Cyprus is one of our all time favorite places. The island country offers a magnificent landscape, vast coastlines, and an incredible history. But today, we want to focus on the food of Cyprus, specifically kourabiedes and phinikota.
Cyprus is divided into two distinctive territories, one Turkish and one Greek, and the recipe for these holiday cookies by Ivy Liacopoulou of Kopiaste comes from the Greek region. Phinikotas, a variation of Greek kourabiedes, are tender cookies that are stuffed with a mixture of soft sticky dates and crunchy toasted almonds, fragranced with blossom water and warming spices. The fragile sweet kourabiedes are very similar to Mexican wedding cookies or Russian tea cakes. The dough is fantastic in itself; infused with orange juice and brandy, the pastry is made with Spry vegetable shortening resulting in a delicate cookie that is pure indulgence. Coated in frosty powdered sugar, these holiday cookies are a treat that will certainly spark holiday cheer!
by Ivy Liacopoulou of Kopiaste
These Cypriot Kourabiedes are similar to the Greek ones but they are made with spry shortening, which makes them soft and fluffy.
Christmas is nearly here and in Greece melomakarona and kourabiedes are the most popular among the sweets we make. It’s impossible for us to imagine Christmas without them.
In a few days the platters will be full of them and the bakeries and confectioneries will have “white mountains” of kourabiedes, for those who do not have the time to prepare their own.
The Greek recipe is usually made with ewes’ butter but in Cyprus we usually use spry shortening, which although well known in Cyprus, it is unknown in Greece.
In October when I visited Cyprus, during my last minute shopping I remembered to buy some spry, brandy and blossom water to make my kourabiedes. I tried to find information about spry in the internet and the only thing I found is this. So I guess, if you can’t find spry, you can substitute it with Crisco.
In Greece, if I do not have spry, I have adapted the recipe making it with a mixture of ewe’s milk butter and a vegetable oil shortening using either fytini or Ariston. Last year I made two kinds of kourabiedes. The first one is the traditional one and the other is filled with dates, almonds and spices. If you want to try both, just keep half the dough without the almonds and follow the steps given at the end. The dose of the filling is for all the amount of kourabiedes, so you will have to make half the filling.
Cypriot Kourabiedes filled with Dates and Almonds
Phinikota or Finikota are made the same way as the traditional kourabiedes but without the almonds in the dough. The balls are flattened and filled with chopped dates, nuts and spices. Phinikota take their name from the Cypriot word “Φοινίκια”, which means dates.
½ kilo of dates, stoned and finely chopped
1- 1 ½ cups of roasted almonds, finely chopped
4 tbsp sugar
½ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp group cinnamon
3 tbsp butter
2 tbsp rose or citrus water
Place butter dates, almonds, sugar, cinnamon and cloves in a small pan and put over moderate heat until butter melts. Lower heat and continue stirring until the mixture softens. Add rose water and stir two or three times.
Place the mixture in a bowl and let it cool.
Meantime prepare the dough as given for the traditional kourabiedes.
Take a small amount of dough and flatten it with your hands. Add some filling and cover it to enclose the filling. Shape them into small balls.
Place the folded part on the baking tray.
To make the crescents, after flattening the dough, form the filling into a cord and enclose with the dough. Shape them into a crescent, making the edges pointy and bringing them forward.
Proceed with the baking and coating procedure as described in the recipe card.
This year, as I did not have some of the ingredients of the above recipe, I made them with dates, filled with two roasted almonds, with skin on, in each. They came out so delicious!
Cypriot Kourabiedes and Phinikota
yield: 60 prep time: 30 MINUTES cook time: 25 MINUTES total time: 55 MINUTES
500 grams spry
1 cup icing (confectioner’s) sugar
2 egg yolks
2 tbsp orange juice
1/2 cup brandy
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp vanilla essence
8 cups all-purpose flour
2 cups blanched and roasted almonds, cut in small pieces
Citrus blossom or rose water
300 grams icing sugar, for coating
Beat the spry with the icing sugar on high speed, for about ten minutes.
Reduce speed and add egg yolks one at a time, and beat until mixture is light and fluffy.
Dissolve the baking soda with brandy and orange juice and add it to the mixture. Beat for 2 – 3 minutes. Add vanilla.
Change the mixer paddle to the one for dough or start kneading by hand and add flour gradually. When the dough is ready, it should be as if it needs more flour but should not be sticky on your hands.
Add the almonds and mix.
Take a small amount of dough (about 30 grams) and shape them round, oval or crescent shaped.
Place them in a tin lined with parchment paper.
Bake in a preheated oven to 180 degrees C for about 20 - 25 minutes, depending on your oven. The baked cookies will look soft in the centers when you remove them from the oven.
Let them cool for 5 minutes on the cookie sheet and then transfer them to a cooling rack to cool completely.
Spray them with some rose or blossom water on both side.
Sieve the icing sugar on both sides of the cookies and transfer them into a platter, sprinkling some extra sugar on top.
Store them in an air-tight container for a longer shelf life.
Notes: Spry can be substituted with Crisco shortening. In Greece, substitute spry with 400 grams butter and 100 grams fytini or Ariston shortening.