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Updated: Thu, 29 February, 2024

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?

koulourakia greek easter cookies

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.

koulourakia greek cookies

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.

koulourakia pasxalina

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.

greek easter cookies

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.

shaping koulourakia

How to make the dough

If you are using baking ammonia, stir it into warm milk, it will foam up like it wants to boil over! If you don’t want to or can’t get it, replace it with three teaspoons of baking powder and one of bicarbonate of soda. In this instance, add both these raising agents straight into the mix of dry ingredients: flour, salt and spices.

ammonia bubbles up in milk

If you don’t have mahlep, add a mix of ground cardamom and fennel seeds.

Beating soft butter with sugar starts the process, plus the egg and orange zest. Then the milk goes in, with or without the ammonia, and the dry ingredients, gradually, until a smooth ball of dough is shaped. Let it sit and rest a while, then begin the fun of shaping koulourakia.

koulourakia dough

How to shape koulourakia

They come in all shapes: braided, twisted, pretzelled, snaked or coiled. Whatever you fancy!

Like most butter biscuits, they should come out of the oven barely coloured, glossy from the egg wash and studded with sesame seeds, pearl sugar or both.

They will soften a little as they are stored, in an airtight jar, but will keep for a couple of weeks easily.

greek cookies ready to bake

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Servings: 2 dozen biscuitsTime: 40 minutes plus resting the dough


  • 150g (1 stick plus 2 tbsp) unsalted butter, softened
  • 100g (12 cup) caster sugar
  • zest grated from 2 oranges
  • 1 large egg
  • 50ml (312 tbsp) warm milk
  • 8g (2 tsp) baking ammonia (see note)
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 350g (3 cups minus 1 tbsp) plain flour
  • ½ tsp salt
  • 7g (2 tsp) mahlep powder
  • 1 egg yolk, for glazing
  • sesame seeds, pearl sugar, for sprinkling


Note: If you can’t get baking ammonia, use 3 tsp baking powder and 1 tsp bicarb of soda. Don’t mix them with milk as the recipe below instructs for ammonia, but add to the flour with the salt.

1. Beat the butter with the sugar until light pale and fluffy. Beat in the orange zest and the egg, scraping the sides of the bowl as needed.

2. Stir the ammonia powder into the warm milk; it will foam up like crazy so use a fairly large cup. Stir in the vanilla extract.

3. In another bowl stir together the flour, salt and mahlep.

4. Add the milk to the butter mixture and beat until combined.

5. Add the flour mix gradually and keep beating on low speed, until the dough comes together, forms a ball and becomes smooth and not too sticky. Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rest at room temperature for 30 minutes.

6. Line two large baking trays with parchment. Preheat the oven to 180C/350F/gas 4.

7. Shape the cookies: scoop a walnut-sized chunk of dough (about 30g) and roll it into a 20cm or so long rope. Twist them like a rope, plait like a braid, coil into a snail or into an ‘S’, or twist into a pretzel. Place the koulourakia on the baking trays leaving plenty of space between them.

8. When they are shaped, make the egg wash. Beat the egg yolk with 1 tbsp water and brush the cookies. Sprinkle sparingly with sesame seeds or pearl sugar.

9. Bake for 15 minutes until lightly coloured, cool on a wire rack and store in an airtight jar.

Originally published: Sun, 14 April, 2019

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Hello! I'm Anna Gaze, the Cuisine Fiend. Welcome to my recipe collection.

I have lots of recipes for you to choose from: healthy or indulgent, easy or more challenging, quick or involved - but always tasty.


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