ITS CHRISTMAS COUNTDOWN PEOPLE.
The tree went up early this year, 95% of our presents are bought and wrapped, the cake is being fed, the pudding is maturing, and jars of booze are being infused. Most of our cards have been sent – I always fall at that hurdle. What else is there? Oh the turkey is ordered – 16 on Christmas day that needed sorting early. And yes, there are mince pies (made and in the freezer) and mulled wine (already being drank) but for a lot of countries it is all about the humble biscuit. Gingerbread, amaretti, melomakarona… We are big fans of a Christmas biscuit. It just isn’t the festive season in the Socratous household (and I’m sure the same can be said for a lot of Greek families) unless my Yiayia has made hundreds of kourabiethes and melomakarona. The woman is a machine; at 76 she still works like she did when her and my bapou had the restaurant, despite having just the one gas oven now and a relatively small galley kitchen. She makes baskets of biscuits for everyone she knows and for me this is one of my favourite things about Christmas. Mounds of icing sugar coating buttery crumbly biscuits with just a hint of orange blossom, brandy or honey, and the way you can never hide if you’ve secretly eaten one because you will be sure to leave a trail of icing sugar everywhere you go. Priceless and made with love. Ok that might be a little cheesy but surely this is what Christmas is about?
And if that hadn’t sold it to you, if totally submerged in icing sugar the kourabiethes last for days, if not a week or more. They are the perfect mid morning treat with a vat of hot coffee, or later in the evening with a glass of komandaria, vin santo or sherry. So if you fancy something a little different this Christmas these are for you, I promise they won’t disappoint.
- 75 g blanched almonds or walnuts
- 250 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 125 g icing sugar , plus extra for dusting
- 2 tablespoons brandy
- 1 large free-range egg yolk
- 300 g plain flour
- ½ teaspoon baking powder
- 1 splash of orange blossom water
Preheat the oven to 160ºC/gas 2-3 and line two baking trays with greaseproof paper.
Place the nuts on one of the trays and toast in the oven for 10 minutes, or until lightly golden.
Cube the butter and place in a free-standing mixer and beat for 2 – 3 minutes, until very pale and creamy. Sift in the icing sugar, then add the brandy and egg yolk, and continue to beat for a few more minutes.
Finely chop the toasted nuts or blitz in a food processor (you don’t want them too fine/ ground), then add them to the butter mixture, along with the flour, baking powder and pinch of sea salt, then, using a metal spoon, fold it all together, until combined.
Roll spoonfuls of the mixture into balls, then mould each one into a traditional crescent shape – you could also make them into fingers, whatever you like. Place the biscuits on the second lined baking tray and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until lightly golden. This will depend on the shape and size but be vigilant, you don’t want to overcook them.
Sift a generous amount of icing sugar to a small, deep tray. Very lightly brush the warm biscuits with orange blossom water, then pop them in the icing sugar tray and toss to coat. Transfer to a wire rack and leave to cool completely. Store in icing sugar, they keep happily for a few days when totally coated.