Monday, 6 December 2010

Koulourakia (Greek Butter Cookie)

This is my second posted recipe for koulourakia, which are traditional Greek butter cookies normally served at holidays, particularly Easter, but also Christmas. They come in a variety of shapes, including twists and circles, and the following directions are to make the more common twist form.

Helpful schematic courtesy of my Uncle Jeff

For those of you who have never had the opportunity to taste koulourakia before, they are butter cookies, on the dry side like biscotti. They are meant to be enjoyed with coffee or at least milk. They are slightly sweet, with vanilla, and glazed with an egg wash.  And they are delicious, a simple flavor but one of the best around. This recipe is my Aunt Maria's, and it is hand's down the best I've had since my Yia-Yia's (who never wrote anything down, and unfortunately that recipe was lost).

But before we begin, there are a few provisos about making koulourakia. I'm not going to lie: these cookies are time consuming if you make them the traditional way, rolling and shaping them, as opposed to dropping them into small rounds. To me, the extra time is worth it, but it is a labor of love to the tune of about 5 hours.

If you decide that you just want to scoop and drop cookies, it will go a lot faster, I'll give some ballpark baking times at the bottom. They are just as tasty round. Using the dough measurements I give, this recipe will yield about 15 dozen cookies twisted, 7 1/2 dropped, it is an incredibly high yield recipe that would be a great choice for a cookie exchange as well.

And about the twisting: the dough is dry out of necessity, it is important for the final cookie consistency, but it can make rolling a challenge, especially since you roll it to a log of about 3/8" thick -- pretty thin actually. The dough can and will crack and break as you roll it occasionally. Sometimes you can just pinch it back together, sometimes you need to re-roll it. And sometimes you just pitch it back into the bowl and try again. I try to be as explicit as I can be with the instructions for rolling and baking. Don't misunderstand me, I don't want to discourage you from making them, they are a fabulous cookie!! I just want you to be prepared if you choose to make the traditional shape (and again, you can always just scoop out the dough and bake it into rounds).

Okay? Okay! Let's get started. First, butter and sugar get creamed together until nice and fluffy, this will probably take about 3 minutes of good hard mixing.

Then eggs and vanilla get added in and combined.

Premix all of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and baking soda) in a bowl, and add it into the batter slowly. I normally do this about a cup at a time. Be sure to mix thoroughly.

Now, here comes the fun bit: the rolling. Take a #60 scoop, and scoop out a wad of dough. Roll it around in a ball for a few seconds to smooth it out, and then roll it between your hands until it is maybe 2 inches long. Put it down on the counter. There is a lot of butter in the dough, so it shouldn't be too sticky. But, if you are noticing it sticks, put a very light coating (so light it is pretty much invisible) on the counter and your hands.

This dough needs to be rolled out (carefully) 12" long. I always have the ruler for reference, because my eyes will play tricks on me if I don't.

Then, cut the dough in half, leaving 2-6" pieces. I use one of those firm, clear plastic butter knives for this part, so I don't have to worry about scratching my counter. If you are finding that rolling such a big piece is too hard for you, you can always cut the dough in half when it is still 2" long, and then roll each half out to 6" separately, although this will take longer.

Pick up a piece of the dough and transfer it to the parchment-lined cookie sheet where it will bake, to the position it will bake in. Bend the dough in half like so:

Then, cross over one side with the other:

And bring that piece up around the other side to make one full twist:

Do it for the other half of the dough as well. Eventually,  you will end up with a sheet of these:

Don't be discouraged if some crack or break. I've made hundreds and hundreds, and mine do too, it is just the nature of the dough.  Unless you are my Aunt Maria, and your cookies always look perfect like they came out of some koulourakia cookie press. Normally, you can repair breaks with a pinch, and the cracks will be less noticeable as the cookie puffs while baking.

Don't be afraid to pack the cookies onto the sheet, they don't spread much, and the more cookies you put on a sheet, the fast the whole process takes. I normally pack 20 onto a sheet in this configuration:

Also, I don't know about you, but I only have 4 cookie sheets. For this recipe, I have to reuse them like mad. What I normally do is twist enough cookies for all my sheets, and then start them baking. While I am out of sheets, I twist cookies on the parchment on my counter, and then when I get a sheet that is cooled enough to put new cookies on (about the length of time it takes the sheet following that one to bake), I just bring the cookie sheet flush with my counter and slide the new parchment + cookies onto it like this:

This way, I can keep twisting even if I have run out of sheets. Generally, when I bring a cookie sheet out of the oven, I start twisting a new set of cookies onto parchment, and by the time I am done twisting 20 cookies, the sheet is cool enough for me to slide them on there.

The dough will be sitting around for a while as you make these cookies (and it was already extremely dry to begin with), so keep the bowl covered with a few layers of damp paper towels

Then, the cookies get brushed with an egg wash. One single egg got me through all 15 dozen, you don't need to be too heavy-handed with the wash. Also, if you have sheets of twisted but unbaked cookies laying around, brush with the egg wash right before you put it into the oven to bake, so it doesn't dry.

Then go ahead and bake. Mine took about 14 minutes.

They should be golden brown when they come out -- how brown is a matter for your personal preference. My aunt and I like them overdone, my mom prefers them lighter, so don't be afraid to experiment with different baking times -- after all, you will have 15 dozen!

If you don't want to do all that twisting, just use the #60 scoop to scoop and drop dough onto the cookie sheets and bake, around the same length of time, just keep an eye on them. Doing it this way should yield about 7 1/2 dozen cookies, still an impressive haul for one batch.

Or, you can roll them, and form them into circles, that is another traditional shape. If you're feeling really adventurous, you can make coils, circular braids or "S" shaped cookies like here, all also traditional. But I like the twists best, because that's how my Yia-Yia made them.

I can not say enough good things about these cookies. The taste is subtle but addicting. The texture is the perfect complement to a nice cup of coffee or tea, or milk.

These do very well in the freezer, they'll be good for at least a month if not more, so you can easily make them ahead of time. Look at me, mine are done, and Christmas isn't for another 3 weeks.

Plus, the recipe yields so much that you will have enough cookies to bring everywhere I'm bringing them to 4 places minimum, and I'll probably bring some to the lab as well, and still have enough to be steadily noshing until New Year's.

If you're a Greek looking for a great Koulourakia recipe, or if you're on the prowl to try some cookies from around the world, or if you're just looking for a simple and delicious butter cookie with natural ingredients (simple if you just drop them onto the sheet, that is), consider this recipe for your holiday baking.

(Printable Recipe)

  • 1 1/2 C sweet butter
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 C AP flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Beaten egg (for egg wash)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy
  3. Add in eggs and vanilla and beat well to combine
  4. Combine all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and soda) in a separate bowl
  5. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, mixing thoroughly
  6. Using the #60 scoop, scoop out dough. Either roll out, cut and twist dough as desired (see blog text); or drop dough directly onto parchment-lined cookie sheets for round butter cookies
  7. Brush with beaten egg
  8. Bake 10-15 minutes (depends on shape). Remove when golden brown. Let cool on sheet 1 minute before removing to rack

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