Every year, since I remember myself, about a week before Christmas we make with my mother (and brother later on when he grew up) melomakarona, the traditional Greek Christmas lenten cookies and this year was no exception. It is a nice opportunity to catch up and drink some cheap cognac.
These cookies are made with olive oil, have a beautiful taste of cognac, orange and cinnamon, and are then drenched in a honey and sugar syrup. Apart from the sugar, they are actually very healthy and perfect for people who are avoiding animal fats either out of principle or for health reasons.
The recipe belongs to my maternal grandmother and I give it to you exactly as it is written in the century old notebook of hers. We usually double the quantities because we like them a lot in the family, but if you have never tried them before, you can make the dose I give you below. The syrup part is the most difficult to get right and unfortunately it is a matter of practice rather than anything else. Just remember that as the melomakarona come out of the hot syrup they will feel very soft, but they will harden when they cool.
Melomakarona, traditional Greek xmas honey cookies
INGREDIENTS for about 45 pieces
- 2 cups (480ml) olive oil (or a neutral vegetable oil if you don’t like the taste of olive oil) x
- 1 cup sugar (200g)
- 1/2 cup cognac or brandy (120ml)
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (120ml)
- grated orange peel from the juiced oranges (optional, if you like the taste of orange. The recipe does not include it originally)
- 7.5 cups all purpose flour (approx. 1 kg
- )2 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda (diluted in the orange juice)
- 2-3 tsp cinnamon powder
- 1/4 tsp clove, powdered
- 1.5 cup water (360ml)
- 1.5 cup sugar (300g)
- 1.5 cup honey (480g)
- 1 stick cinnamon (optional, but I like cinnamon)
- 100g walnuts, finely chopped for the garnish (mixed with some cinnamon, about 1/2 tsp)
- In a large bowl, mix the flour with the baking powder, using a whisk .
- Beat the olive oil with the sugar for a few minutes either with the hand or with the stand mixer.
- Continue beating and add the cognac and orange juice with soda.
- Stop the mixer and gently fold in the flour, about 10 seconds. Don’t overwork the dough or it will start to separate. If you have time, let the dough stand for 15 minutes. This makes them easier to shape.
- Form the melomakarona into slightly oval shapes either small or medium sized. If you want them all to bake evenly you can weigh little balls of dough, roughly 30-35grams in weight each. They will almost double in size in the oven and you don’t want to end up with massive cookie-style monsters.
- Pre-heat the oven to 180 oC.
- Place the cookies on a baking sheet (you don’t need to line it with anything as they have enough oil by themselves, but if you feel uneasy about that just line the baking sheets with a silicone mat or baking parchment).
- With the back of a fork prick them all over in rows. This will make it easier for the syrup to penetrate.
- Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until nicely browned. If you like your cookies softer, with more syrup, bake slightly less, about 25 minutes. Times are based on 30g cookies. If you make them smaller or larger, you need to adjust times accordingly.
- Meanwhile make the syrup. Place all the syrup ingredients in a pot and simmer gently. Yοu will need to remove any foam that forms, until the syrup is clear. This will not take more than 2-3 minutes. Keep the syrup warm, but not boiling.
- When you take the melomakarona out of the oven, place them a few at a time straight into the simmering syrup for about 1 minute. Time depends on how much they have baked and how much syrup you would like them to absorb. Gently remove with a slotted spoon and place on a platter.
- Garnish with the chopped walnuts. If you want more syrup on your cookies (and you will definitely have some leftover, it keep in the fridge for the next batch) pour it over he melomakarona before the walnuts. Let the melomakarona cool down and store in airtight containers or on platers with a glass lid. Eat when they are cold. They will keep covered (not in the fridge) for quite a while.
Note: for a vegan version you can substitute the honey in the recipe with agave nectar, maple syrup, or for a more subtle taste, with golden syrup.