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These are one of two traditional Christmas sweets made all over Greece. They are a simple, delicious syrup cookie made with fresh juice, zest, and cinnamon and spices. Once baked they are crunchy, but after a light syrup bath and topped with nuts, they are transformed into a decadent Greek sweet.
This recipe makes 25-30 cookies, so you will have plenty to share. But if you are feeling a little Scrooge like and want to keep them all for yourself, they also freeze very well As you can see, I mixed in some cocoa for the remaining 8-10 cookies, and it gave them a nice chocolate oomph (but only do this with a few, otherwise you take away the traditional taste).
The trick is to make them soft but not soggy, light but not falling apart.
For the cookies:
1 cup olive oil
1/3 cup butter, softened
1 cup sugar
Zest of one orange
Zest 1/2 lemon
3/4 cup orange juice
1/4 cup brandy (optional)
4 – 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
Pinch of salt
1 cup Semolina, fine grain
3/4 cup walnuts, ground coarsely ( I mix with almonds too)
For the syrup:
1 cup honey
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 cups water
1 cinnamon stick
2-3 whole cloves
1 2-inch piece lemon rind
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter and oil with the sugar until well mixed. Add the orange juice, zests, spices, and brandy mixing well.
In a separate bowl, sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda and salt.
Slowly incorporate the flour cup by cup until the mixture forms a dough that is not too loose but not quite firm either. It will be dense and wet but not sticky. Once the flour is incorporated fully stop mixing.To roll cookies, pinch a portion of dough off about the size of a walnut. Shape in your palms into a smooth ball, then roll along the side of your zester to give a slight texture and flattening slightly. Fill an ungreased cookie sheet, repeat. Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 25 – 30 minutes until lightly browned. (The cookies will darken when submerged in syrup.)
While the cookies are baking, prepare the syrup.
In a saucepan, combine the honey, sugar, water, cinnamon, cloves, and lemon rind. Bring the mixture to a boil then lower the heat and simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes. Remove the cinnamon, cloves, and lemon rind. Place the ground walnuts in a shallow plate or bowl next to the stove top. When the cookies come out of the oven and while they are still very warm, carefully float the cookies in the syrup and allow the cookies to absorb syrup on both sides.
Using a fork or small spatula, remove the cookie from the syrup and place on a platter or plate. Press ground walnuts lightly into the tops of the cookies (syrup will help it adhere) and sprinkle lightly with ground cinnamon. Do not refrigerate Melomakarona as they will harden. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.