Prep: 15 min // Bake: 30 min
What is it?
This is an incredibly rich, moist and syrupy cookie that is frantically consumed during the festive period in Greece. Greeks love everything olive oil and cookies made with olive oil (good fats) are no exception. It's also a favourite comforting treat since my childhood that still keeps a top place in my heart. My mum used to send me a massive box of these when I was studying abroad. If not my solace being away from home, that was definitely my favourite breakfast, post-lunch and dinner dessert and all that on daily basis throughout most Decembers of my life. Never got bored with these fellas.
“Melomakarono” appears at the beginning of December and throughout the whole festive season in every single Greek household, it's sold in every single grocery store and displayed in every patisserie. Even served with your warm cup of coffee or tea at coffee shops. No wonder why most Greeks add an intensive diet program to their new year’s resolutions. Legend says melomakarona were derived from the ancient and medieval ‘makaria’, eaten during funerals. Over the centuries, the recipe was evolved with the addition of honey syrup which eventually led to the modern melomakarono (meli = honey and makaria). Luckily it somehow got related to Christmas spirit, and not death, so we do not anymore have to wait for someone pass to taste it.
I always thought it was a quite complicated recipe to make and never bothered until recently that moved abroad and felt nostalgic about homemade Greek food. The recipe is my mum’s original, a little simpler than the traditional and with my added twist that makes it unique compared to all other recipes out there: orange blossomed water, very discreetly appearing in this recipe but giving this cookie a unique fragrant Levant tone that I very much enjoy in desserts. It reminds and connects me to my childhood when my grandma served orange and rose blossomed delights as a welcome treat. The recipe includes a significant amount of sugar and honey which I slightly reduced but that I cannot (and do not want to) heavily tweak as they balance the olive oil acidity, not to mention both contribute to the overall texture. Not everything has to be healthy in this life, after all, this is our cheat just for this Christmas. At the end of the day, think of the benefits of extra virgin olive oil and honey in every bite... if that makes you feel better.
Ingredients (35-40 cookies)
Don't be put off by the quantity, they will all go in less than a week
150ml good quality extra virgin Olive Oil
100g vegetable butter
100g fine caster sugar
2 big fresh oranges juice + zest from 1 orange
2 tbsp Metaxa (the Greek favourite and one of the best out there) or any other brandy
2 tsp orange blossomed water (optional)
600g all-purpose flour (or 500g flour and 100g fine semolina to get a softer bite)
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cloves*
1 tsp ground cinnamon*
50g walnuts, chopped
* or instead of cinnamon and cloves use 2 tsp of mixed spice (like this)
200g good quality Greek honey (plus some extra for drizzling)
150g fine caster sugar
1 cinnamon stick and/or 3-4 cloves
1 tsp orange blossomed water (optional)
Before you get your hands dirty, take a step back, make sure you have all the ingredients and equipment and have read through the steps of the recipe to be prepared for what's coming.
Preheat the oven to 180c (160 fan).
Add the wet ingredients to a bowl and beat with an electric mixer (or use a blender and whiz a couple of times) until well combined. Save a couple of orange peels for the syrup later.
In another bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder and soda, cinnamon and ground cloves and then pour the wet ingredients into the dry and mix well (no hard kneading) until you have a soft, slightly greasy dough:
Line a baking tray with baking paper and start shaping balls (golf size) with your hands. Place the balls on your baking tray and press them down to round discs (5-6mm thickness) using a hollow bottomed glass. Or else, use any kind of festive cookie cutter you have available (like these Christmas cookie cutters).
Bake for around 25 min until the cookies turn golden brown.
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup: Add 1 cup of water (250ml) in a pan along with the honey, sugar, orange blossomed water (if using), a couple of orange peels, and the cinnamon stick and bring to boil. Once boiling, lower the heat and simmer in very low heat for 5 min.
Once the cookies are out of the oven, soak them in warm syrup for 10 sec each or otherwise, pour the syrup over the cookies as they come out of the oven and let them absorb the syrup.
Tip: Before soaking check the consistency. If you haven't used caster sugar, but any other soft brown like molasses or muscovado, it is very likely that the cookie will be softer. In that case, wait to completely cool down and then pour syrup on them (do not submerge/soak) gradually until you reached the right consistency.
When all the syrup is absorbed, turn them over and let them cool down on a wire rack. If you like them with more moisture in the core, repeat the soaking steps for one more time, or as many times until you reach the desired moisture.
Roughly chop your nuts with a knife or in a food processor/blender. Drizzle some extra honey on the cookies (to be used as glue for walnuts), sprinkle the chopped nuts and serve.
They will preserve for a couple of weeks in an airtight container.
Below are my favourite authentic products I used to cook and shoot this recipe. If you can't see the icons and links, please deactivate your ad-blocker and refresh the page :-)
Extra Virgin Olive Oil: Cretan undoubtedly is one of the most virgin Olive Oils in the world. Be it the Cretan climate, the skills of Cretans delivering exceptional extra virgin oil over the centuries, or both, this is one olive oil you should be giving a try. During my visits to Greece, I used to bring a 3L pack of Cretan (or Spartan) oil over to the UK but I stopped as soon as I realised how good Amazon's price is (not to mention the space I saved in my luggage)! I use this oil for all my recipes, savoury or desserts.
Honey: There is a handful of products that Greeks are considered best at producing. Greek honey, along with olives and olive oil, is a very premium product and second to none in the market. Could it be that the bees are happier in the warmer and sunnier environment to produce better honey? Who knows, but certainly makes sense to try Greek Pine or Thyme honey with your recipes. Not only honey is nutritious (compared to sugar), but the pine and thyme ones have a strong and pleasant taste which will give a new dimension to your bakes. Just be cautious with ingredient substitute cos not always honey replaces sugar at 1:1 ratio. Meli Serron comes from northern Greece and it's a family business with a great tradition in honey production dating many generations back in time. Amazon price is not bad too if you think a kilo of good quality honey costs around 10-12 euro in Greece.
Orange Blossom Water: Blossom water is widely used in Middle Eastern, North African and Mediterranean cuisine, predominantly in desserts. Rosewater is very popular in Greek cuisine too, but I personally like the orange-scented one for my desserts. Be aware, it's blossom water, so the taste intensity is pretty heavy so go easy and strictly follow the quantities in the recipe to not be overwhelmed.
Bought a big orange blossom bottle and don't know what to do with it? Here are 5 things to do with orange blossom water for some inspiration:
Click the "Orange Blossom" tag at the end of the recipe to see more recipes with blossom water and get inspired ;-)
Mix a few drops with your iron's water and you’ll come out smelling of blossom
Add a dash to smoothies; especially those with yoghurt
If you like scented syrups in your coffee, add a dash (1/4 of tsp) of blossom water
Pop a few drops in your humidifier to scent the air