Greek cookies typically have rich, buttery bases with accents of stronger ingredients that round out the flavor. Cloves and deep accent flavors of orange and exotic spices help make Greek cookies unique. Greek cookies are a mainstay in most Greek homes and are a huge part of Greek cuisine. Greek bakeries are famous for their cookies, whose light and airy crunch and flavor are often favored over the richness of the Greek dessert baklava.
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Greek cookies date back to around 1200 BC, when women and bakers struggled to find unique baking supplies and ingredients to make sweets for the table. They used staple foods such as flour, butter, honey, olive oil, lemon, sugar and strong spices derived from area farms to create their cookies and sweets. Greek women often changed ordinary round shapes and styles into unusual designs, such as spirals and figure eights as well as intricate layered cookies sprinkled with colorful spices and sugars.
There are several types of popular Greek cookies. One of the most famous of the Greek cookies is the Kourambiethe, which is made from butter, flour, eggs and sugar and baked until just slightly crisp but still airy; it has a light and buttery taste. This cookie is a base recipe for several variations; it can be dusted with powdered sugar and served with coffee and is a popular cookie at most Greek bakeries. Koulourakias have the same cookie base but are accented with orange zest and often sesame seeds. Biscotti, which are also popular in Italy, are a plain, twice baked stiff cookie biscuit that can be served with a sweetened coffee or tea as they do not take away from the flavor of the drink. Biscotti did not originate in Greece but Greeks have transformed variations of the cookie with nuts and honey that are now a popular mainstay in Greek cuisine and desserts.
Most Greek cookies are uniquely shaped, into small squares or triangles or even S shapes and circles with textured edges. Cookies are shaped just before they go into the oven. Powdered sugar, colored sugars, spices and seeds also adorn the tops of most Greek cookies; these are more likely found in upscale bakeries where presentation is key to selling the cookies. Cookie wrappers and colorful waxed paper are usually placed underneath Greek cookies before they are served to prevent crumbling and mess.
Most Greek cookies are small, almost like petits fours (about the size of a silver dollar), with intricate designs sometimes sprinkled with finely chopped nuts or dipped in colored sugar paste. Some Greek cookies can be long and narrow, up to 2 inches in length, sporting intricate sprinkles of colors from spices and a variation in textures, such as the harder foundation of Biscotti or the mouthwatering crunch of twisted cookies.
Greek cookies tend to have a variety of textures due to the addition of ingredients to the cookie base. Sweetened drizzle highlighted with almond extract is a famous topping; it is most popular in chocolate flavor but is also seen in strawberry, coffee and vanilla flavors. Spicy jellies also take their place in the center of many of Greek butter cookies, accented with flavors of cloves, orange, nutmeg and cinnamon. Jellies are made from sugar and sometimes fruits such as fresh fig and cherries. Many Greek cookies are twisted or shaped before they are baked; these are great for adults to have with coffee or tea and for children to dip in hot chocolate.