Do you smell those Christmas butter cookies? That exquisite smell of butter is coming right out of my kitchen. Come on! It is so strong that it should have come to you by now. Well, I wish I had the way to invite you all in my humble home in Athens, just to treat you these Christmas butter cookies named Kourabiedes. They’re buttery, crumbly, full of ground toasted almonds, vanilla extract and covered with a thick layer of powdered sugar. Imagine those goodies melting in your mouth with a hot cup of coffee in front of your fireplace on Christmas Eve, surrounded by the people you love. Priceless moments!
In Greek homes, it wouldn’t be Christmas without kourabiedes and melomakarona. You may find both of them in huge platters, as focal point, along with the Christmas tree (of course). Looking at the platters, you see Christmas butter cookies placed in pyramid shape which reminds kind of a mountain. They are covered with powdered sugar, meaning the “mountain” is always full of “snow” and that is a childhood memory that I particularly cherish. I remember to grab one (and two and three…who counts?), run and hide (again) to eat it, leaving trails of sugar all over the floor, my face and clothes (“No, it wasn’t me. Santa Claus ate them”). It is not easy to resist of a butter cookie full of sugar. That’s why the platters were usually out of children’s reach in order to avoid overeating all these cookies.
The origins of this sweet are lost in space and time. During medieval times, the word “biscuit” coming from latin bis-cuit (baking technique meaning baking bread twice) was spreading to Asia through Venetian traders. There, this Latin word was altered to biya/biye and incorporated into local word Qura/Kuru (meaning dry). The result was the new word Qurabiya/Kurabiye that came back to the West a few centuries later during Ottoman rule in the Balkans. In Greece those dry biscuits evolved independently and their taste is completely different from the Kurabiye from which they came.
Once again, culture transcends the borders that humans erect around nations and empires. How could this cookie be originated from one country or nation? Centuries of a constant journey from West to East and back, it was shared, adapted, altered by so many cultures. It is so fascinating!
Let’s get down to business now… You know, the recipe.
These cookies are similar to shortbread recipes: butter, powdered sugar, egg, baking powder, cognac or brandy, almonds, flour. Mix them all together and bake for 15-20 minutes.
High quality goat or sheep butter is the essence of that recipe. Its delightful light and rich flavor is what makes that cookie to stand out. It won’t be difficult to find that kind of butter in big stores. Nevertheless, you may use cow butter. You won’t get exactly the same outcome but it will be close enough to enjoy.
The ingredient that makes these Christmas butter cookies a distinctive holiday treat is rosewater. For me it is a must in that recipe. You may purchase it in local Greek delis or other Middle Eastern grocers. If you don’t like it try flower water instead. However, if you don’t feel like risking with such new strong flavors, just add almond liqueur (Amaretto). It’s up to you, even though I strongly advice to give rosewater a try!
We usually shape them in thick round cookies and crescents.
Butter and eggs should be at room temperature. That’s how you are going to cream the butter for at least 10-20minutes. Butter’s color will turn to white and texture will remind of whipped cream. That’s how the cookies will be extra tender and they are going to melt into the mouth.
I use all-purpose and hard flour myself. The mentioned amount of flour varies, as always. However, there is a very simple way to find out if the dough is ready. Before you add the last cup of flour, shape a cookie and let it rest for a minute. If it keeps its shape and doesn’t melt, go baking. Otherwise, add more flour and check again. Don’t overwork the dough, when you add the flour. Your goal is just to incorporate it.
The dough is ready!
The shaped cookies should keep their form before baking them.
I know you cannot wait to garnish those Christmas butter cookies with luscious layers of powdered sugar. Me too! Nevertheless we have to wait until they are cool. Firstly, they are very soft and crumbly when they are hot and therefore it is very difficult to move them. Secondly, the powdered sugar is going to melt down and form a thick layer that is not pleasant to taste.
- 2 cups + ¼ goat or sheep butter
- 1 cup powdered sugar
- 1 egg yolk
- 6 tablespoons cognac or brandy or amaretto
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon rosewater or flower water
- 1 cup roughly chopped, unsalted toasted almonds
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 3 cups hard flour
- Extra powdered sugar for dusting the cookies
- Remove the butter from the refrigerator (2-3 hours before using it). Cut it in pieces to save at least half time.
- Preheat oven at 350°F (180 °C).
- Place almonds on a baking tray and bake them for 10 minutes. Be careful not to burn them. Let them cool.
- In a large bowl, beat the butter with a stand mixer or an electric hand mixer on high speed for 10 minutes until white and fluffy.
- Add powdered sugar and beat another 10 minutes until looks like whipped cream.
- Add egg yolk and beat until incorporated. Do the same for the rest of ingredients: cognac or brandy or amaretto, baking powder, vanilla extract, toasted almonds, rosewater/flower water.
- Add gradually the flour with a spatula. When the dough is thick enough, use your hands. Add 5 cups and shape a cookie. If the cookie melts, add more flour. Repeat until the cookie is firm.
- Shape into thick round cookies, crescents or both, place them on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper (optional) and bake for 15-20 minutes in the middle oven rack until light golden.
- Let them cool before placing them in a platter. Dust them with generous amount of powdered sugar using a strainer.