Every corner of Greece hides its own customs and traditions that have their roots deep back in time.
Each region of the country prepares in its own way the welcoming of Christmas and New Year with events and celebrations, that revive old habits and customs.
Melomakarona and Kourabiedes are our national sweets, which are considered indispensable in every Greek home during the Christmas period.
Last year we made Kourabiedes, a snowy white shortbread cookie with almond bits, covered in confectioner’s sugar.
This year we are making its eternal Christmas’ rival, Melomakarona.
Melomakarona are traditional Greek Christmas cookies.
The melomakarona dough is made from flour, semolina, orange juice, olive oil and spices, which is then kneaded into small oval cookies and baked.
Up to this point, the melomakarona is an unsweetened cookie.
All of its sweetness will come after baking when it is dipped in honey syrup.
Melomakarona are served in a platter drizzled with extra honey and sprinkled with ground walnuts.
For these amazing Greek Christmas cookies, even though their name implies that they are made with honey (“meli” in Greek means “honey”), most recipes use sugar in their syrup and drizzle with a little honey at the end.
Last couple of years we’ve been avoiding eating sugar, so we were tempted to try this Christmas cookie recipe only with honey.
Our only fear was wasting our precious honey, if things wouldn’t turn out well.
Luckily not a crumb was wasted!
These Greek honey cookies are so close to the real thing, you’d swear that they ARE the real thing.
In fact, they are better!
How To Make The Honey Syrup
The real challenge for making the best melomakarona lies in the syrup.
The technique to achieve a soft inside and a crunchy outside cookie is done by dipping the sizzling HOT melomakarona in the COLD honey syrup as soon as they come out of the oven.
In this recipe, we want the honey syrup to be cold, so you should start off by making it first.
The steps for making your honey syrup are simple.
You start off by boiling water along with the sticks of cinnamon, cloves and halved orange.
After a couple of minutes, you remove the pot from the heat and add the honey.
Mix well, so as honey has dissolved in the hot water.
By adding honey at the end of this cooking step, you ensure that all its aromas and flavors are preserved in the syrup.
Keep the orange, cinnamon sticks and cloves into the syrup until it cools completely.
Don’t try to speed things up by placing the honey syrup in the fridge to cool.
Hot syrup may take 2-3 hours to cool, so we made ours the previous night and continued with making the melomakarona dough the following morning.
Once the syrup is cooled down, remove the spices and orange.
You are now ready to prepare the dough!
In our recipe, the honey syrup is plenty enough for twice the number of Christmas cookies you will be making.
We do this, because these Christmas cookies get eaten very quickly in our house.
Having the syrup ready, really speeds things up.
After we prepare the first batch of melomakarona, we strain the syrup and place it in a jar.
We, then, keep it in the fridge for the next time.
The honey syrup should keep well for up to 2 weeks.
How To Make The Christmas Cookie Dough
The melomakarona dough consists only of flour, semolina, orange juice, olive oil and spices.
It’s a dough that requires very little kneading, so be careful not to overwork.
The texture of the dough should be very soft and smooth.
You are aiming for a crunchy outside and a soft inside, and thin semolina helps achieve just that! The perfect crunchy cookie!
Because you don’t want to overwork the cookie dough (if you do, the oil will separate from the dough and melomakarona won’t be crunchy) you should sift your flour!
As well as, it is very important to pour the mixture with the wet ingredients into the mixture with the sifted flour and semolina, and not the other way around.
Some people prefer to use half olive and half vegetable oil in their Greek Christmas melomakarona recipe.
The result is also nice, but we prefer to use only olive oil as it’s much healthier.
It might be a bit expensive, but it’s worth every dime!
Tips For The Best Greek Christmas Cookies
To sum it up, these are our tips for the perfect traditional Greek Christmas cookies:
- DON’T overwork the dough!!! A couple of seconds of mixing should do it!
- Honey syrup should be cold, cookies should be really hot (as soon as they come out of the oven).
- You need to submerge the hot cookies in the syrup, so use a narrow pot, or container.
- With a spatula, place 5-6 cookies in the syrup at a time, submerge them with the aid of a slotted spoon for 5 seconds, and remove. Place on a rack to allow excess syrup to drip off.
- Allow the honey cookies to completely cool down before placing them on your platter.
- When your honey cookies have completely cooled down, place the first layer (we like to pile them up in a tower, for a super fancy-professional look), drizzle with honey and sprinkle with walnut bits. Continue by adding smaller circles!
- Cover your Christmas cookies with cling film or place in an airtight container at room temperature!
We wish you have a wonderful Christmas this year!
Good health and love to you and your families!
We have a lot of exciting and adventurous things happening in our lives at the moment!
Hope 2018 is an amazing year!
Lots of love to everyone out there!
If you want to try another REALLY SPECIAL Greek Christmas cookie recipe, be sure to check “Mamoulia“!
- 510ml. water (2 cups)
- 740ml. honey (2 cups)
- 1 small unwaxed orange, halved
- 2 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 500gr. all-purpose flour, sifted
- 100gr. thin semolina
- 290ml. extra virgin olive oil
- 200ml. fresh orange juice (approximately 3 small oranges)
- 1 small orange, zest only
- A pinch of salt
- ½ tsp. baking soda
- 1½ tsp. ground cinnamon
- ¼ ground nutmeg
- ¼ ground clove
- Ground walnuts
In a medium pot, add the water, cloves, cinnamon sticks and orange.
Bring to a boil for 1-2 minutes.
Remove the pot from the heat and stir in the honey.
Whisk until honey is well combined.
Keep aside until syrup is completely cool.
Remove the orange, cloves and cinnamon sticks.
Syrup is ready to use.
Get a big bowl and add the all-purpose flour and the thin semolina.
Whisk until they are well combined.
Get another bowl and add the fresh orange juice and baking soda.
Add the olive oil, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and orange zest.
Whisk until all ingredients are well combined.
Transfer this wet mixture into the bowl with the all-purpose flour and semolina.
Use your hands and knead the dough for a few seconds, until all ingredients are nicely combined and the dough is soft and smooth.
DO NOT OVERWORK the dough! It is very important!
Preheat oven to 170 degrees Celsius / Upper and lower heating elements.
Cover a baking tray with parchment paper and set aside.
Weigh 30gr. of dough and roll with your palms into an oval shape.
Transfer to the baking tray.
Press lightly the prongs of a fork in the center of the cookie in order to form a crosshatch pattern.
Repeat until there is no dough left.
Bake for 50-55 minutes on the middle rack, until melomakarona are lightly browned.
Remove the baking tray from the oven and now be quick or be dead!
With a spatula, place 5-6 cookies in the syrup.
With a slotted spoon, submerge the cookies for 5 seconds and transfer them on a rack.
Allow excess syrup to drip off.
Repeat until all melomakarona are finished.
Let them on a rack to completely cool.
Transfer melomakarona to a nice festive platter.
Drizzle with honey and sprinkle with ground walnuts.
If you want them to last longer, you can store them in an airtight container at room temperature.