Koulourakia, traditional Greek Easter cookies, are butter biscuits shaped into coils, rings or twisted ropes. They are crunchy and melting, fragrant with orange and a hint of aniseedy mahlep, and will keep for at least three weeks. Did I say they are tremendous fun to make too?
It sounds Greek to me
I’ve had some trouble with this recipe. First of all, the word, as it often is the case with otherwise beautiful Greek language, is impossible to remember and repeat correctly.
‘Colour-cookies’ rolled off my tongue the easiest, followed by ‘cuckoo-ricky’. I had to watch myself to stick to ‘those lovely cookies’ when I was talking about them to my Greek friend.
Beware of Greeks bearing gifts: indeed, it was all because she brought me the mahlep spice back from Greece.
Mahlep is made from ground seed of a type of wild cherry (how do people ever come up with the ideas of what to use in cooking is beyond me) and it’s commonly used in Greece and Turkey added to breads and baked goods.
Ammonia - a baking ingredient
I was initially going to bake tsoureki, Greek Easter bread, but I’ve baked so many festive breads the idea wasn’t terribly appealing, regardless of the colourful eggs baked in the loaf.
I came across these Greek braided cookies and I was hooked – mainly because they appeared to be made with ammonia instead of baking powder. Living dangerously! Might make some mustard gas as a sideline?
It turns out baking ammonia, ammonium bicarbonate, was widely used in baking before self-raising flour was invented. It was also used in Victorian smelling salts, to bring round a fainting lady, and how effective it must have been transpired very abruptly when I opened the tub and sniffed.
Traditional Greek recipe
I wanted ammonia; I wanted mahlep, but unless I did an extra-rapid course in Greek, there seemed to be a dearth of authentic looking recipes that would combine the two.
I did what I do in such instances: combined and amalgamated, drawing much on My Greek Dish and Real Greek Recipes.
Some recipes advised chilling the dough instead of resting but I figured ‘traditional’ and ‘Greek’ would not usually involve ‘fridge’ a lot. And I was right, the dough rolled, twisted and coiled like an angel after a brief rest in the kitchen.
What are koulourakia like?
They are delicious: super-crunchy and melting, softening a little as they stand. The zest is refreshing, the mahlep is exotic and the vanilla, as usual, doesn’t add so much. The dough is easy to make and the shaping is a laugh.
In fact mine didn’t look pretty-pretty because The Weather Man and I had a great time rolling the dough around, twisting and snailing it as if we regressed into toddlers. But hey, fun is what it is supposed to be about.