“Perhaps because they are so rarely made, sweets are the only foods on the islands for which written recipes exist… Each island home always has one or two kinds of cookies in the pantry, such as crunchy ring shaped cookies scented with cinnamon and orange, or simple almond and sugar paste cookies, fragrant with rose water and tangerine juice or zest, or honey drenched melomakarona, the richly aromatic Christmas cookies that are served through the holiday season to the end of January.”
Melomakarona are hands down one of our family’s favorite cookies. Like all things worthwhile, they take a bit of effort, but they never disappoint. Our family makes melomakarona about once or so during every Fast, usually to take with us for Church coffee hour or as a snack after the Presanctified Liturgy.
This recipe is made with whole wheat flour and while I used the recipe from Foods of the Greek Islands as my starting point, I have tweaked it over the years to incorporate the whole wheat flour and also to minimize the sugar (in this case, the syrup which called for one part white sugar, one part honey and one part water), I didn’t change the amount of sugar in the dough.
You’ll see that in this recipe the melomakarona cookies are drenched in a syrup of only honey and water, scented with orange zest and that it is heated only a little, just enough to thoroughly blend the honey and the water. The reason is that raw honey has enzymes that are beneficial to our bodies which also allows it to metabolize easier. Once honey is heated over 120 F, the enzymes die and the honey is no different to our bodies than white sugar.
If you would prefer not to use whole wheat flour, substitute and equal amount of pastry flour in it’s place. We also grind our own flour, which has made all the difference when it comes to whole wheat. These melomakarona cookies have a nutty mellow flavor – and are very soft and moist.
Grinding your own flour is very simple, and really opened my kids up to the deliciousness of whole wheat. Whole wheat flour from the store can sometimes have a stale quality, so grinding it fresh and using it within a week (keep in freezer) brings a depth of flavor that we had no idea we were even missing. Plus you get the fiber and vitamin and mineral content that are missing from refined white flour.
Most grocery stores sell whole wheat in the bulk section. You’ll want to chose soft white wheat for this recipe. For grinding, Kitchen Aid has a mill attachment for their mixers, both Blend Tec and Vitamix can grind wheat into four, or you can purchase a flour mill.
A dear friend, whose parents came to this country from Greece was kind enough to ask her sweet mom for me whether she remembers ever using white flour growing up… because I wanted to be true to the traditions of even how sweets are made. Her mom remembers using whole wheat… so it’s an appropriate adjustment. About a hundred years ago, families would have taken their wheat to the village mill for grinding, and their breads and pastries would have been made from whole white wheat.
for the dough
- 1/1/4 cups olive oil (don’t use canola or vegetable, please)
- 1/3 cup raw turbinado sugar cane
- grated zest of three oranges
- 3-4 cups whole wheat pastry flour
- 2-1/2 teaspoons baking powder (buy brands that say aluminum free on the label)
- 1-1/2 cups finely ground semolina (Bob’s Red Mill carries it)
- 1/2 cup brandy (don’t skip this… it imparts an elastic quality to the dough)
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 cup fresh orange juice
for the Syrup
- 2 cups raw honey
- 1 cup water
- 1 tablespoon orange zest
for the filling
- 2 cups walnuts
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
In a large bowl mix flour, semolina, cinnamon, cloves, baking powder and orange zest.
In a separate bowl, whisk orange juice, olive oil and brandy. Add to dry ingredients and form into a dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead lightly. Place back in bowl to rest. You will notice that the dough has a very elastic quality, not quite like yeast but activated from the brandy. (Note: the brandy and orange juice will begin to neutralize the phytates in the flour, making the mineral content of the whole wheat assimilable to our bodies.)
Let stand for 20 minutes.
Place walnut and cinnamon filling mixture into a blender or food processor and pulse until ground.
When you are ready to make the cookies, line a cookie sheet with parchment paper and turn the oven on 350F to preheat.
To prepare the dough into cookies, we start by scooping out portions and placing them on a cookie sheet.
To form melomakarona cookies, take a ball of dough and flatten in your hand. Place a small scoop of the crushed walnut cinnamon mixture into the center and close it up. Squeeze the seams together and place seam side down on a parchment lined cookie sheet.
Once you have formed and filled all of the cookies, place the leftover walnut cinnamon mixture aside. You will use this to sprinkle on top of the cookies after they are baked and drenched in the syrup.
Bake in oven for about 30 minutes. You will know they are done because the house is enveloped in a lovely aroma.
While they are baking, place the honey and water and 1 tablespoon orange zest into a large sauce pot over medium heat. Stir constantly until just warm. You should be able to place your finger in it without it feeling hot. Remove from heat and pour into a 9 x 12 pan.
When the cookies are done baking, remove them and place them into the baking dish with the honey syrup. Let them sit over night. You may turn them once to get them really saturated. Most if not all of the liquid will be gone in the morning. If you have started these cookies early in the day, then let soak for about 5 – 8 hours in the syrup before finishing them.
Now you will take the remaining walnut mixture and spoon it atop of each cookie. Place each one into a large paper cupcake holder.