The word “melomakarona” is a combination of meli, which means “honey,” and makaronia, which comes from the ancient Greek word makaria (μακαρία), meaning “blessed” (and having nothing to do with the Italian pasta with the Greek name “macaroni”). Long ago, the makaria was a piece of oval-shaped bread made for a funerary dinner to bless the dead. Later on, the makaria was soaked in honey and became known as melomakarono (the singular form of the word; these cookies are also called finikia by some). The treat supposedly came from the Greeks of Asia Minor, who would prepare and eat melomakarona at Christmastime.
Melomakarona are usually made with semolina for a crumbly texture or with wheat flour for a crisper one. Traditionally, the dough includes orange juice or peel, olive oil, sugar, cloves, cinnamon and cognac. It is then formed into small, egg-shaped ovals, which are baked to a deep golden-brown hue. As soon as they come out of the oven, the cookies are soaked in a cold honey-based syrup – the amount depends on the baker. They may then be dipped in crushed walnuts or almonds. Plenty of home cooks will skip the syrup, and we especially love that version for dipping in coffee and tea (but it’s hard to find the cookies without syrup in pastry shops).
Because of their simple nature, melomakarona are ripe for variation and experimentation. They are commonly dipped in dark or milk chocolate. They are less commonly stuffed with myzithra, an unsalted fresh cheese. The version made by Pontic Greeks (those with origins in Turkey’s Black Sea region), called isli or itsli, are bulkier, triangle-shaped and filled with walnuts, cinnamon and cloves.
Starting in early December, virtually every Greek home will set out big platters of beautifully arranged melomakarona, along with kourambiedes and vasilopita. When we don’t feel like making the cookies at home ourselves, we might head to one of our favorite pastry shops, which prepares two kinds: the classic version, generously sized and well soaked for those with a sweet tooth, and a square-shaped version trimmed with walnuts, with less syrup and a more substantial texture. At Kallimarmaro in Varnava Square, Pagrati, we found the most aromatic melomakarona in miniature proportions, as well as the usual size, plus another version dipped in bold dark chocolate.
Below you will find a receipe for this amazing sweet coming from one of the most famous Greek chefs Akis Petretziki:
These amazingly aromatic little cakes are a traditional Greek Christmas sweet…called “Melomakarona”. Your house will be filled with aromas of orange, honey, cinnamon, and cloves… Each bite is so deliciously Christmassy…it will become an instant personal favorite!
For the syrup
- Boil all of the ingredients for the syrup, apart from honey, until sugar melts. Remove from heat. Add the honey and mix till combined.
- let syrup cool for 3-4 hours. It must be cold by the time the cookies come out from the oven.
- You can prepare the syrup from the day before…
For the cookies
- Preheat the oven to 190* C (370*F) Fan.
- To make the cookies, you need to prepare 2 separate mixtures.
- For the first mixture, add all of the ingredients in a large bowl. Mix, using a hand whisk.
- In a separate bowl, add all of the ingredients for the second mixture.
- Combine the first and second mixture.
- Mix by hand, very gently and for a very short time (10 seconds at the most). If you mix longer the mixture will split or curdle.
- Mold cookie dough into oval shapes, 3-4 cm in length, 30 g each. Try to keep them as similar as possible.
- Bake for about 20-25 minutes, until they are crunchy and dark golden brown.
- As soon as you remove them from the oven, soak the hot cookies in the syrup for 10 seconds.
- Allow them to drain on a wire rack.
- Drizzle with honey and chopped walnuts.
Be careful not to overwork the cookie dough because the oil may start to seep out and then they won’t turn out crispy! The orange used for the syrup should a whole fresh orange, cut in half!