Tuesday, December 25, 2012

MELOMAKARONA with ORANGE FLAVOR


Merry Christmas one and all, and here is a very appropriate post for Christmas Day:  a brand new recipe for melomakarona.  I made the melomakarona on Christmas Eve, and as I was waiting for them to come out of the oven it started to snow.  How surprised I was!  We were having an uncommonly warm winter, however nature changed her mind about our toasty temperatures and gave us a perfect Christmas present by dusting our lawns with a light coating of snow. Lawns sprinkled with frozen powdered sugar.  And there was I, at the counter in front of my kitchen window, sprinkling honey and crushed walnuts on my fragrant cookies, looking at the slow, plump snowflakes outside, my Christmas Eve snowflakes.  Happy!  So, Merry Christmas, and have a safe, loving and peaceful day.  Keep up that spirit all year long. Not hard to do, there aren't that many days left to this year. Right?

Melomakarona are the quintessential Greek Christmas cookie.  I have some information on their history in the other melomacarona recipe posted on this blog.  The recipe on this page is one I tried for the first time, and as it turned out it was a great recipe.  It even got the approval of my mother, who is on the stingy side with her compliments. It's a recipe based on one by Greek master pastry chef Stelios Parliaros.  It was well worth making.  The cookies turned out crunchy on the outside, really soft on the inside, they had the fragrant aroma and taste of oranges, and the syrup in which they were dipped made them really delicious. This is a sophisticated version of melomakarona, with prominent orange and honey flavored notes.  Loved it, loved it, loved it, but I also love the other recipe for melomacarona that's posted here, which contains a heavier dose of spices.  I suppose I will have to alternate between the two recipes from one year to the other.

Chef Parliaros lives in Athens, where he has a TV show and where he markets his concoctions in several patisserie shops that he owns.  He is a French trained pastry chef, and his recipes are highly praised.  I watch his demonstrations on You Tube and he inspires me. So I gathered the information for this recipe, translated it, got the ingredients and made the melomakarona.  In the end of my post I will show the You Tube demonstration for his melomakarona.  It's in Greek, so you may not not understand what he is saying, but you will see how the chef molds the cookies, which I think is an important demonstration, especially for me, who has trouble making decently shaped cookies.  
The most important piece of advice the chef gives is to mix the dough by hand, and to work in gentle, light strokes.  In this way the dough will stay fluffy and the oil that is in the melomakarona will not leak out during baking.  If the oil leaks out the cookies will turn out dry.  You want a cookie that is crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  Working quickly and softly should provide that result.  Another piece of advice he gives is to have the syrup cold and the melomakarona hot when you dip them in the syrup.  He is very insistent about that.  So here we go:  


First make the syrup.  This can be made the day before, as it needs to be cold when used.
Ingredients:
2 cups water
3 cups sugar
3 sticks of cinnamon 
1 cup honey (use thyme honey if available, because it has a strong flavor.  Orange blossom honey can also be used.)
the peel from 2 medium oranges
1/2 cup orange juice
This syrup is very good.
Directions:

  • Into a pot add the water, the sugar, the orange peel, the orange juice and the cinnamon sticks.
  • Place it on the stove over medium-high heat, let it come to a boil, and then turn down the heat.  Cook for 1 minute and remove from the heat.
  • Add the honey and mix.
  • Let the syrup cool down and then transfer it to a wide container with a lid.  Cover and let get cold. 
The melomakarona are made next.  No need to use a mixer, this should all be done by hand.  Chef weighed everything, and so did I. Where possible I converted the quantities into cup measurements. 

Ingredients:
2 cups freshly squeezed orange juice (or use the best quality store bought juice), weight is 400 grams
3 cups canola or sunflower oil (chef uses sunflower), weight is 530 grams
5 tablespoons butter, melted in the microwave
1/4 cup powdered sugar (powdered sugar helps to add color while baking)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1  1/2  teaspoons cinnamon
1/2   teaspoon ground cloves
zest from one orange
about 10 cups (to weigh 1,200 grams) all purpose flour.  There is no need to sift the flour
walnuts, chopped
honey to use while layering 

Directions:
  • In a deep container add all the wet ingredients including the melted butter.
  • To that add the powdered sugar and the spices.
  • Mix the ingredients.
  • Add all of the flour along with the baking soda. Mix with your hands gently, starting from the middle of the bowl and progressing toward the outside.  Don't use a mixer, it will destroy this dough.  Stop mixing as soon as the liquid is incorporated with the flour and the dough begins to form.  The dough will have a wonderful aroma.
Shape into ovals and place on a rack.
  • Shape the cookies and then score lines on their surface as is indicated in the pictures. 
Roll on the rack to make decorative grooves.  They give character to the cookie and they also hold in the syrup.  There is a demonstration on how to shape them on the You Tube video below.
  • Place them on parchment lined baking sheets and bake them at 360°F between 25 to 30 minutes depending on the oven.  When done they should have a dark golden color.
Done!  
  • As soon as they come out of the oven drop them in the cold syrup.  Turn them over with a large spoon and leave them in the syrup for about one minute.  If you leave them in for too long they will become saturated with syrup (that's not necessarily bad, they do get a bit soggy and they become really sweet, but they still taste good). 

  • Place them on a rack and let them drain off excess syrup.

  • Prepare a serving platter by spreading a little honey and some walnuts on its surface. 
So I turned my back and right away 3 cookies were gone...
  • Add a layer of melomakarona and then repeat the same procedure, layering honey, walnuts and cookies, ending with a light layer of honey and walnuts.
  • This recipe makes about 70 really delicious, honey-orange-cinnamon flavored, fragrant cookies.


Some notes:
*If you cannot find oranges that are flavorful and juicy, buy a good quality prepared orange juice.  
*If you watch the full video you will see the chef stuff some of the cookies with walnuts.  This is a popular variation.  I made half of my melomakarona without stuffing, while I stuffed the other half with walnut pieces.   *Melomakarona can be kept fresh for 10 days. 

2 comments:

  1. My favorite cookies, I love the taste of honey. This should be interesting to try, because there's lots of orange in them, and lots of walnuts too, as I see from the pictures. I would love to know how they taste.

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  2. Ana,

    I'm sorry I've been missing all your beautiful posts! But this sounds amazing! You know I love Greek food - and the combination of honey, orage & walnuts is one of my favorites!

    John & I made Spanikopita for the first time for Christmas this year.

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