A time for gathering and celebrating with loved ones, Christmas is truly the most wonderful time of the year. Each country and even each household has their own traditions, which make the holidays even more special. Many Greek Christmas traditions revolve around food, with festive treats made and offered throughout the holidays. One of the most popular is kourabies: essentially a shortbread butter cookie, it is wonderfully crumbly and adorned with lots of icing sugar. Though it is largely associated with Christmas, in some parts of Greece it is also made and offered as a special treat for weddings and Christenings. Across many islands, they also make kourabies to celebrate Easter, whereas in Crete, Greece’s largest island which is famed for its rich and delicious olive oil, they make kourabies during the summer, to celebrate Assumption on the 15th of August. Butter is almost most often the principal ingredient of choice, however oftentimes there are variations: in Crete they use their premium olive oil and in the Peloponnese, Southern Greece, kourabies is made with a combination of butter, margarine and olive oil.
Though kourabies is much loved all around Greece, it actually has a fascinating history connecting it to other areas: its origins are first traced back to 7th century Persia and Lebanon (kurabiye in Turkish and qurabiya in Arabic); its name referrs to a dry (kuru) biscuit (biye) and the technique initially used involved double baking the dough, in order to preserve it for longer, as, long before becoming a delicious Christmas treat, kourabie was usually prepared for soldiers and sailors.
Kourabies is believed to have reached Greece via Asia Minor refugees who arrived in Greece after the Smyrna occupation in 1922. They eventually became an integral part of Greek society, enriching already existing traditions, introducing new ones and brining their rich history and heritage into numerous aspects of Greek life. Refugees set home in different areas, among which Kavala, in North East Greece. Kavala is widely famed for its kourabie, and indeed our own version follows a local family recipe.
Since kourabies is largely associated with Christmas holidays, almost every bakery and household boasts the tastiest version. Especially in smaller areas around the country, there was, and ofter still is, an unspoken competition of sorts amongst home bakers over who had the best version, the popularity of which would be measured by quickly emptied serving dishes, pilled high with the snow white treats, as well as by requests for the recipe!
Regardless of each particular recipe, all agree that most essential for the perfect kourabies is best quality butter made of cow’s milk. This is diligently beaten with icing sugar until very light and fluffy and then folded with toasted whole (or roughly chopped) almonds. In terms of flavourings, the most popular addition is touch of vanilla essence or, in some variations, rose water or mastic.
Kourabies is the quintessential Petits Grecs treat; we first created it paying homage to its historical significance and widespread likeness. Apart from the most common vanilla flavour, we have also created three more fragrant variations: Greek coffee, cinnamon and anise seed. They are all subtly flavoured, perfectly crumbly and are shaped into small round bites, ideal for accompanying a cup of coffee or tea, or offered as a delicious treat.
Our recipe for kourabies Vanilla!
Wheat Flour 500 g.
Butter 99% 250 g.
Crushed almonds 150 g.
Powdered sugar 65 g.
Vanilla extract 1 teaspoon
Baking powder 5 g.
Take the butter out of the fridge earlier and leave it at room temperature to soften.
Preheat the oven to 175-185 C ̊ (depending on how strong or not it’s your oven)
Spread the almonds on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and bake them for around 15-20 minutes.
Beat the butter for 7 minutes at high speed with an electric mixer until the mixture turns white. Then add the powdered sugar and continue beat for 7 minutes.
Add the vanilla extract and the roasted almonds.
Gradually add the wheat flour, out of the mixer and gently with circular movements. Mix until the ingredients come together.
Our dough is now ready, so give shape like balls to the dough about 25 g. and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Bake them for around 20-25 minutes until lightly browned and showing small cracks.
Remove the kourabies from the oven and place on a baking sheet.
Let stand until cool for 5-7 minutes and then sprinkle with lots of powdered sugar.
Before you serve them, put the kourabies on a platter, once they have cooled, and again sprinkle with more powdered sugar in order to make them look snowy and luscious.
Good luck and enjoy!