Spring has officially arrived! The temps have finally hit the 60s and we can open the windows. I honestly did not think we would turn the corner after that crazy little snowstorm we had a few weeks ago. Hard on the heels of Spring we have the Passover and Easter holidays, filled with love, family and, of course, great food. Within the Christian faith Easter is celebrated by Western Christians, following the Gregorian calendar, and Eastern Orthodox Christians following the Julian calendar. Occasionally the dates line up, but typically they can be off by a week or more. This year Orthodox Easter is a week later, being celebrated on April 12th. Within Orthodox Christianity you find the faithful in America, Russia, many Eastern European countries and Greece. While now I identify myself as a Unitarian Universalist, I grew up in a Greek Orthodox family in Pittsburgh and still love following some of the cultural traditions, in particular, the food. One of my favorite traditions is rolling a delicious sweet dough into pretty cookies called koulourakia.
I decided recently to tap into my baking roots and work on a special cookie served at Greek Easter. My mother told me that her mother, my YiaYiá, always said the most delicious Easter baking was done on Holy Thursday. (This “fact” was confirmed by my Aunt Helen.) So I put a message out on my Facebook page asking my Greek friends and cousins to give me their opinion on koulourakia (koo-loo-RYE-kee-ya), a special Easter cookie. I think I had 25 comments. Soft versus crisp, orange versus Ouzo or liquor flavor, you name it. All comments generated from what their Mothers and YiaYiá’s made.
I went with what I knew the best, and worked on three koulourakia recipes handed down to me by my Mother, my Aunt Donna and my Aunt Helen, each of which are very different. My goal was to have three texturally different cookies, and that was achieved. (I loved each and every one of them so don’t ask which was my favorite!) First up was my Mother’s. I grew up eating these, so I it was fun making them. She uses a lot of egg yolks and cake flour, so her cookie texture is plum and very moist. Cake flour is nearly impossible to find in the grocery store now, so Whole Foods is your place to go. Click this link for the recipe: Soft Koulourakia
My second version was my Aunt Donna’s. From her original recipe I made two changes: I used pastry flour instead of all-purpose flour and Ouzo instead of Grand Marnier. Pastry flour has a slightly lower protein percentage than all-purpose flour, and gives this cookie a softer and more crumbly texture. Pastry flour can also be found at Whole Foods. Click this link for the recipe: Ouzo-spiked Koulourakia.
My third version, from my Aunt Helen, texturally is the closest to a typical koulourakia, crisp and light. Her cookie is made without egg, except for the egg wash to help the sesame seeds cling to it. My changes to her original recipe were using only unsweetened butter and adding fine sea salt. Click this link for the recipe: Orange-scented Koulourakia.
As with many things in the kitchen making these is just so much fun with family and kids. Rolling, twisting, and sesame seed sprinkling is a great afternoon activity for everyone.
Last thought … as you probably have noticed I add links of my previous posts from past years, at the end of my column. This week marks three years writing the Seasonal Chef column. Little did I know back then, creating this column with Liz Johnson, it would be such a fun journey through the farmers markets of Westchester and beyond. Looking back on that first post about asparagus I have come so far in my writing and photography! Many thanks to those that helped me along the way, especially my husband Larry who tirelessly reads many versions and Margaret Rizzuto for her coaching and keen food photographer’s eye. Most importantly to all the readers for your kind texts and messages! I am most grateful.