Greek Christmas cookies called Melomakarona are the perfect way to kick off Advent, celebrate St. Nicholas, and talk about the spirit of waiting.
by Ryan Langr
Who doesn’t know about St. Nicholas? Even non-Christians celebrate his legacy with the practice of Santa Claus. Still, despite my great familiarity with him, I had to read up on where he was from—a small town in ancient Greece, which is now modern-day Turkey.
One of the great traditions for the Dec. 6 feast of St. Nicholas is leaving your shoes out the night before and awaking to find gold coins left inside them. While more modern practices leave gold-wrapped chocolate coins, a delicious coin-shaped cookie may be an even better treat!
Melomakarona are a traditional Greek Christmas treat, and if you can manage to shape them like a coin, the perfect celebration of St. Nicholas. They can take a while to mix and bake, so they require patient waiting to prepare—the perfect baking theme for the first week of Advent.
With hints of bourbon, orange, and honey, these cookies are a sweet treat for child and parent alike. Traditionally they are made with walnuts as well, which I will include in the recipe, but I personally chose to leave out. Even without the walnuts, the combination of orange and bourbon dipped in honey sauce makes for a fruity, comforting treat on a chilly Advent day.
butter: 1 cup (2 sticks)
vegetable oil: 1 cup
egg yolks: 2
sugar: 7⁄8 cup
bourbon: 2 tablespoons (I used straight whiskey)
orange juice: 1⁄3 cup
grated orange rind: 2 tablespoons
vanilla: 1 teaspoon
sifted all-purpose flour: 6½ cups
baking powder: 3 teaspoons
baking soda: 1 teaspoon
cinnamon: ½ teaspoon
cloves: 1⁄3 teaspoon
fine chopped walnuts: 1 cup (optional)
honey: 2 cups
water: 1 cup
Enjoy the Process
Beat butter and oil on medium speed for about 10 minutes. It should come out looking creamy-white, almost like a meringue. You’ll definitely want a stand-mixer for this. While it’s possible to do otherwise, it would take even longer and would probably satisfy your exercise requirements for the week.
Add egg yolks and the sugar. Mix on medium speed for another 10 minutes. The mixture will look the same.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Add the bourbon, orange zest, vanilla and orange juice. Blend for another two minutes.
Sift together flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and cloves. Pour into creamed mixture and blend for another couple minutes. Be careful not to add too much flour—err on the side of too little or you’ll get a batter that’s too cake-like. Still tasty, but quite a mouthful.
Shape the cookies onto a baking pan. Cook each batch for 25-30 minutes. I tried a variety of shapes and sizes. Traditionally Melomakarona are meant to be egg-shaped, and thus rather big for a cookie. If you want to do coin- shaped for the feast of St. Nicholas, these ones turned out relatively well. I had to bake mine for the full 30 minutes.
Once the cookies are cooled, you can make the sauce: Mix honey and water together in a sauce pot and bring to a simmer. Dip cookies into the mixture until bubbles stop rising. Remove and sprinkle with walnuts (optional). Alternatively, you can freeze the cookies in an airtight container and dip them in honey when ready.
Waiting for Joy
As far as cookies are concerned, these take a while: 25 minutes of mixing, and about 30 minutes in the oven. After that, you even have to wait and dip them in honey. In total, that’s over an hour of cooking. As the smell of fruity orange mixes with the comforting, seasonal smells of clove and cinnamon, it feels like these cookies take forever.
That’s typically how I feel about Advent, though. I mean, who doesn’t want Christmas to come so we can actually celebrate?! But that’s why these cookies are perfect for the first week. The wait is almost painful, but the reward, the celebration and comfort as you bite into that first cookie—oh man, let me tell you that reward is worth it.
It’s hard living Advent in a world where Christmas is so secular. I really, really (REALLY) love Christmas music. It’s hard to wait so long to listen to it. It’s hard not to put up that tree so early. And really, why is Christmas only 12 days? Pretty sure it should be 12 weeks. Did I mention I really love Christmas?
But the wait is worth it—we cannot appreciate celebration without suffering, joy without pain. We can’t have an authentic Christmas without Advent. And when your children help bake these cookies, it is the perfect time to talk about waiting for those good things in life … like cookies, Santa (St. Nicholas), and of course, the Christ Child.
Good St Nicholas,
Help us prepare for the miracle of the coming of Jesus.
Help us not to be blind to the gifts of getting ready.
Help us be sincere in the greetings we send and receive, with love and prayer.
Kind St. Nicholas, protect us from shoppers’ fatigue, stress, overspending, yet help us to be kind and generous of heart to all, especially those who are alone, poor and fearful.
May our celebration of your feast lead others to see the true meaning of giving and receiving and to guide all people to the greatest of all gifts: Jesus Christ, prince of peace and child of Mary, Our Lord and only saviour.
— From the St. Nicholas Society