The first time I spent Christmas in Athens, I fell in love with how much Greeks embrace Christmas. Despite the economic crisis, people were out and about, shopping, grabbing coffee, going out to dinner. The energy was unbelievable. It was a totally different experience visiting Athens in the winter months – the city was alive with people who are normally vacationing in August.
One of my most memorable discoveries during this trip was the Greek Christmas cookie. Every single bakery was stocked with them, restaurants would treat you to them for dessert. They were everywhere, and I didn’t mind it one bit. When baked, the cookie is actually quite dry, but it is then soaked in honey-based syrup & topped with walnuts. The end result is a perfectly baked macaroon with a crispy outside and a center soaked in honey. I’ve never had anything like it.
Naturally, when I got back to Chicago I was on a mission to find these cookies. I came across a few Greek bakeries that carried them, but they just weren’t the same. This year, I told myself I’d attempt to make them this holiday, after finding this great recipe (thanks to Leo, who was VERY encouraging). I will say, for a first attempt, they were pretty damn good.
Below is the recipe I followed. The recipe makes ~80 cookies, but I recommend cutting everything in half as it’s more manageable! Also, everything was listed is in European measurements, so I’ve converted to US.
Yields ~80 cookies
2.1 cups water
3.5 cups granulated sugar
7 Tbsp honey (invest in good stuff – it makes a huge difference!)
3 cinnamon sticks
3 whole cloves
1 orange, cut in half
1.7 cups orange juice
1.7 cups sunflower oil
3/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup caster sugar
½ teaspoon ground cloves
2-3 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon baking soda
grated zest of 2 oranges
8 cups all-purpose flour
1.2 cups fine semolina
For the syrup…
- Boil all of the ingredients for the syrup, apart from honey, until sugar melts. Remove from heat. Add the honey and mix till combined. Cool syrup for 3-4 hours. It must be cold by the time the cookies come out from the oven.
For the cookies…
- Preheat the oven to 370 F. You’ll need to prepare 2 separate mixtures.
- For the first mixture, add all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix, using a hand whisk. In a separate bowl, add all of the ingredients for the second mixture. Combine the first and second mixture. Mix by hand, very gently for a short period of time (~15 seconds). Don’t mix for longer as this can create issues with the dough staying together!
- Mold cookie dough into oval shapes, 3-4 cm long. Try to keep them as similar as possible…don’t go too big with these as they won’t cook on the inside if you do!
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until they are crunchy and dark golden brown. As soon as you remove them from the oven, soak the hot cookies in the syrup for 20-30 seconds (I like them extra syrupy). Drain them on a wire rack. Drizzle with honey and chopped walnuts. Enjoy!