Koulourakia Paschaliná – Greek Easter Sesame Cookies
It’s almost the Easter weekend and I thought it might be nice to post something Easter-ish even though we don’t celebrate the tradition. I hadn't really set out to make anything with Easter in mind and it was sheer coincidence that these cookies I baked last week turned out to be an Easter specialty.
It was one morning last week that I discovered that all my “snack” tins were empty and I needed to make something with coffee in the evening. I really couldn't decide on what to make so I asked my husband what he would like with his evening coffee.
His first answer, typical of him, was “anything will do”! When I pushed him further for an answer he came up with “something with sesame seeds”. I’m not sure whether he really wanted something with sesame seeds or just randomly picked something to get me off his back.
Either way I decided to take up the challenge of baking a “sesame seed” something. I haven’t really been baking much since the daughter of the house left for college, and when I have it’s been mostly bread and the odd tea time cake so I decided that some baking was in order to give the old oven some much needed exercise.
I found a recipe that I had bookmarked a while back in one of my cookie books. This book, Cookies(Step-by-Step Techniques) from Sunset is my first baking book ever and was given to me by my aunt long before I even bought my first oven. The bookmarked recipe was for very pretty looking sesame topped Cookie twists called Koulourakia.
Koulourakia are traditional Greek cookies typically made at Easter to be eaten after Holy Saturday. These lightly sweet cookies are made with a dough that’s typically rich in butter and egg yolks with a hint of vanilla.
They’re mostly shaped like small twisted ropes but small braids, braided or twisted circles, twists open at both ends, the figures “S” or an “8” are equally popular. There is a thought that the shaping of these cookies have come down from the Minoans who worshiped the snake because they believed it had healing powers.
Koulourakia though made for Easter, are also eaten throughout the year, and mostly with morning coffee or at tea time in the evening. They are excellent with tea or coffee (or even with cocoa or milk) because they’re not very sweet and quite crunchy. They’re easy enough to make though shaping them can take a little time until one gets the hang of it. It’s also a good idea to make a full or double batch of cookies while you’re at it because these cookies keep for about a month if stored in airtight containers.
These cookies are typically egg washed before they’re baked as this helps the sesame seeds stick and also give the cookies a beautiful shiny and golden appearance. We don’t like the smell and eggy taste that egg wash invariably leaves behind so I brushed my cookies with cream instead.
This recipe also usually uses only egg yolks instead of whole eggs but for the reason I just mentioned, I chose to use whole eggs. Just the yolks alone will give you crunchier cookies.
I've also seen recipes that use orange juice instead of the milk and some orange zest as well and that’s something you might like to try. Here’s a rather good demonstration of how to make and shape this cookies.
If you have young children at home who would enjoy helping in the kitchen, this is a fun thing to do so long as you don’t mind oddly shaped cookies they turn out. So have fun and here’s wishing you a very Happy Easter, Greek style – Kalo Pasha Καλό Πάσχα! (I hope I got this one right).
- Put the butter and sugar in a large mixing bowl and using a hand held beater, beat till creamy. Add the eggs one at time and beat till mixed well. Then add the milk, cream, and vanilla and beat again till mixed well.
- Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda and salt and add it to the mixing bowl in two lots. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the flour and then knead the dough using your fingers until you have dough that is soft and smooth.
- Add a little more flour (or a little less in the first place), if you need it. Remember the dough should be a little sticky to touch and too much of flour will not give the desired texture of cookies.
- Let the dough rest, covered, at room temperature for about half an hour. To shape the cookies, pinch off 1-inch balls of dough for each cookie. Very lightly dust your working surface if you feel you need that to help you roll out the dough better. Ideally the consistency of the dough should be enough to easily roll it out into "ropes".
- Roll each into a 7 or 8-inch strand (should be thinner than a pencil). Bring ends together and twist 2 or 3 times. Place them slightly apart on parchment lined baking sheet. Lightly brush with cream or egg wash and sprinkle sesame seeds over this.
- Bake the cookies at 180C (350F) for about 15 to 20 minutes until they’re golden. Cool them on wire racks and store in airtight containers. This recipe makes about 2 to 3 dozen cookies depending on their size.