Monday, October 12, 2009

KOULOURAKIA or... Greek butter cookies

Six thirty, and dark outside. We've jumped into fall. Τoday I took a short drive around the neighborhood. Halloween decorations already have taken over people's lawns; some are nice, others are just too gaudy. I hope I won't look out my window one of these days to find a seven-foot inflatable pumpkin glaring at me from my neighbor's yard. No, I don't have that goofy Haloween spirit. Perhaps I need to look for it. Or perhaps not. I've planted some colorful chrysanthemums all around my garden. They look lovely, and they blend in well with the changing foliage. So I do have some autumnal spirit. I am enjoying the crisp weather, the sudden gusts of wind that make the first crop of fallen leaves swirl and fly on. I think of what's ahead. Other holidays are on their way. Soon it will be time to bake and box cookies for gift giving. Koulourakia, my childhood delights! I have a favorite recipe for them, I made some this weekend. Come Christmas I'll make them again, and swirl them into pretty shapes.


  • 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
  • 1cup sugar
  • 1egg at room temperature
  • 1 egg yolk at room temperature
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 1 shot of your favorite cognac
  • zest of one large orange
  • 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 5 and 1/2 cups of flour, sifted
  • egg wash: 1 egg beaten with a bit of water
  • about 3 tablespoons sesame seeds to sprinkle on the cookies (optional)
  1. In a large mixing bowl cream the butter until it's light and fluffy. Add the sugar and beat until well incorporated with the butter, about five minutes. Add the egg and the egg yolk and continue beating. Stir in the vanilla and orange rind, slowly add the orange juice and the cognac and incorporate them into the mixture.
  2. Sift one cup of the flour together with the baking powder. Gradually add it to the butter and sugar mixture. Begin gradually adding the rest of the sifted flour. As it accumulates into the mixture you can gently knead the cookie dough by hand. The cookie dough will be ready when it is soft and pliable and no longer sticks to the sides of the mixing bowl. It will need to rest, so place it into the refrigerator for one hour. Then, shape it into small balls like these:

Because the dough will be cold it will be easier to shape. Line your cookie sheets with parchment paper...

On a smooth surface shape the dough balls into cookies. First roll a strip...
Then fold it in two, cross one of the ends over...
Then cross the other end. You are basically rolling and twisting. Line them up on the parchment paper and brush the tops with egg wash. If you wish you can sprinkle some sesame seeds on top of the egg wash. You can see I didn't use sesame seeds - I didn't have any in the house, plus the cookies taste just as good without the seeds as with them.
For this amount of dough, I use three trays each measuring 10x15 inches.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven until the cookies are golden in color, about 15 minutes.

Not too sweet, with and with such a wonderful buttery flavor! 


  1. greek girl from queensJune 8, 2010 at 9:10 AM

    Hi Ana - I posted a comment about these cookies on an earlier entry you'd done, so I was wondering if you received the comment I posted here, about the question I had about my grandmother's 'kloothya' possibly being either 'koulouria' or 'koulourakia.'

    Thanks for any help you can offer about these beautiful circular cookie treats she made for us when we were little kids, to have with our milk (while the adults had them with their coffee or tea). They had all the same ingredients that you've listed, and sometimes she'd add sesame seeds as a topping over the egg wash glaze. They were crumbly and a bit crunchy, but not rock hard, and while they were a bit sweet, they were not overly sweet.

    I've seen recipes for both 'koulourakia' and 'koulouria,' and just wanted to know if they're the same thing, and if what my grandmother called/pronounced 'kloothya' were either of these two words. Because my mother's side of the family have all sadly passed away, there's no one that I can ask about this and other recipes that my grandmother used to make (boyikos or borekyas, kolva and these cookies - which she called 'kloothya.'

    Thanks for any help you or any readers out there can give me.

  2. Hello, Greek Girl from Queens, and thank you for your comment and questions. Here we go...

    During a quick,informal conversation the words koulouria/koulourakia can be used to mean the same thing. The meaning will be derived from the content of the conversation. Typically though, there is a difference. (Before I explain the difference to you, here is something else to know: Koulouria is the original noun. Koulourakia has the suffix “kia, ” which is a diminutive suffix. In Greek, diminutive suffixes can be placed at the end of just about every word to express small size or affection. Example: koulouria=regular size cookies, kouloura∙kia=little cookies. Angeloi=angels, angela∙kia=little angels=can mean small angels or dear angels, like when we say children are little angels)

    Typically, the difference between the two words is this: Koulourakia are small, buttery, desert type cookies, and koulouria are larger, bread - like wreaths, smothered in sesame seeds and sold as street food, much like hot dogs are sold in the US.
    Koulouria are crunchy on the outside, soft on the inside, sesame - doughy tasting, and a great treat to eat. They are generally made by commercial bakeries, but there are recipes for home cooks, so now that you have brought up the subject, I will make some and post them here. Look for them in late June or early July. I have to get my hands on a lot of sesame seeds!
    Koulourakia/Koulouria are words that derive from the ancient Greek word "Kollyrion," which means "small round bread." Koulourakia can have various shapes such as twists, circles, serpentines, you name it. This depends on the region where they are made and on the preference/stamina of the person making them. The basic recipe has flour, some sugar, and lots of butter. The texture is crumbly, crunchy but not hard, and the taste is buttery with hints of the flavorings used, such as orange, lemon, brandy, etc. They are brushed with egg wash and it's traditional but not necessary to top each one with a few sesame seeds.
    Klouthya and Kooloothya (koulouthya) is the same word with a few vowels missing. It's not uncommon for Greeks to drop vowels just to make a word sound smoother or be spoken faster. We do this in English too. Today, modern Greek is a standardized language, but going back through the centuries there were several Greek dialects spoken. I asked my mother and I even called a cousin in Greece, but we were not able to figure out the dialect of your words. It would help if you could tell me what region of Greece your relatives were from. Consider this: from the ancient word kollyrion we eventually got the modern word koulouria. Language never stands still. It changes, evolves, accommodates itself, surprises us, it does beautiful things. So in the dialect that your family spoke it is very possible that the words kloothya/koulouthya meant the same as koulouria. Some Greek dialects are: Cypriot, Crete, Pontian, Macedonian, Vlach and on and on. There is also Ladino, which is a mixture of Spanish, Hebrew and Greek. Dialects can have mixtures of Greek, Slavic, Arabic, Turkish, Hebrew, Latin. It depends on the region.
    Borekyas derives from the Turkish word borek, which is a pastry made with dough and a filling of your choice. Remember that the people we call Greeks today, lived under Turkish rule for 400 years. That’s why both in Greece and in Turkey there are words and recipes that are similar. In my mother’s family borekya were made with dough, spinach, feta cheese and a few other ingredients. Kolva could be what we call halva, but I would have to know the ingredients or I would need a description of its appearance to tell for sure.
    I hope I’ve answered some of your questions. Please ask me anything you want about Greece, Greek history, culture, and food. Your questions made me reminisce, and that was nice. I would love to answer, I’ve got books to look things up, but sometimes I give really long answers if you haven’t figured this out yet.