Sometimes life has a way of leading you right back to where you started. I was born and raised in Salt Lake City by a Greek mother and a Louisianan father from Cajun country. Growing up, I helped my mom cook for various holidays – sometimes Cajun, sometimes Greek, and sometimes a mixture of both. I left for college in Atlanta, Georgia and then went on to England to pursue a degree in Ethnobotany, which culminated in my research of how small farms on the island of Sicily are adapting to globalization by turning old family recipes for things grown on their land into delicious products for the larger global market. When I moved back home to SLC after school, I felt lost and thought I’d move again. But instead, I ventured into Caputo’s and saw all the possibility here. Four years later, here I am.
Living in Salt Lake again has given me some quality time with my parents and taught me some valuable lessons in baking and cooking. As the youngest of 5 girls, my mom was never short of help in the kitchen. Now, baking with my mom has become less sweatshop and more of a lesson in productive bickering (I mean that in the best way possible, Mom!). For instance, when I suggest a change to the recipe that she doesn’t like, she responds with “hmmm, I’ll take that into consideration.” However, when I suggest something she might like, the response is, “let’s try it and see how it goes.”
This koulourakia recipe was no different – koulourakia are likely some of the best recognized Greek cookies as they are buttery, not too sweet, and perfect for dipping in tea and coffee. Typically made and eaten around Easter, but lovely year round, they’re generally made in a large batch and formed into twists or wreaths that look elegant and complicated but are quick to form and bake. This recipe should make about 60 cookies, which may sound like a lot, but I assure you it’s the perfect amount. I like to have them for breakfast dipped in some earl grey tea or coffee.
Our family recipe calls for a few warm spices like cinnamon, anise and orange peel as well as some Metaxa, a Greek brandy (whiskey is fine to substitute.) If you want a more classic version, leave these spices out. Whether you need a grab and go breakfast or a snack to share with friends, koulourakia are a perfect treat for any occasion.
- 1 c butter softened
- 1 c sugar
- 3 eggs (save 1 egg white for egg wash)
- 1/4 c whole milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 5 c flour
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground anise
- 1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon orange peel (dried or fresh)
- 2 tablespoons Metaxa or whiskey
In a mixing bowl, whip butter until light and fluffy. Add in sugar, eggs, vanilla, milk, and whiskey and allow to incorporate. Make sure all ingredients are room temperature!
In a separate bowl sift in flour, baking powder, cinnamon, anise, nutmeg, orange peel. Mix up so ingredients are evenly distributed and then slowly add into wet ingredients until incorporated. Allow the dough to rest for about 15-20 minutes. Once rested, preheat oven to 350 and flour a surface to begin rolling cookies.
To create the twist roll about a tablespoon of dough into a long thin pice and fold in half (see diagram). Then twist one leg over the other twice. For a wreath you can twist a few more times and connect the ends of the twist. You will need about 4-5 trays lined with aluminum foil for baking. Leave about 2 inches between each cookie as they will rise. Once all rolled out, mix remaining egg white with a dash of water until it’s a bit frothy. Apply to the top of the cookies with a pastry brush. If you want a glossier finish, add an egg yolk to this mixture as well.
Bake for 20-25 minutes, until slightly browned and cookies no longer stick to tray when picked up. We rotate them every 8 minutes or so between racks so each cookie sheet gets even browning. Koulourakia will freeze well and keep well in a jar on the counter top. My bet is they won’t have to last too long though!