Koulourakia – Greek Butter Cookies


Koulourakia are my father’s favorite sweet. So a few years back when I ran out of ideas for gifts, I started making him batches for Christmas. He always says the same thing… “You know, these are really an Easter cookie.” At which point I tell him I’d be happy to take them back, and that’s when his hands tighten around the box. His favorite way to eat them is with a hard boiled egg and a strong cup of black tea. Whether you are drinking tea, coffee or milk, koulourakia are great for dunking.

I like these cookies because they’re not as cloyingly sweet as most of the confections surrounding the holidays. This is the only recipe I’ve ever found that uses cardamom. Most recipes call for a shot of booze or orange juice, but the citrusy aroma and flavor from the cardamom is something special. For the full effect you want to grind the seeds, not use the already ground spice. Once cardamom seeds are ground, they start to lose their flavor and aroma. Lower grades of ground cardamom are a mixture of the seeds and the hulls, which you definitely don’t want. And look for pods that are green. They’re fresher and easier to open. The ones in the photo are a bit vintage.

This recipe is based on one from Amy Sedaris’s book I Like You: Hospitality Under the Influence. We’ve dialed up the spice a bit, and dialed down the amounts. Greek cookies are typically made in quantities befitting an army, which is appropriate if you’re giving them as gifts, but I find 30-40 is enough for Pops, a few friends and hubby too.

Koulourakia (makes approximately 35 cookies)

1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
3/4 cup (180ml) sugar
1 large (US) medium (EU) egg, room temperature and separated
1/2 cup (120ml) cream (you can use half and half or milk)
1 teaspoon (5ml) vanilla
1/4 teaspoon (1.25ml) ground green cardamom–remove seeds from pod and crush fine using mortar and pestle, spice grinder, or grab a coffee cup or rolling pin and smoosh them on a cutting board
1 teaspoon (5ml) baking powder
3 cups (720ml) all purpose flour
1/4 cup (60ml) sesame seeds (enough for sprinkling on top of the cookies)

Baking sheets lined with parchment paper

Preheat oven to 350° F (175° C).

Using a stand or hand mixer, cream the butter and sugar at high speed until light and fluffy.

Reduce speed to low and add egg yolk, cream, vanilla and cardamon. Mix until everything is evenly distributed.

In a separate bowl, whisk the flour and baking powder together.

Continuing at low speed, add the flour mixture to the butter mixture in two or three batches, mixing until the flour is completely incorporated.

At this point the dough can be refrigerated for a few days and baked later.

The dough will be a bit tacky, but should be fine for rolling. If you find it too hard to work with, you can add a little more flour or pop the dough in the refrigerator for an hour or so to firm up. Keep in mind the more flour you add the tougher the cookies will be.

To shape the cookies, pull off about 1-1/2 tablespoons or 22.5ml of dough (the size of a walnut) and roll out a rope about 6 inches long. You can shape the dough into whatever shape(s) you like. I make hairpin twists and serpentine shapes. You can make rings, horseshoes, Greek letters, figure eights, spirals–anything you like.

Place the shaped cookies on the parchment lined baking sheets.

Brush the tops of the cookies with the egg white. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown, rotating the sheets halfway through the cooking time. Check the cookies when they’re at the 15 minute mark to make sure they’re not burning. They go from golden to dark brown quickly.featured