Tuesday, December 21, 2010

MELOMAKARONA (HONEY CHRISTMAS COOKIES)



Christmas time fills the house with the pleasing aroma of freshly baked cookies. In Greek homes, center stage in the cookie department belongs to melomakarona. They are the quintessential Christmas cookie for Greeks, a concoction flavored with orange, lemon, cinnamon, cloves, and honey.




There is some evidence that a version of these cookies originated in antiquity. Melomakarona are also called phoenikia, and the latter word suggests that they probably originated with the Phoenicians, a seafaring people who lived in regions of Asia Minor and were antiquity's best known traders.
Etymologically, melomakarona is comprised of the words meli + makaroni. Meli means honey in Greek, which fits, since the cookies are dipped in honey. Makaroni or macaroni, is a word of Greek-Latin origin, whose root means a doughy substance, or a substance which is kneaded or macerated. Therefore, in its most basic form the word melomakarona means a piece of dough which is dipped in honey.* It's amazing to think what a long history these cookies have, and how they evolved into the present day holiday treats.

I made a batch of melomakarona the other day, with a recipe I found in the cookbook "The Foods of Greece," written by Aglaia Kremezi. It's a recipe with a good crunch and a good flavor. It's made with vegetable oil, semolina and flour. (Semolina can be found in specialty shops, and it's also sold as "farina" cereal in most supermarkets). Spices and citrus flavors are added into the mix, and after the cookies are baked, they are dipped in a honey syrup. I like the taste of these melomakarona, and I recommend this version wholeheartedly.




Ingredients: (makes about 50 cookies)
1& 1/4 cups oil
1/3 cup sugar
1 cup fresh squeezed orange juice
3 to 4 cups all purpose flour
2& 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 cup brandy
1& 1/2 cups semolina
Grated rinds of 1 orange and 1 lemon
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

For the Syrup:

1 cup sugar
1cup honey
2 cups water
1 large piece of orange peel
1 large piece of lemon peel
1 stick of cinnamon

For the topping:

1 cup of coarsely ground walnuts mixed with 1 teaspoon of cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground cloves.


Directions:
  • In a mixer beat the olive oil with the sugar. Add the orange juice.
  • In a separate bowl mix 2 cups of flour with the baking powder and then add it to the oil and orange mixture.
  • Beat while adding the brandy, semolina, orange and lemon peel, cloves and cinnamon.
  • Turn the mixture onto a floured surface and knead gently, adding more flour as needed, to obtain a soft and elastic dough.
  • Let stand for 30 minutes covered with plastic wrap.
  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • Take tablespoonfuls of dough and shape them into oval cookies about 2 & 1/2 inches long. Press them on the top with the back of a fork to mark them with horizontal lines. Place them on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper and bake for about 25 minutes. Place on a rack and let cool.

To make the honey syrup:

  • In a saucepan mix the sugar, honey, and water and bring to a boil.
  • Add the orange peel, lemon peel, and the cinnamon stick and simmer for about 15 minutes.
  • Remove from the heat.
To finish the cookies:

  • Place 2 or 3 cookies in a large slotted spoon and dip them in the syrup. Don't let them soak for too long. They should absorb some syrup yet still remain crunchy.
  • Place them on a serving dish and sprinkle the walnut topping over them.
  • Let cool before serving. The melomakarona should keep for about two weeks.


*Source:
http://www.24grammata.com/?p=6966
with a section written in Greek, and a section in English borrowed from "An Etymology Dictionary of the English Language, by Walter W. Skeat, 1893."Below is the English entry:
MACARONI, MACCARONI, a paste made of wheat flour. (Ital.,—L.?) ‘He doth learn to make strange sauces, to eat anchovies, maccaroni, bovoli, fagioli, and caviare;’ Ben Jonson, Cynthia’s Revels, A. ii (Mercury). ‘Macaroni, gobbets or lumps of boyled paste,’ &c.; Minsheu, ed. 1627.—O. Ital. maccaroni, ‘a kinde of paste meate boiled in broth, and drest with butter, cheese, and spice;’ Florio. The mod. Ital. spelling is maccheroni, properly the plural of maccherone, used in the sense of a ‘macarone’ biscuit. β. Of somewhat doubtful origin; but prob. to be connected with Gk. μακαρία, a word used by Hesychius to denote βρῶμα ἐκ ζωμοῦ καὶ ἀλφίτων, a mess of broth and pearl-barley, a kind of porridge. This word is derived by Curtius (i. 405) from Gk. μάσσειν, to knead, of which the base is μακ-; cf. Gk. μᾶζα, dough, Russ. muka, flour, meal. γ. Similarly the Ital. macaroni is prob. from O. Ital. maccare, ‘to bruise, to batter, to pester;’ Florio. And, again, the Ital. maccare is from a Lat. base mac-, to knead, preserved in the deriv. macerare, to macerate, reduce to pulp. See Macerate. δ. Thus the orig. sense seems to have been ‘pulp;’ hence anything of a pulpy or pasty nature. Der. Macaron-ic, from F. macaronique, ‘a macaronick, a confused heap or huddle of many severall things’ (Cot.), so named from macaroni, which was orig. a mixed mess, as described by Florio above. The name macaroni, according to Haydn, Dict. of Dates, was given to a poem by Theophilo Folengo (otherwise Merlinus Coccaius) in 1509; macaronic poetry is a kind of jumble, often written in a mixture of languages.


Here is a picture of melomakarona taken by a professional photographer. They rest on a counter in a Greek bakery, and they are so much more photogenic than mine. They were made by a professional baker, who is also much better at shaping these cookies than I am. Melomakarona should be a perfect, perfect oval. (I found this picture on the inernet at http://vlahatasamis.blogspot.com/ ).

1 comment:

  1. Greek Girl from QueensDecember 22, 2010 at 5:31 PM

    Not only do I want to bake a batch of these beautiful treats, but I also want to get a copy of 'The Foods of Greece.' There are just so many Greek cookbooks out there (and I must confess to wanting them all), that it's difficult to decide and choose only a couple out of so many wonderful sounding ones. Thanks for sharing this with us, Ana, and I'm sure your melomakarona came out looking just as beautiful as the 'professional' photo you posted. As always, thanks for the cultural and etymological background - two things I've always been very interested and fascinated with.

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