Koulourakia — The Quintessential Greek Cookie
Koulourakia (or Koulouria) are one of the most revered traditional Greek desserts. Growing up in a Greek community, friends always offer the sweet butter-based cookies as a casual afternoon snack; they are also fixtures at every celebration. Koulourakia are most often associated with Greek Easter, but I don’t think I’ve attended a holiday party in a Greek household where they didn’t make an appearance. We love baking them at Christmastime along with Melomakarona and Kourabiedes.
Outside of soirees, they are the perfect compliment to coffee as an afternoon snack or breakfast. Legend has it that the cookies date back to Minoan times. (I haven’t seen any authoritative documentation of this, but like the sound of it.) Minoans worshipped the snake, which explains the coil-like foundation of the cookie. Logistically, if Minoans did eat these cookies, they would have probably made them with olive oil instead of butter, sweetened with honey instead of sugar, but I digress. Luckily today in Greece, you can go to any zaharoplastio and easily purchase them by the kilo — and you’ll want to fill your box because they disappear quickly.
But if you don’t live near a Greek bakery, you’ll want to make them for yourself using this easy recipe.
My sweet history of Koulourakia
Like most Greek kids, I started making these yummy cookies with my yiayia. Then I really upped my game when my mom took me down to our church during the summer to help them bake for our annual Greek festival. Our community in Dayton, Ohio made nearly all our food and pastries from scratch. I’d spend my summer break sitting among everyone else’s yiayias, my seven-year-old fingers rolling hundreds of the prized biscuits. I perfected my skills, so much so, that my mom always put me on rolling duty when she made them for our family. She’d still make me do it if I didn’t live across the country from her. Now she makes my dad help! It’s ok. He eats them all anyway.
But this recipe is based on one from our dear friend in Ann Arbor, Michigan: Andriana Skinner. Yiayia Andriana was an incredible baker — a Greek pasty expert — and we’d often stop by her house in the afternoons and I would gobble down handfuls of these cookies and her powdered sugar-covered Kourambiedes while my mom visited with her and her daughters.
There are as many variations of Koulourakia as there are Greek families. None are more “authentic” than others. This is the one that I personally like. In my cookbook: Opa! The Healthy Greek Cookbook, my writing partner offers her recipe that uses olive oil instead of butter. Other variations include what kind of liquor to add, or to add it at all.
In this recipe, I use Metaxa, cause that’s what I have stocked in my house. Other Greeks use Ouzo or Tsoukoudia. I’m sure they’re also great with some Mastiha liquor. My yiayia used straight-up whiskey because in the ’80s it was hard to find Greek liquor in Ohio. Don’t make it difficult on yourself. My mom also uses almond extract in place of vanilla cause that’s how she likes them. I think they taste great either way. I also like to add the zest of half an orange along with the 2 tablespoons of orange juice; why not?
A note about flour
To find success with this recipe, first add the cup of flour that you’ve combined with the baking soda and baking powder. Then incorporate the 3 additional cups of flour. At that point, your dough should still be fairly sticky. For the final cup of flour, slowly spoon it into the mix. You probably won’t use the whole cup. Once the dough starts to pull away from the side of the mixing bowl, don’t add any more flour or your cookies might turn out tough and brittle.
When you place them on your baking sheet, make sure to give them some space between one another. They will puff up and spread out. That said, make them smaller than how you would like to eat them cause they definitely grow. I use a teaspoon to measure out dough balls. My mother in law makes larger ones using about a tablespoon of dough. It’s really up to you.
To see how I made mine, watch the step-by-step sequence below!
How do your make your Koulourakia? Let me know in the comments!
For another delicious Greek dessert, check out my Pasta Flora recipe! And if you want to bake more cookies, definitely try these recipes for Melomakarona (Greek honey walnut cookies), and Kourabiedes (powdered sugar dusted butter cookies).