Honey Cookies

Melomakarona

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The traditional Greek Christmas cookies, Melomakarona are believed to have originated in antiquity. They are also called phoenikia, and their name suggests that they probably came from the Phoenicians, a people who lived on the Mediterranean shore of the Middle East where Lebanon is today and who had extensive trade with ancient Greeks. My mother’s Melomakarona are the best I have tasted, and this is her recipe. She insists on letting the finished biscuits cool overnight before dipping them briefly in the syrup. That way they remain crunchy. Most commercial or homemade Melomakarona are very soggy.

In many contemporary households, butter is used instead of the olive oil called for in the old recipes, changing their taste completely—ruining it, in my opinion.

Ingredients

  • cups light olive oil
  • cup sugar
  • 1 cup fresh orange juice
  • 3-4 cups all-purpose flour
  • teaspoons baking powder
  • ½ cup brandy
  • cups fine semolina
  • Grated rinds of 1 orange and 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

Syrup

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2 cups water
  • 1 large piece of orange peel
  • 1 large piece of lemon peel
  • 1 cup coarsely ground walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons finely ground cloves

Method

Using an electric mixer, beat the olive oil with the sugar. Add the orange juice. In a separate bowl, mix 2 cups flour with the baking powder, and add to the oil and orange mixture. Beat with the electric mixer adding the brandy, semolina, orange and lemon peel, cloves, and cinnamon. Turn the mixture out onto a floured surface and start kneading, adding more flour, to obtain a soft and elastic dough. Let stand for 20 to 30 minutes, covered with plastic wrap.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

Take tablespoonfuls of dough and shape into oval cookies about inches long. Press them on the top with the back of a fork to mark them with horizontal lines. Place on an oiled cookie sheet and bake for about 25 minutes. Let cool on a rack overnight.

The next day make the honey syrup. In a saucepan, mix the sugar, honey, and water and bring to a boil. Add the orange and lemon peels and simmer for 10 minutes. Remove from the heat.

Place 2 or 3 cookies on a large slotted spoon and dip them in the syrup. Don’t let them soak in it; they should absorb only a little syrup, and remain crunchy. Place layers of honey-dipped Melomakarona on a serving dish. Mix the walnuts with the ground cloves, and sprinkle over the cookies. Let cool completely before serving. They keep well for about 10 days.