Around the holidays, Christmas cookie recipes are amongst our favorite posts to share and they’re the ones our readers love the most, too.
Every time we post a recipe, someone from some far corner of the globe will share their mom’s variation or their grandmother’s version which uses this ingredient instead of that. It’s a wonderful testament to Greeks’ love for their food traditions, no matter where they might be.
The truth is that Greece’s confectionary culinary heritage is so rich that you will, indeed, find dozens upon dozens of different variations for the same cookie or pie.
Sometimes it depends on the region. Some products are not readily available in mountain regions so, like evolution, they’re replaced by those that exist.
On Chios, for example, the home of the rare tree which produces the world-coveted Mastiha, a kind of sap, kourambiedes are sprinkled with Mastiha powder.
The recipe comes from New York City-based Greek chef Maria Loi who recently taught a class at the International Culinary Center which included these scrumptious treats.
Chef Loi, hardly ever uses butter in any of her dishes, calling it unhealthy and unnecessary.
“Who needs butter,” she famously told Kelly Ripa on national television “When you have a good and healthy fat called Greek olive oil that does almost everything butter can do.”
Even her world famous baklava– which she’s served to President Obama at the White House– doesn’t use a single drop of butter.
Chef Loi’s recipe for kourambiedes also calls for Mastiha powder, something not readily available in your local super market.
Loi is also the author of the Harper Collins best-seller The Greek Diet, which includes numerous Greek dishes that contain healthy alternatives to traditional meals. Get the book here.
Kourambiedes – Traditional Christmas Almond Shortbread Cookies
Recipe makes approximately 50 cookies
1 cup of blanched almonds
2 cups Greek olive oil
½ cup of granulated sugar
½ cup brandy
½ tablespoon of ground cinnamon
2½ teaspoons of baking powder
5 cups AP flour
1 teaspoon of Mastiha powder, for dusting
Confectioner’s sugar, as needed, for dusting
1. Preheat oven to 300 F.
2. Place almonds on a parchment paper-lined sheet tray, and roast for approximately 10 minutes, or until the almonds are toasted (a sandy-pinkish color), turning halfway through – keep a watchful eye to make sure the almonds don’t burn.
3. Remove from oven, allow almonds to cool, place in the bowl of a food processor, and grind until finely chopped.
4. Add the olive oil and granulated sugar to the bowl of standing mixer, and beat on medium-high with paddle attachment until the sugar has completely dissolved, and the ingredients have fully combined into a creamy mixture. Add the brandy and cinnamon, and mix to fully combine.
5. Measure out 1 cup of flour, and add the baking powder to this cup; sift flour/baking powder mixture, and slowly add to the bowl of the mixer; mix on low-medium setting.
6. Measure out 3 cups of flour, sifted, and continue adding to the bowl of the mixer, to allow dough to form. Add the almonds to the mixer, then sift the final cup of flour, and slowly add to the bowl (you may not need all of it).
7. The dough should be firm, but supple – it should stick together when pressed, but have a crumbly texture to it. Allow dough to rest for 15 minutes before forming cookies.
8. Using a tablespoon, portion out the dough onto a parchment paper lined sheet tray, and shape into rounds or crescents, leaving space between.
9. Bake at 300 F for 20 minutes, until lightly golden. Remove and allow to cool for 5 minutes, then sprinkle lightly with Mastiha powder and confectioner’s sugar, and allow to absorb.
10. Once cookies are cool, sift confectioner’s sugar over them until fully coated.
11. Store in airtight container lined with parchment paper, and enjoy!