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Monday, December 6, 2010

Koulourakia (Greek Butter Cookie)

This is my second posted recipe for koulourakia, which are traditional Greek butter cookies normally served at holidays, particularly Easter, but also Christmas. They come in a variety of shapes, including twists and circles, and the following directions are to make the more common twist form.

Helpful schematic courtesy of my Uncle Jeff

For those of you who have never had the opportunity to taste koulourakia before, they are butter cookies, on the dry side like biscotti. They are meant to be enjoyed with coffee or at least milk. They are slightly sweet, with vanilla, and glazed with an egg wash.  And they are delicious, a simple flavor but one of the best around. This recipe is my Aunt Maria's, and it is hand's down the best I've had since my Yia-Yia's (who never wrote anything down, and unfortunately that recipe was lost).

But before we begin, there are a few provisos about making koulourakia. I'm not going to lie: these cookies are time consuming if you make them the traditional way, rolling and shaping them, as opposed to dropping them into small rounds. To me, the extra time is worth it, but it is a labor of love to the tune of about 5 hours.

If you decide that you just want to scoop and drop cookies, it will go a lot faster, I'll give some ballpark baking times at the bottom. They are just as tasty round. Using the dough measurements I give, this recipe will yield about 15 dozen cookies twisted, 7 1/2 dropped, it is an incredibly high yield recipe that would be a great choice for a cookie exchange as well.

And about the twisting: the dough is dry out of necessity, it is important for the final cookie consistency, but it can make rolling a challenge, especially since you roll it to a log of about 3/8" thick -- pretty thin actually. The dough can and will crack and break as you roll it occasionally. Sometimes you can just pinch it back together, sometimes you need to re-roll it. And sometimes you just pitch it back into the bowl and try again. I try to be as explicit as I can be with the instructions for rolling and baking. Don't misunderstand me, I don't want to discourage you from making them, they are a fabulous cookie!! I just want you to be prepared if you choose to make the traditional shape (and again, you can always just scoop out the dough and bake it into rounds).

Okay? Okay! Let's get started. First, butter and sugar get creamed together until nice and fluffy, this will probably take about 3 minutes of good hard mixing.

Then eggs and vanilla get added in and combined.

Premix all of the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and baking soda) in a bowl, and add it into the batter slowly. I normally do this about a cup at a time. Be sure to mix thoroughly.

Now, here comes the fun bit: the rolling. Take a #60 scoop, and scoop out a wad of dough. Roll it around in a ball for a few seconds to smooth it out, and then roll it between your hands until it is maybe 2 inches long. Put it down on the counter. There is a lot of butter in the dough, so it shouldn't be too sticky. But, if you are noticing it sticks, put a very light coating (so light it is pretty much invisible) on the counter and your hands.

This dough needs to be rolled out (carefully) 12" long. I always have the ruler for reference, because my eyes will play tricks on me if I don't.

Then, cut the dough in half, leaving 2-6" pieces. I use one of those firm, clear plastic butter knives for this part, so I don't have to worry about scratching my counter. If you are finding that rolling such a big piece is too hard for you, you can always cut the dough in half when it is still 2" long, and then roll each half out to 6" separately, although this will take longer.

Pick up a piece of the dough and transfer it to the parchment-lined cookie sheet where it will bake, to the position it will bake in. Bend the dough in half like so:

Then, cross over one side with the other:

And bring that piece up around the other side to make one full twist:

Do it for the other half of the dough as well. Eventually,  you will end up with a sheet of these:

Don't be discouraged if some crack or break. I've made hundreds and hundreds, and mine do too, it is just the nature of the dough.  Unless you are my Aunt Maria, and your cookies always look perfect like they came out of some koulourakia cookie press. Normally, you can repair breaks with a pinch, and the cracks will be less noticeable as the cookie puffs while baking.

Don't be afraid to pack the cookies onto the sheet, they don't spread much, and the more cookies you put on a sheet, the fast the whole process takes. I normally pack 20 onto a sheet in this configuration:

Also, I don't know about you, but I only have 4 cookie sheets. For this recipe, I have to reuse them like mad. What I normally do is twist enough cookies for all my sheets, and then start them baking. While I am out of sheets, I twist cookies on the parchment on my counter, and then when I get a sheet that is cooled enough to put new cookies on (about the length of time it takes the sheet following that one to bake), I just bring the cookie sheet flush with my counter and slide the new parchment + cookies onto it like this:

This way, I can keep twisting even if I have run out of sheets. Generally, when I bring a cookie sheet out of the oven, I start twisting a new set of cookies onto parchment, and by the time I am done twisting 20 cookies, the sheet is cool enough for me to slide them on there.

The dough will be sitting around for a while as you make these cookies (and it was already extremely dry to begin with), so keep the bowl covered with a few layers of damp paper towels

Then, the cookies get brushed with an egg wash. One single egg got me through all 15 dozen, you don't need to be too heavy-handed with the wash. Also, if you have sheets of twisted but unbaked cookies laying around, brush with the egg wash right before you put it into the oven to bake, so it doesn't dry.

Then go ahead and bake. Mine took about 14 minutes.

They should be golden brown when they come out -- how brown is a matter for your personal preference. My aunt and I like them overdone, my mom prefers them lighter, so don't be afraid to experiment with different baking times -- after all, you will have 15 dozen!

If you don't want to do all that twisting, just use the #60 scoop to scoop and drop dough onto the cookie sheets and bake, around the same length of time, just keep an eye on them. Doing it this way should yield about 7 1/2 dozen cookies, still an impressive haul for one batch.

Or, you can roll them, and form them into circles, that is another traditional shape. If you're feeling really adventurous, you can make coils, circular braids or "S" shaped cookies like here, all also traditional. But I like the twists best, because that's how my Yia-Yia made them.

I can not say enough good things about these cookies. The taste is subtle but addicting. The texture is the perfect complement to a nice cup of coffee or tea, or milk.

These do very well in the freezer, they'll be good for at least a month if not more, so you can easily make them ahead of time. Look at me, mine are done, and Christmas isn't for another 3 weeks.

Plus, the recipe yields so much that you will have enough cookies to bring everywhere I'm bringing them to 4 places minimum, and I'll probably bring some to the lab as well, and still have enough to be steadily noshing until New Year's.

If you're a Greek looking for a great Koulourakia recipe, or if you're on the prowl to try some cookies from around the world, or if you're just looking for a simple and delicious butter cookie with natural ingredients (simple if you just drop them onto the sheet, that is), consider this recipe for your holiday baking.

(Printable Recipe)

  • 1 1/2 C sweet butter
  • 1 1/2 C sugar
  • 3 tsp vanilla
  • 3 eggs
  • 6 C AP flour
  • 3 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp baking soda
  • Beaten egg (for egg wash)

  1. Preheat oven to 350F
  2. Cream butter and sugar until fluffy
  3. Add in eggs and vanilla and beat well to combine
  4. Combine all dry ingredients (flour, baking powder and soda) in a separate bowl
  5. Slowly add dry ingredients to wet, mixing thoroughly
  6. Using the #60 scoop, scoop out dough. Either roll out, cut and twist dough as desired (see blog text); or drop dough directly onto parchment-lined cookie sheets for round butter cookies
  7. Brush with beaten egg
  8. Bake 10-15 minutes (depends on shape). Remove when golden brown. Let cool on sheet 1 minute before removing to rack


Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for sharing this recipe! I made it for coworkers and family for Christmas and I think I may have finally (!) found the perfect recipe for me. I really don't like very eggy or fluffy koulourakia. I added half a freshly squeezed orange for a nice subtle flavor. Again, really appreciate your blog. Happy New Year!

Meredith P said...

Thanks for the lovely comment, I'm so glad you enjoyed them!

Anonymous said...

Hi I was following along with your recipe for these Greek cookies and noticed that you left out a word, not sure if you meant to say, you can lightly use some ? flour, or butter, if the dough is sticky. Also what's a #60 scoop? Is that like an ice cream scoop? Lastly, it wasn't clear if you should add the egg wash before or after you bake the cookies or both. You only mentioned using it for the cookies waiting to be baked so they wouldn't dry out.
Look forward to making these on my own. Have always loved these cookies--was introduced to them a long time ago through an old friend whose mother is Greek and always made them. Thanks.

Meredith P said...

Hi! Thanks for reading!
1) you can use a very light dusting of flour on the rolling pin and counter if the dough is sticky.
2) a #60 scoop is a cookie scoop, you can generally find them at Bed, Bath and Beyond. There are 2 sizes, 40 or 60, 60 being the smaller of the two.
3) the egg wash goes on prior to baking, I generally brush the cookies right before they go into the oven, to prevent the wash from drying.
Good luck!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for your response. I have a few more questions.
First, about the 6" strip of rolled out dough. From the looks of your photo, once you bend it to make the twist, it looks more like there's 4-5" of dough on each side--not 3", which would give you more to work with anyway. Am I mistaken?
Secondly, how many (approx.) twists does this recipe make? I'm guessing alot from 6 cups. Couldn't find this in your blog.
Lastly, can I half this recipe for all ingredients if I don't want to use 6 cups of flour? I'm guessing you could also refrigerate/cover any unused portions to use the next day? Don't think I have that length of time or stamina to make and bake all these twists in one day! Thx.

Anonymous said...

Oops, Meredith--I found the answer about how many twists this makes. I didn't read all the way through the beginning part. Wow 15 dozen! I really would prefer to make half of that. Thx.

Anonymous said...

Oops, Meredith--I found the answer about how many twists this makes. I didn't read all the way through the beginning part. Wow 15 dozen! I really would prefer to make half of that. Thx.

Meredith P said...

Hi again!

Once the dough is cut, it is definitely 6 inches only. I know because I always use a ruler for reference, I am horrible at judging length by eye. I think it looks longer in the pic because the dough is rolled out quite thin, the width of a #2 pencil, so it looks longer than it is. These cookies are thinner than the average Greek festival koulourakia, but that's just how my aunt's recipe is. If you use a #40 scoop instead of #60 and follow the directions (adding a few mins to the baking time, of course), they will be a little thicker, and you will end up with probably 10 dozen instead of 15 dozen.

I agree 15 dozen is a lot, haha. It definitely takes a while to twist them. If you want it to go faster, you can always just drop them using the scoop, and not roll and twist the traditional shape. You'll also get half the yield.

I've never halved the recipe, I'm not sure how it will turn out (sometimes baking doesn't turn out quite right when the recipe is halved or doubled), but if you try it, let me know.

I think (but I've never tried it) that the dough should e okay in the fridge. I would take it out of the bowl and wrap it completely in plastic wrap, and then maybe put it in a ziplock bag, to make sure it doesn't dry out. Hope that helps!

Anonymous said...

Thanks again for your suggestions. This was helpful. I'll let you know if I try to half the recipe.
Happy Holidays. said...

Hi. I'm looking for a recipe to compare to my own because I've been getting a few too many cracks and I can't figure out why. We have a Melomakarona recipe that is handed down from my grandparents but my sister had to interpret a handful of this and a handful of that. (I made it for an annual cookie party and won a prize.) Nobody handed down the Koulourakia. I think I found it in a Greek cookbook years ago, but now I'm looking to perfect the cookie. The photos of yours are enticing. I'm going to compare ingredients and see what I can up with. These are my favorite cookies. It is only an advance baker that recognizes the art of the plain cookie. :-)

Nadine, Chewy and Lilibell said...

Beautiful looking cookies! I grew up on these cookies, and have made them every Christmas for the past couple of years (more because by the time I get to our local Greek feast in September, these cookies are always gone!), and I have yet to perfect them so that they don't spread while baking. But, even though they spread, they still taste like my childhood!

Nancita said...

The recipe of koulourakia was presented at the Chew April 23,2014 but they added heavy cream which is not included in your recipe . Was it missed?

Meredith P said...

Hi Nancita,
I'm afraid I don't know what The Chew is. My recipe does not call for cream or milk, and most of the recipes I have seen don't seem to call for it either.

O'haras said...

Hi, I would like to comment on the Chew's recipe. Heavy cream is NOT the norm in this cookie nor Cake flour. It is a good cookie but far from traditional. People over there are trying to figure out how many cups a 'box' of cake flour yields =-/
This is a great recipe, very very close to my mother's.
Thank you for posting it Meredith.

Mary said...

Hi Meredith,
I am looking for a koularakia recipe that is dry/crumbly instead of cakey. The one I have been making for years, while delicious, is cakey. I just found my mother-in-law's recipe from her mom and tried it. It is also cakey. Do you have any recommendations for a koularakia cookie recipe that is more like biscotti in texture? I have had them but don't have a recipe. Your recipe is very similar to mine. Also, my mother-in-law's recipe calls for a jigger of whiskey. I substituted orange juice; any idea what this would taste like?

Meredith P said...

Hi Mary!

Sorry for the tardy reply. This recipe is definitely crumbly, even more so if you bake it a little longer to a nice golden brown as I tend to do (also gives a nice nutty flavor). Although my kourambiethes recipe calls for a jigger of whiskey, this recipe does not call for added moisture. It also helps to make sure you are really rolling out the dough thin, which is a pain to work with but really does give it that dry texture. Before you twist, the rope of dough should be the same width as a traditional #2 pencil. Good luck!

Meredith P said...

I'm just the opposite! Koulourakia recipe, but no melomakarona recipe passed down, and I love those!

Thanks for the complement!! :-)

Olymoia said...

I have same ingredients. Grew up on them and hve made for yrs. I don't understand why mine turn out flat. Help?

Unknown said...

Tried these cookies for the first time today at our local Greek Food Festival - just HAD to find a recipe for them! Thanks for sharing - I'll be adding these to the cookies I bake for my nephews wedding!

Jacquelyn said...

This is SUCH a wonderful Koulourakia recipe! Everyone raved about my Yiayia's recipe...hers were really the only ones I ever truly loved. I tried 1-2x to make her recipe but never seemed quite right. I read about your recipe today and got the courage back to try again as I read how this recipe is more crunchy/dry as opposed to the more cakey variety. As I compared your recipe with hers, it was very, very similar, though this one had more sugar in it. I used your recipe (I halved the recipe though and only difference was that I used 1 egg (instead of 1.5 egg) AND added 2 Tbsp of scotch (something Yiayia did in hers). OMG, the taste, texture, JUST like hers to me. THANK YOU! I have totally overate on them though-- I can't even tell you how many I consumed today. I used to do the same when she'd give me a box of them at Christmas. Sometimes I'd hide them and not share with anyone (bad me I know...)! I also am like you and your aunt-- I like them a little more browned with that slightly nutty flavor. Thank you again! XOXOX

Angelamou said...

Hi Meredith I followed this recipe to a T and I found it very difficult to twist or work with this dough the dough would break apart and it could not twist or make into a long 6 inch rod prior to twisting. I have no idea what I did wrong perhaps it was too much flour? Any suggestions?

Angelamou said...


I found that the dough would break apart and not allowing me to twist into shape, I followed this recipe to a T not sure what went wrong, do you think there was too much flour?

Liz Bettini said...

Hello! Thanks for this recipe, I am looking forward to making these for the first time! I have a quick question about freezing them - should the dough be frozen (pre-cooked) or should the cookies be frozen after being cooked?
Thank you!

Unknown said...

Hi Meredith! I just made your Koulourakia recipe today. I did not use the 6 cups of flour as at 5 cups they were already easy to shape and i did not want them to be too hard. Right now they are cooling. Will they be crispy or hard? I hope not hard. I think if i added the 6th cup perhaps they would be. Kitchen smells wonderful! thanks for the recipe! Regards, Mina