Friday, January 14, 2011

Melomakorona: Greek Honey-Soaked Cookies

I thought these were going to be easy...

...and it's not that Melomakarona are 'hard' to make, so much as they're time-consuming. You need to shape each one by hand and then place them in batches in hot honey syrup. I figured they'd be like baklava where you pour the syrup over after they're baked, but no, this one involved carefully picking them up one by one and essentially reverse deep-frying (instead of deep-frying in oil, the olive oil cookies are deep-fried in honey syrup...), then removing them with a slotted spoon and sprinkling with walnuts. They are heavenly, but anything with this much oil that falls apart so easily in your honey-drenched mouth (I initially mistyped "honey-frenched" and I think it may also be appropriate) should be epiphanal.

A Greek friend of mine asked his mom to make me a bunch of these as a Christmas present. Best. Present. Ever. Except I'm one person and there was a big Christmas-y container of them that weighed about 10 pounds.

 "They last a few weeks", says my friend, but mine sure didn't. Dinner of melamakorona? I'm not going to say I didn't...I may have rounded it out with a salad or something.

So I had to make them for myself and I had to make a few different kinds as all the refined sugar and regular flour in this recipe would make them off-limits for my mom. So I did a gluten-free, sugar-free version that ended up a little more crumbly (which was fine since they didn't have to be moved once I put them in a container post honey-soak) and one regular batch. The cookies are naturally crumbly and a little gritty from the semolina called for in most recipes, so I figured it would work perfectly with a mix of rice flours, starches, and sorghum flour.

3/4 cup of fresh orange juice
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 cup olive oil
3/4 cup sunflower oil (or other flavourless oil. All olive oil makes the cookies bitter apparently)
1/4 cup of brandy (I think I used whiskey and it worked fine)

1 cup of sugar
3 cups of all-purpose flour (or gluten-free flour blend)
1 cup of fine-ground semolina (or medium-ground, but not corn flour)
grated peel of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon of grated cloves (or ground cloves)

For the Syrup and Topping:
2 cups of water
2 cups of sugar (or sugar substitute)
2 cups of honey (or agave, but use only about 1 - 1 1/2 cups since agave is much sweeter)
1 stick of cinnamon (two doesn't hurt...)
3-4 whole cloves
1 cup finely chopped walnuts

Preheat the oven to 350 Fahrenheit (180C.

Stir the baking soda into the orange juice.

Put all the dry ingredients (flour, semolina, sugar, spices, orange peel) in a bowl and mix until blended with a whisk. In the middle, create a well and add the liquid ingredients (oil, brandy, and orange juice).

Knead the dough until it sticks to your hands. It should be wonderfully gooey.

To shape the cookies take a fistful of dough and make it into a log. Press the dough gently with your fingers on one side to flatten slightly. The shape of the cookies can be rounded, oval, or a small log shape. The ones my friend had given me that his Greek mother had made were rounded, so I aimed for that.

Photos from Melomakarona Greek Honey Cookies

Place the cookies well spaced in a cookie sheet (no need to grease the sheet since the cookies have so much oil in them that leeches out anyway), place on the middle rack in the oven and bake until browned (about 15-20 minutes}. A little extra is not the end of the world since they get soaked in syrup and there's no way they'll be tough, but you'll taste a slightly over-cooked flavour. If they're undercooked they may be too crumbly to soak properly. Remove from the oven and allow to cool on baking racks (or plates. Who has a ton of baking racks?).

The cookies need to cool completely before being dipped in the syrup or they'll fall apart, so don't start the syrup until the cookies have cooled.

Put the water, honey, sugar, cinnamon stick, and cloves in a wide pot (like a deep frying pan. The wider it is the fewer batches you'll need to do. It can save a lot of time) and bring to a boil over medium-high heat for 2-3 minutes. Turn the heat down to low. As soon as it starts to boil, a foam rises to the top. Scoop this off and throw it out. Remove the cinnamon stick and cloves, or save them to add to the cookie tin after as garnish. Don't eat them.

Put the cookies (as many as will fit on the bottom at a time) into the hot syrup and use a spatula to hold them down completely immersed in the syrup for about a minute, depending on how syrupy you want them to be. Then remove them with a slotted spoon, letting some of the syrup drip, place on a large serving plate in layers (or immediately into a container with a top so you don't have to move them again), sprinkling each layer liberally with the finely chopped walnuts before adding another layer on top.

Melomakarona are not refrigerated. Cover them well with plastic wrap or in tins so they don't dry out, and they'll last for at least a week. The brilliance of not using oil or eggs! You also end up with a ton of leftover soaking syrup...this is the best part. Pour it (only a little at a time) on ice cream or yogurt, or frozen yogurt, or use it in smoothies as a sweetener, or even dip fruit or toast into it. Mmm...cinnamon-infused honey could also just make some baklava and use it all up in one go.

So was I meant to be Greek? Well some Greek friends (and friends of friends) came to the 3rd Annual Volk/Watson Christmas Extravaganza and actually said, "They're better than my mother's," and I nearly died. His mother would cry if he told her that. I know what that means in a Greek family. High praise indeed.


Shoji said...

I've been having lot of fun reading through your posts. Great writing! Thanks again for the wine bar recommendations! We went to Les Trois Petits Bouchons and loved it.