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Let’s Make Kourembiethes, The Right Way!

My father taught my mother to make these cookies when I was about 7 and since then, the memory of my mother making what must of been at least a thousand of these cookies every December to give as gifts to every friend, relative, co-worker and teacher is pretty much burned in my memory for all time, as I was always roped in for clove and powdered sugar duty.

I have seen variations of this recipe that call for salted butter, eggs or granulated sugar… those recipes are for a different cookie, no matter their claim to be kourembiethes or greek shortbread. If you don’t believe me, just ask my dad, he’ll set you straight! I should warn you that it is never advisable to tell a Greek man that his mother’s recipe, or anything having to do with his mother is wrong. If you go to a greek bakery, this is the crescent shaped cookie, covered in powdered sugar. Some bakeries will add a touch of rosewater, which is acceptable, but I prefer them to be flavored with just brandy.

The beauty of this cookie is the simplicity of it’s ingredients and it’s deceptively subtle taste: it is dense yet melts in your mouth at the same time. Eggs will only make them heavy, salted butter is NEVER used, as salt should be nowhere near this recipe and granulated sugar is just too sweet and weighs down the butter.

I should also note, that I use a fork, not a mixer for this recipe. I’ve tried using an electric mixer and I found that the cookie dough turned out slightly too “airy,” the dough should be soft but still somewhat stiff. So if you must use a mixer, only use it for the butter, and make sure you scrape all the butter off of the blades and back into the batter. My grandmother in Greece didn’t use an electric mixer and this is her recipe, so…

I usually buy a few pounds of unsalted butter when it’s on sale or from Aldi and throw it in the freezer and then make half batches whenever I’m in the mood. The following is for a half-batch, you may double the ingredients if you like, which then makes about 72 cookies.

  • 2 sticks unsalted butter, softened
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tsp. vanilla
  • 1 oversized shot glass of brandy (maybe a jigger and a half, don’t be stingy)
  • 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour, sifted
  • big pinch of baking powder (maybe an 1/8 tsp)
  • whole cloves
  • 1 cup powdered sugar for dusting
  • Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F

    Take 2 1/4 cups of flour and a big pinch of baking powder and sift it into a small bowl, set aside.

    Cream the butter with a fork in a large mixing bowl. Add the powdered sugar and mix well. Add the vanilla and again mix it very well. Add brandy in small amounts, and mix completely after each addition. The more brandy that is added, the more it wants to separate from the butter, so I generally add it in 4 or 5 passes before all the brandy is added.

    Slowly add the flour mixture, mixing well with a fork or wooden spoon, after each addition until all the flour is incorporated. Towards the end, use your hands once the dough is stiff.

    Roll batter into balls the size of small walnuts and place on an ungreased cookie sheet. Now, if you want to make crescents, turn your small walnut into one. I personally am too lazy to sit around making crescents, because if they do not turn out perfectly shaped I become obsessive about making them perfectly shaped, by which time the dough becomes too warm from handling, harder to shape and it will make the cookies spread in the oven, which you do not want.

    Place the cookies at least an inch apart, I usually just cram the whole batch on one cookie sheet, as these cookies should not spread if the dough has not been over-handled and you used a fork instead of a mixer. Press one clove in the center of each cookie and bake at 350 for 20 minutes. If you crammed all the cookies on one sheet like I do, you may want to give it up to 5 more minutes in the oven–but keep a watchful eye one them. When they are a very light golden tan, they should be ready.

    Let the cookies cool for a couple minutes and move them to a few large plates with a spatula. Sift powdered sugar over the cookies, while they are still very warm and don’t be stingy with the powdered sugar. Also don’t just plop the powdered sugar on top of the cookie, or it will not stick properly.

    Kourembiethes are perfect with either greek coffee or regular coffee, after dinner. One last note, warn people there is a clove in the center so they don’t accidentally swallow it.