Moist Christmas honey cookies, tasting like cake with so many tasty layers and flavor complexity that arises from different spices, orange and delicious, sweet, gold honey. So simple to make but extremely flavor compact. Although this recipe is based on pure olive oil, honey is the star. These cookies are bathed in a honey syrup which makes them so soft, delightfully melting in your mouth that in all seriousness, it is impossible to eat only one. No kidding! In the end, they are garnished with chopped walnuts.
Not surprisingly that these cookies are an all-time favorite for Christmas in Greece. Along with kourabiedes (Christmas butter cookies) and diples (honey rolls), melomakarona is the traditional sweet in almost every Greek home. The roots of these desserts lie deep in the centuries, lost in the culinary history of the Mediterranean Basin, in the eating habits of ancient Greeks, Romans and the Islamic culture that influenced and transformed every single regional cuisine.
These honey cookies for instance: Melomakarona = “Melo” from honey and “makarona” coming from macaroni which is –guess what? – Right! Greek! Macaroni derives from the word «μακαρωνία», a funeral dinner where a pie called «μακαρία» was served. Later on, they had a brilliant idea to add honey in that pie and that’s how melomakarona was born. But why Christmas honey cookies? It is simple. Honey symbolizes fertility and well-being for the new year to come.
These Christmas honey cookies are probably the first dessert I’ve made. I remember standing on a chair next to my grandmother in her humble but so cozy country house a few days before Christmas. I cannot tell exactly my age but I remember that I couldn’t reach the faucet which was frustrating enough. Needless to say that I recall those moments each time I bake melomakarona. The flour, the smell of spices, orange and that gross orange liquid (cognac). The best part was when I dipped baked cookies into honey syrup and wait a few minutes to soak up all that sweetness. Somehow my beloved giagia (grandmother) is by my side every single time and reveals again her cooking tips with her sweet voice: “You should not overwork the dough. Otherwise, the cookies will be hard as a rock. Do you want to eat rocks for Christmas, dear?”
Enough with memories and let’s wait no more. I am excited to share my family’s recipe and all the “behind the recipe secrets”, and techniques. Because I really want your Christmas honey cookies to be the most popular treat all over your town or just to make your home smell like Christmas.
Description: Take the liquid ingredients and mix them with flour. Shape the dough and bake it. Let the honey cookies cool while making the syrup. Bath the cookies in the hot syrup. Garnish with walnuts. Boom. Christmas honey cookies, ready.
Don’t freak out about sugar. You may replace it. I won’t. I don’t want to change anything from my family’s recipe out of respect for my grandma and because it is so incredibly awesome like this. Come on, it’s Christmas, guys. Enjoy your Christmas honey cookies without guilt. However, these cookies have olive oil, honey, orange juice, walnuts and offer tons of antioxidants. Your body will thank you for it!!
Listen to my grandma. Stir gently and knead without overworking the dough. No more than 2 minutes from the moment you incorporate the flour.
There isn’t a right quantity of flour. Greek home bakers usually add flour “as much as it takes”. Well, I know this is not very helpful but my tip will be. Add the flour gradually and check the dough. I have estimated more or less 8 cups (1kg) of flour for that recipe. Add 6 cups and shape one cookie. Let it rest for a couple of minutes. If it keeps its shape and doesn’t meltdown, you are good to go. Otherwise, incorporate more flour and check again. This is the most important cooking tip for this recipe.
There is an endless debate about the right timing for syrup’s addition. Some say you should add the hot syrup on cold cookies, others disagree, etc. My way is to make a huge bunch of honey cookies and to keep them in food containers WITHOUT syrup. They are an excellent and convenient snack and lunch box. If I want to serve them or to offer them as a gift I make the syrup and adjust it to the quantity I want to serve/offer. So, the cookies are cold when they take a hot syrup bath.
Another way is to add the syrup right from the beginning and keep the honey cookies in a well-sealed food container for over a month. No fridge.
The traditional shape is oval and the honey cookies size is more or less the size of a palm. You may like the traditional decoration on their surface by using a fork. Pinch lightly only the surface. Another way is to press lightly the cookies on a cheese grater. This technique will help the cookies to soak better the syrup. If you know what I mean!!
READY! NOW, WHAT?
Enjoy your Christmas honey cookies with a hot cup of coffee or herbal tea.
You may make them even a month before Christmas. Bake them and keep them in a food container. They will last one month for sure and even more.
CHRISTMAS HONEY COOKIES
- 1½ cup (370ml) olive oil
- ⅔ cup (150ml) orange juice
- 1tablespoon orange zest
- ⅔ cup (150ml) cognac or brandy
- 1-1½ cup (200g-300g) table sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground clove
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 7-8 cups (1kg) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 cups (250g) walnuts, chopped
- 2 cups (250ml) water
- 1-1½ cups (200-300g) table sugar
- 1 cup (340g) honey
- 1 cinnamon stick
- Preheat the oven at 200°C / 390°F.
- In a big bowl, combine the olive oil, sugar, orange, orange zest, cognac/brandy, sugar, clove powder, cinnamon powder. Whisk well for 1-2 minutes to dissolve sugar.
- In another smaller bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder and baking soda and add the flour mixture to the liquid mixture. Use a spoon and gradually incorporate the flour.
- After adding 6 cups of flour, the dough is too firm to stir with the spoon. Use your hands to gently fold the dough from the bottom to the top. Knead for no more than 2 minutes. Add gradually more flour. It is time to check the dough. Shape one cookie and let it rest for a couple of minutes. If it holds its shape, the dough is ready. If the cookie is melting down, add more flour to the dough.
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper (just in case because they usually don's stick), shape the cookies in any form you like and place them leaving some distance between them. Pinch lightly their surface with a fork or press gently the cookies on a cheese grater.
- Place the sheet in the middle rack of the oven and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let them cool.
- In a saucepan on medium-high heat add water, sugar, the cinnamon stick. Boil for 5 minutes and remove from heat. Let it cool for about 10 minutes and add the honey. Whisk until it dissolves and remove the cinnamon stick.
- Dip the cookies into the hot syrup with a slotted spoon for 5-10 minutes. The time depends on how sweet and soft you want them. Test the first one and adjust accordingly for the rest of them. Then dip them in batches to save time, rotate them and remove them.
- Place them on a large platter and immediately sprinkle chopped walnuts. Alternatively, place them in a well-sealed food container and keep them out of the fridge for one month.