The aroma of kourabiedes floating through my house and unlocking childhood memories bring a huge smile to my face. When a particular smell releases so many memories connected to a unique Greek holiday tradition that reminds me of coming home from school to my mother baked kourabiedes, to my father and I have conversations around the kitchen table eating them, to the joy, happiness, and excitement I felt that winter break has arrived. I would be off from school and get to spend more time with my family. Kourabiedes stimulated an emotion of warmth in my heart that remains lit until this day.
A torch that I pass onto my children in the family that I have created, where Christmas arrives through a smell that lingers throughout the house for days. Every holiday season, I bake these cookies from a family recipe that reminds me of our ancestors’ bond with each other through baking. That feeling when you open the oven and the hot air touches your face, and the amazing aroma has the power to make your mouth water. But what is one of the best parts of this beloved tradition, sharing the kourabiedes with your neighbors and friends. Making goodie bags or trays of kourabiedes to brighten people’s holidays are a part of the cherished memories. Bringing them into school for my teachers, who couldn’t wait until it was that time of year to receive the gift of my mother’s amazing culinary creations. Indeed, there are more holiday sweets connected to the Greek culture around the holidays, like melomakarona and koulourakia, but kourabiedes are by far my favorite!
As for the history of the ingredients, a plethora of almonds were available in our region of Kozani, Greece, specifically the town of Tsotili. Therefore, my grandmother and the women in our family used this ingredient as opposed to walnuts or pistachios used among bakers in other parts of Greece. The icing sugar denotes snow and the enormous winter storms that cover the mountains surrounding the region. And lastly, the shape of the cookies that are molded into crescents, which represent the moon along with stars that shined bright to lead the three wise men to Jesus on the day he was born. It is easy to shape the crescents with your hands, or you may use cookie cutters. But the key ingredient that gives them their unique taste lies in the butter. Our family recipe calls for sheep’s milk butter, which tends to be much sweeter than goat’s or cow’s milk, and completes an outstanding kourambie.
Ready in: 1 hour
Serves: 30 cookies
- 2 cups butter at room temperature or 450 g butter at room temperature
- 1 1/2cups of icing sugar
- 2 egg yolks
- 1teaspoon baking powder
- 1 ⁄ 2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 ⁄ 4 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 3 -4 cups of flour
- 1 1 ⁄ 2 cups almonds, chopped and roasted or for better results slivered almonds
- 1 fresh lemon for zest
- 1 tablespoon of zest
- 3 tablespoons of juice
Cream the butter and sugar in a mixer for 15 minutes, until it begins to turn white. Mix in the baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
Add the egg yolks, vanilla extract, lemon zest, and gradually add the flour until you have a dough that is neither too soft nor too firm (you may need to add slightly more than the amount I’ve written); stir in the almonds.
Let the dough stand for 25 minutes at room temperature, covered with a clean dishtowel.
Next, with small amounts (about 1 1/2 teaspoons of dough), shape small rounds by gently rolling the dough around between the palms of your hands. You may also use cookie cutters in any shape you like.
Arrange the round cookies on a buttered pan and flatten ever so slightly on top with your hand. This is to form a little indent that will hold the powdered sugar on top of the cookie.
Bake at 350F for 15-20 minutes.
Roll the hot cookies in icing sugar to cover and let cool.
When cool, arrange on a pretty holiday platter, sieving more icing sugar between the cookie layers to give a snowdrift effect.
Don’t forget to share these treasures with the people that you love!