These easily recognizable traditional Greek Cookies, aka Koulourakia, are often associated with Greek Easter. Once you taste these not too sweet, slightly crunchy on the outside and tender soft on the inside biscuits, with just a subtle hint of orange and vanilla, you will be making Koulourakia throughout the year.
If you are like me, you are probably trying to figure out how to pronounce this word unless you are of Greek origin.
I am told by my Greek friends that it is pronounced like this: koo-loo-RAH-kee-ah
Historians will inform us that these Greek twist cookies can be traced back to Crete during the Minoan civilization (ie 2600 to 1100 BC). Needless to say, these cookies have been around for a long time!
Koulourakia were traditionally considered to be Easter cookies, since they would be eaten on Easter Sunday, following the Lenten fast. Today, they are considered festive cookies that can easily be found at all major Greek holiday celebrations. They are also great cookies to make for fund-raisers and for festivals.
Once you taste this cookie, you will understand why they are now made throughout the year!
A traditional Koulourakia recipe will actually include baking ammonia, which as you probably know is a leavening agent. I hope to share that version of this recipe in the months to come.
In the meanwhile, I will share a “modern” version of this recipe which is made with baking powder.
How to make Koulourakia dough:
The whole process begins in the bowl of a stand mixture and a paddle attachment. Rub or whisk together the orange zest and the sugar.
FUN FACT: Did you know that the oils found in the orange zest (or any citrus fruit) will infuse the sugar when rubbed together? This in turn will create a more flavorful dough. I picked up this culinary trick from Michelle, the Brown Eyed Baker who picked it up from Dorie Greenspan… thank you ladies 🙂
Next, add the room temperature butter and cream together until light, fluffy and pale looking. This can take up to 5 minutes. Remember to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times in order to properly incorporate the butter and sugar.
Since this Greek cookie has been around since forever, there are probably thousands of variations. I have seen some recipes that will add melted butter, others will add both butter and shortening, I have also seen a vegan version of this recipes …truly endless variations.
Like I always say, there is no right or wrong recipe. It is always a matter of personal taste and preferences.
The eggs are next. These need to be added one at a time and once again, scrape down that bowl. You can now add the rest of the liquids.
It is now time to add the flour and baking powder. This is what I do: I start by adding 420 grams (3.5 cups) of flour which has been sifted with the baking powder (if you do not have a scale, always fluff and then scoop up the flour). Once combined, the dough should be soft but not sticky. If it is sticky, add a few tablespoons of flour until you get it to that consistency.
Now comes the fun part!!!
How to shape the Koulourakia:
This is a soft pliable dough and as a result, it can be made into different shapes and sizes. Some are traditional, some are not. Some are quicker to make than others.
Whichever shape you decide to make, start with about a heaping tablespoon of dough (note that by using a disher ie: a cookie dough scooper, your Easter cookies will all be the same size and bake evenly).
There is no need to use flour on your board, as you want your dough to adhere to it as you are rolling and shaping the dough. Are you ready to roll?
Here are a few examples of how to shape these sesame seed topped traditional Easter cookies:
- Scoop the dough with a medium sized disher and roll into a 1-1½-inch ball. Repeat.
- Roll the balls into 7-inch log shapes and form the letter “T”.
- Starting at the top left, pick up the left portion of the letter “T” and cross it over the middle section.
- Pick up the top right section of the letter “T” and cross it over and place it parallel to the long middle section.
- Pick up the middle section and place it between the other two sections thereby creating a braid.
- Complete the braid, cut off the end and gently tuck underneath.
Continue in this manner until all the dough has been shaped. Total yield is about 2 dozen cookies braided in this fashion.
Hairpin shaped koulourakia:
Once you have scooped out your dough and formed your 7-inch log shapes, simply place in an upside down “U” and twist together.
These are a lot faster to make and will yield about 3 dozen cookies.
The hairpin and long braided koulourakia make them the perfect dunking cookies for your coffee. If you prefer, they can be shaped into circles, braided wreaths, horseshoes, letters of the alphabet, scrolled “S” -really any shape you like!
As was mentioned, regardless of the shape, try to keep them the same size so that they bake evenly.
Koulourakia are pale in color, and so you will find that an egg wash (made with one egg yolk and water) will provide a gleaming color. Sesame seeds are optional.
Once they are baked, they will keep well for two weeks at room temperature or can be frozen for longer period.
Origins of the Recipe for Koulourakia:
As many of you know, I would much prefer to have a cookie (or two) with a cup of coffee than a slice of cake. As a result of this lifelong fascination, I am always on the look out for cookie recipes… that’s just my way!
The first time I tasted Koulourakia was over 35 years ago at my cousin’s (wife to be) bridal shower. I instantly loved these cookies as they reminded me of biscotti… and well, you know how much I love those 😉
Up until that bridal shower party, I had never seen so many different kinds of Greek and Italian cookies together -side by side. Let’s just say I was one happy teenager 🙂
Truth be told, I wasn’t really interested in the Italian cookies. I had a mother, two nonnas and a couple of aunts that were amazing bakers… I have already shared so many of these recipes with all of you… lemon knots, biscotti, amaretti, ciambelline… Italian cookies I know, up close and personnel.
But, I did not have a γιαγιά… and so, as this was my first experience with Greek butter cookies… I was fascinated, to say the least! Of course, there would be many more occasions to collect recipes as a few of my cousins married into Greek families. Back then, bridal showers were a big thing so that meant more Greek orange cookies for me! As we say in Italian, una faccia, una razza…
Through the years, I have made changes to this Koulourakia recipe, as I had occasions to speak with colleagues that were of Greek origins and of course the γιαγιάs of my Greek cousins.
Do you have a different recipe for Koulourakia? I would love to hear about it in the comments!
To all of my Greek friends celebrating Easter this week-end… Kalo Pascha!
- 3½- 4 cups all purpose flour 420- 480 grams (3½ + ½ cup separated)
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- 3/4 cup granulated sugar 150 grams
- zest of 1 orange
- 1/2 cup butter 115 grams, cubed, room temperature
- 2 large eggs room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk room temperature
- 1½ teaspoons vanilla extract pure
- 1/4 cup orange juice freshly squeezed
- 1/4 cup milk room temperature
- 1 teaspoon ouzo or Sambuca (optional)
- 1 egg yolk
- 1 teaspoon water
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds sprinkled on egg wash
- Preheat oven to 375°F (190°C). Place rack in the center of oven. Line cookie sheet with parchment paper.
- Sift together 3½ cups flour and baking powder and set aside. The other 1/2 cup of flour is reserved in case we need to add extra flour (see recipe note).
- In a bowl of a stand mixture, with the paddle attachment, whisk together the orange zest and the sugar.
- Add the cubed room temperature butter and cream together with the sugar until light and fluffy. This can take up to 5 minutes. Make sure to scrape down the sides of the bowl a few times.
- Add the eggs, one at a time beating well and scraping down the bowl between each addition.
- Add the egg yolk and again, beat well and scrape down the bowl.
- Add the vanilla extract, orange juice, milk and ouzo (if using). Beat together for 30 seconds.
- On low speed, add the 3½ cups of flour and baking powder. The dough should be soft but not sticky. Add a few tablespoons of flour if the dough is still sticky. (Optional: cover dough with plastic wrap and chill for 20 minutes).
- With a medium sized cookies scoop, portion and roll into a 7-inch log.
- Shape into desired shapes (braids, pinwheels, twists, etc...) Refer to pictures in the post.
- Place on parchment lined cookie sheets about 1 inch apart.
- Brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds.
- Bake for 13 minutes or until cookies are golden brown.
- Allow to cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before transferring to wire rack to completely cool down.
- Can be kept in an airtight container at room temperature for about 2 weeks. Cookies can also be frozen.