dough gently (pic.11) until you have a soft (not sticky) and elastic pastry. Don’t overdo it though because the dough will tend to “brake” in the shaping process.
Allow it to rest for 20 minutes (pic.12), in your fridge.
Divide the dough into balls with the size of a large walnut (pic. 13) and roll into strips, the size of your index finger (pic.14). We usually weigh the balls, to get even-sized koulourakia. We use 40g / 1.5oz of dough for each cookie.
You can shape the dough any way you like:
You can make hairpin twist-like cookies (pic. 15-16). You can make S-shapes (pic. 17) or spirals (pic.18). It’s totally up to you.
Line a baking tray with parchment paper and place the cookies on top (pic.19). Leave some space between them as they tend to expand during baking. We usually bake 3 lines with 5 cookies on each line. Make an egg wash with the extra egg and 1 tbsp of water and brush the cookies (pic.20) to glaze them.
Bake in preheated convection oven at 160C/320F (fan assisted baking) for 20-25 minutes per tray. This amount of dough will make around 40 cookies (3 baking trays).
When baked, remove from the oven, leave them on the baking tray for a few minutes and then transfer them on a rack (pic.21). Allow them to cool completely before storing them into a cookie jar.
Enjoy them with a cup of coffee or tea (or milk for the kids).
1. You can store the cookies into a cooking jar for up to a month.
2. You can make these cookies throughout the year. It’s an all year round recipe.
3. You can dunk the koulouraki into your coffee. It tastes amazing, especially it it’s a strong brewed coffee like espresso. Your kids will also enjoy them with a cup of warm milk.
Fun fact: In Greece koulourakia are also called “voutimata” which means multiple persistent dunks. Because we are accustomed to dunk them in our coffee and our milk.
4. You can omit the orange zest if you don’t have some and make these cookies only with vanilla. In this case we suggest you add a little extra vanilla.