Happy 15th of August to all of my Greek friends! For those of you who aren’t of the Hellenic persuasion, the 15th of August is a big religious summer holiday that celebrates the Ascention of the Virgin Mary or “Panayia”. She represents Mother Earth to the mainlanders, and Mother sea to all of the islanders. All Greeks named after the Virgin Mary with names ranging from Mary to Mario to Panayioti celebrate this special day along with her and are given many presents, asked advice, and considered closer to God on this day. This even includes the name Despina, or the ancient version of how they addressed the Panayia (woohoo it’s my name day too! So, if anyone wants to surprise me with a really nice, lavish present today, please, by all means, feel free! ) On this day, which is the third holiest aside from Christmas and Easter, the Virgin Mary, or Panayia, is asked to preform miracles on Earth, ranging rom solving family feuds to playing matchmaker. Whatever the miracle, Greeks can be sure of a couple of things: the day(s) off from work surrounding the Holiday (those Greeks and their excuses to take off work and party, right?), a Panigiri or festival will take place, and lots of good food, wine, and merriment. Maybe even a miracle or two.
In commemorance of this special day, I decided to make one of my all-time favorite Greek desserts to share. Melomakarouna, or “Honey Cookies”, are a delicious treat that always reminds me of the holy holidays: Easter, Christmas, and hey, why not Decapentavgoustos as well? These are super easy to make, and the orange and cinnamon flavors really evoke the warm feeling of celebrating a holiday with friends. There is nothing better than enjoying a Melomakarouno cookie with a steaming cup of coffee or tea and chatting with friends and family. On a side note, yet another perk is that these are Vegan-friendly, as there is no egg or dairy in these cookies! I hope you enjoy, and add these to your holiday favorites as well, though they are delicious any time of year you want to feel that warm holiday feeling.
For the Cookies:
-4 cups flour
-3/4 cup olive oil (regular, not extra virgin)
-1/4 cup vegetable oil
-1/3 cup sugar
-zest of 1 large orange
-1/2 cup orange juice
-5 tbs brandy
-1/2 tsp salt
-small pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
-1 tsp baking powder
-1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup chopped walnuts, for topping
– ½ tsp cinnamon
For the Syrup:
-1 cup honey
-1 cup water
-1/4 cup sugar
– 1 cinnamon stick
-3 whole cloves
-1 small 1” piece of lemon rind
-1 small 1” piece of orange rind
-1 tsp lemon juice
-cinnamon for sprinkling on top
In a medium sized bowl, sift together the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Set aside.
In a small bowl, lightly press together the orange zest and sugar until they form an orange colored sugar, and the orange oils have coated the sugar well.
Transfer to a large mixing bowl, and blend in the oils, brandy, and orange juice.
In the mixing bowl, slowly add in the dry ingredients, pulsing and mxing with every ½ cup or so of added dry ingredients until all is blended and a dough forms. The dough should be moist, but not sticky.
On an ungreased cookie sheet, place 1 tbs rounded dough balls, spacing evenly. Bake for about 30 minutes, until the cookies are a light golden brown.
While the cookies are baking, begin making the syrup immediately.
In a large saucepan, whisk together all of the syrup ingredients, and bring to a boil. Now reduce the pan to a simmer on medum low, and simmer for about 25 minutes.
Once the cookies are done, immediately submerge them in batches in the syrup, dunking them on all sides for about 30 seconds. Remove from the oil, and line on a serving platter. Sprinkle with walnuts, lightly pressing the walnuts into the tops of the cookies to stick.
Repeat this process with the rest of the cookies. To serve, serve warm with coffee. To store, keep them at room temperature, so that they stay soft.