My son has been celebrating “Christmas Around the World” at his preschool. Each day throughout the few weeks before Christmas, they talk about a different country and how that country celebrates the holiday. To help set the tone, a child (i.e., his mother) may elect to bring in a holiday treat indigenous to one of the featured countries. I usually elect to participate (in everything). (And often later curse myself for trying to tackle yet another task.) Both last year and this, I hoped for Italy; my mother in-law stashes a battalion of Italian goody recipes. (Secretly I knew that she would offer to make the batch and ship them from Illinois to California … and I would have let her.) But no. Italy was not available.
I opted for fellow-Mediterranean Greece. (My affinity with Greece, Summer 1998: stories reserved for another time.) I tried to cheat and asked my local Greek friends where I could find a Greek bakery. No luck. (Note to Greek friends: open a Greek bakery in North County!) I’d have to make the treats from scratch, after all. So I asked my dear friend Vicky for an easy Greek treat recipe. “There are no easy Greek recipes,” she replied. Touche.
But she suggested Koulourakia, bite-sized butter cookies, with a hint of vanilla flavor, finished with a little glaze. She sent me a scribbled recipe (or “guideline”), handed down from her mom, with the disclaimer that (my honorary Theia) Maria doesn’t really do recipes. Great! This was turning out to be even more treacherous than I had anticipated. Some of the ingredients were rather daunting, and could not be located at my grocery stores. (Note to Greek friends: open a Greek specialty store in North County … perhaps next to the bakery!) I found a recipe from the Food Network that was (dare I say) similar to my friend’s; I hope I get the “close-enough-to-authentic” stamp of approval! My boys certainly approved, but what do they know … it’s all Greek to them (… but so yum)!
Irene’s Sweet Koulourakia
3 sticks butter
1 ¼ cups sugar
2 eggs, plus 2 eggs for glaze
2 Tablespoons orange juice, no pulp
2 Tablespoons pure vanilla extract
¾ teaspoon baking soda
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
5 ¼ cups flour
Begin with all ingredients at room temperature. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, cream the butter for five minutes. Add sugar and beat another 5 to 7 minutes. Add eggs, and beat until blended. Add the orange juice and the vanilla extract.
In another large bowl, combine the baking powder and baking soda with only about 1 cup of the flour. Stir in the egg mixture slowly. Add the remaining cups of flour gradually. The dough is ready when it pulls away from the sides of the bowl completely, and is soft and pliable.
Scoop out balls of dough (about the size of a Swedish meatball) and roll into long rope-like portions. Fold over in half and twist. Place the cookies on a greased cookie sheet.
Beat two eggs in a small bowl to make the glaze. Brush the cookies on the pan with the glaze and bake in the oven for 25 minutes until golden brown.