This Greek traditional cookies recipe carries the secret for light, fluffy and crunchy cookies. Challenge the most experienced baker (even professionals) to guess the ingredient that provides those cookies with their unique texture and flavor as you have never tasted before.
Making Easter cookies (koulourakia in Greek) is my favorite part of the Holy Weeks’ preparations mostly because it brings back memories from childhood and secondly because they are outrageously delicious, of course. It is such an easy recipe that even children can make them and that was –and still is – the case in our family. We have so much fun kneading those delicious cookies into braids and snails, watching them raising in the oven and enjoying their divine smell all around the house.
THE RECIPE AND THE SECRET
It is basically a buttery dough topped with shiny egg glaze and a unique ingredient which is the secret for the amazing texture and incomparable flavor. Cooking ammonia (or baker’s ammonia)! Say what? I know it sounds strange even dangerous to eat cooking ammonia*1 but I assure you that cooking ammonia is used in Greek cuisine before baking powder and baking soda were discovered and it is 100% safe to eat.
THE BAKING AMMONIA
Baking ammonia is a chemical leavener with the amazing property to release gas fast and to give a quick rise to your baking goodies. Its tiny crystals decompose in the heat of the oven, they leave minuscule air cells from which moisture easily escapes. Furthermore, this leavener leaves none of the soapy-tasting residue of baking powder or baking soda*2. That’s why, compared to other rising agents, the cookies made with baking ammonia are unquestionably firm and crispier on the outside and fluffier in the center. I am telling you, they are amazing!
The only pitfall is an unusual faint smell that may hang around for a short period. However, the smell will definitely dissipate really quickly and, if you ask me, I find it very pleasant. I suppose it is related to joyful childhood memories hence it’s difficult for me to make a detached judgment about the smell.
It isn’t that hard to find cooking ammonia. Either you order it online or you can purchase it in Greek and Middle East delis.
If you cannot find it or you don’t want to use any, substitute with a double quantity of baking powder. No matter what, I highly recommend to use this ingredient and bake these traditional cookies along with thousands of Greeks all around the world. You won’t regret it. Promise!
I know that all-purpose flour is your good-to-go flour. But can we make these cookies even better? Sure, we can! I would recommend pastry flour for this recipe for outstanding outcome. Pastry flour provides the perfect balance between tenderness and a good structure. Meaning, your cookies will be lighter and tender but they won’t fall apart. However, you may use all-purpose flour and make delicious cookies as well.
If you follow me for a while, you might know my obsession for sheep and goat butter. Come on, guys. It is so much creamier and tastier than cow butter. I cannot stress this enough: get out of your comfort zone and use goat or/and sheep butter for your desserts. Just once. Taste the awesomeness and you will never go back to your old habit.
It can be sticky so keep a small amount of butter to grease your hands while rolling and you will have no problem.
However, the only tricky part for these cookies is the flour. The perfect cookie it the one that contains the least amount of flour. Therefore, you should find the right amount of flour yourself. My only tip is to make a dough as runny as you can but not too runny so that the cookies will lose their shape and melt on the baking sheet. It sounds challenging, I know, but let’s have an adventure in the kitchen and see what happens.
Hand roll and shape into fun twisted designs like rings, braids, scrolled “S” (like a shake) shapes or any shape you want. Let your creativity to thrive, call your children in the kitchen and make memories with them.
A wonderful idea is to gather your friends too and make these delicious cookies altogether. Just like old times when festive baking was a serious social event for Greek housewives. They were gathering in the biggest kitchen in the village and were making cookies for hours. I mean huge amounts of cookies. Admittedly, baking cookies were the excuse for socializing and a little bit of extra gossiping. No one and nothing left untold. Every year.
My mom and I have been making this recipe for years and I had the impression that it was a family recipe. Till yesterday. I wanted to take a picture of the recipe in my mother’s old notebook and I found out that this amazing recipe belongs to a dear friend of our family. Thank you, Fouli! We love you and your cookies so much!
Store your cookies in a dry, well-sealed container on the counter and keep them up to at least 15 days. (Yeah, like they last that long!)
Serve those cookies all day long. Breakfast is definitely my most favorite time to enjoy them along with my Greek coffee. Perfect for a road trip, for parties, pick-nicks… you name it.
I have to go now. Orthodox Easter is tomorrow and, in Greece, we are very serious about Easter preparations. Most of the customs are lost in the depths of history and many Greeks follow them religiously. The big festive Easter table is in a few hours and I have so much to do. I will start by making this cabbage salad and then this spicy feta dip. This is the easy part. My flat flour pie has just come out of the oven and I really hope to have the time to make my stuffed eggplant dish. Oh, I shouldn’t forget to bring red wine. Lots of Agiorgitiko. The perfect pair for the main dish. The star of the festive table: roasted lamb with potatoes!
Happy Easter to everyone guys!!!
NOTE1: Attention, please. I am talking about cooking/baking ammonia and not the household cleaner that is …well… a cleaner. I am just saying…
NOTE2: Source “Cook’s Illustrated’’.
Greek Traditional Cookies
FOR THE DOUGH
- 1¼ cups (275g) goat or sheep butter, softened
- 8 cups (1kg) pastry flour or all-purpose flour*, sifted
- 6 eggs separated
- 1¾ cups (400g) granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 1½ tablespoon (20g) baking ammonia (or 3 tablespoons baking powder)
- ½ cup (130ml) full-fat milk
FOR THE EGG WASH
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 tablespoon milk
- 1 tablespoon water
- In a small saucepan on medium heat, mix the milk and the baking ammonia. Stir and just warm it up. Don’t boil it. Set aside.
- In another smaller saucepan on low heat, melt 1/4 cup butter. Set it aside to cool. It will be used for kneading the dough.
- In a large mixing bowl or bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, add egg whites and beat on medium speed for about 5 minutes until the mixture is shiny with stiff peaks. Set aside.
- Beat on medium speed, 1 cup softened butter, egg yolks, sugar, and vanilla extract until sugar is completely dissolved.
- Use a spatula to slowly and gradually incorporate the two mixtures (egg whites and egg yolk with butter-sugar). Add the milk and baking ammonia mixture and stir to incorporate.
- Keep 1 cup flour (it will be used for kneading the dough).
- Preheat oven to 392°F (200C°) and line a large cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Add gradually the remaining 7 cups of flour to the main mixture about a half cup each time. First, use a spatula to incorporate and when the dough is firm use your hands. Grease your hands with the melting butter and pour gradually the rest in the dough. Mix well until all ingredients are well combined. If the dough is super sticky start using more flour. We need a sticky but not runny dough.
- If the dough is super sticky and you can hardly handle the dough, use more flour. You need only 1 teaspoon each time. Incorporate it and see if it needs more. Please note that the dough should be sticky but not runny. To see if the dough is ready, shape a cookie and if it keeps its form, you are good to go. Otherwise, add more flour.*
- Shape the cookies as desired but it is important that they are all pretty much the same size. Place them on the sheet leaving at least 1 ½ inches (4cm) space between them.
- Prepare the egg wash by mixing together egg yolks, milk, and water. Brush on top of each cookie.
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes until golden brown.