Over here at Arousing Appetites, we take our holiday seasons very seriously. It’s a fantastic time to get together with friends and family and to reflect and express gratitude on the year that was. Of course, it’s also a great time to eat.
Cuisines around the world each have their own special (and delicious!) holiday traditions, ranging from hearty winter stews to delicious decadent cakes, so we’ll be embarking on what will be a month of unearthing truly special holiday recipes.
First culinary stop: Greece and melomakarona.
What is Melomakarona?
Melomakarona is a honey-dipped Christmas cookie topped with crushed walnuts and cinnamon that is extremely popular to have in the home during the holidays. The melomakarona recipe is an oil-based one that still somehow yields a fluffy and almost cake-like cookie with intense flavors.
The backstory of how melomakarona came to be, however, is an interesting but also confusing one. The name melomakarona itself is a conjunction of two words that trace its roots back to Ancient Greece and very old traditions around funerals. The first part of the word – meli – means honey, which comes as no surprised since this is a honey-dipped cookie.
But here’s where it gets a little confusing. The second conjoined root word – makaroni – translates roughly to macaroni, or a kneaded pasta-like substance. Traditionally, this makaroni was a pasta served at funerals (i.e. not Christmas). This ancient form of makaroni was served at funerals and for a brief period thereafter as a way to bless the dead on their way to the afterlife.
While its unclear how or where “funeral pasta” evolved into intensely flavored Christmas cookies, one perfectly plausible reason might come from the steadfastly constant ingredient in melomakarona: honey.
In Ancient Greece, honey was a symbol of fertility and welfare, which many Greeks found desirable to have and not just at the end of their lives. It’s speculated that, in pursuit of this fertility and welfare, melomakarona transitioned from a staple at funerals to more festive, light-hearted holiday and new year celebrations.
About the Recipe
Melomakarona is a very fragrant and delicious mixture of strongly flavored ingredients. Made from an oil and semolina-like flour base, you prepare the recipe with additional pungent ingredients like orange zest, cognac and/or brandy, cinnamon and, of course, honey. All those mixed into one bite-sized cookie leads to an explosion of flavor.
To add additional flavor and texture to the cookie, it is then dipped into a syrup made from honey and sugar dissolved in water. While the melomakarona are still piping hot with syrup, you drizzle crushed walnuts on top both for presentation but also to add an additional crunch to the cookie itself.
We’d seen other recipes that swapped out the honey syrup for chocolate syrup instead, so we tried a very small test batch dipped in chocolate. Truthfully (and this is coming from fervent chocolate eaters), the chocolate cookies weren’t nearly as dynamic and diverse in their flavors and not as good as the original recipe. Call us old-fashioned in this respect, I guess.
To start, we scaled down the original recipe by 1/3 of the total suggested amounts. The original recipe called for 60 cookies, which would have left us in a mountain of melomakarona after all our recipe attempts and tests. So instead, these recipe proportions will yield you around ~20 cookies.
Next, we swapped out the all-purpose flour for healthier unbleached and whole wheat alternatives. In our melomakarona, we opted for a mixture of spelt semolina and spelt flour to make the cookies a little more nutrient-rich without compromising the final texture. This might be more attributable to our own preference for fuller flavor whole grain flours, but we enjoyed more our melomakarona with these flours than those with the all-purpose flour used in the original recipe.
To help give the melomakarona a better-to-absorb-honey-syrup shape, we also learned an interesting tactic that left the cookies in better form as well. When taking a piece of dough and rolling it into an oblong shape, rolling the ball across the opposite edge of a grater (note: the dough is not being grated) gave the cookies a dimpled and very elegant looking shape while also yielding a more consistent oblong-shaped cookie as well. It’s a great tactic to try out when you make these yourself.
Other than that, the recipe was very simple to make and yielded a delicious festive cookie! Enjoy!
Have you had melomakarona before? Let us know your thoughts on them in the comments below!
- ⅓ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup fresh orange juice
- 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon + 1 pinch for topping (optional)
- 1 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ⅓ cup cognac/brandy
- ⅓ cup coconut sugar
- 1½ cup spelt semolina
- 1 cup spelt flour
- ⅓ cup walnuts
- 4 cup honey
- ⅓ cup coconut sugar
- ⅓ cup water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 3-4 whole cloves
- 1-2-inch piece lemon rind
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit
- Add all the wet cookie ingredients into a large mixing bowl and knead. In a separate bowl, combine the dry mixture and lightly whisk through to sift
- Slowly add the dry mixture bit by bit to the larger bowl. The dough that forms should be one that's dense and wet but not sticky and loose. You should be able to add all the dry mix, but be mindful if you see the mixture starting to become too dry. If this happens, just add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until the dough is no longer dry.
- Take 1 palm-sized portion of dough (or 1 heaping tablespoon)
- To roll cookies, shape dough in your palms into a smooth oblong shape, almost like a small egg. Tip: Roll the dough on the reverse side of a grater to get a dimpled, consistent oblong shape
- Fill an ungreased cookie sheet lined with parchment paper with as many cookies as you can
- Bake in the oven for about 30 minutes until the cookies have a crispy golden brown outer shell
- While the cookies are baking, combine the honey, sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves and lemon rind in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer uncovered over low heat for 10 - 15 minutes
- As the syrup simmers, crush and grind your walnuts and side aside next to the saucepan
- After 15 minutes of simmering, strain the syrup through a sieve and return to the saucepan. Add lemon juice and put the syrup back on a low heat
- Remove the cookies from the oven and carefully dip each cookie in the syrup.
- Place the cookies on a cooling rack with parchment paper underneath (to catch dripping syrup) and sprinkle with the crushed walnuts. If you'd like, you can sprinkle additional cinnamon on top as well