Melomakarona

Good afternoon dear friends!

I apologize for my silence over the past few weeks. I had originally intended to write a few posts before but, as it turns out, coming back home after a 7 week trip with twin toddlers required to readjust them to the old routine, to Nicosia’s  weather and time zone (there is a 5 hours difference between Argentina and Cyprus)  and to our normal life, in general.  So these days we have been juggling regular work and study schedules with middle-of-the-night wake-up episodes, piles and piles of clothes for washing, folding, ironing and putting away, and  a sort of  “pre-spring”clean (always due after such long trips).

In spite of all these adjustments, it is wonderful to be back home, and coming back in the middle of the Holiday Season makes it extra special. We arrived to a beautifully-decorated Nicosia, with the streets full of lights and Christmas markets, and people singing carols in the streets of downtown. And this, for a Christmas Elf such as myself, is enough reason to be happy.

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On Christmas’ eve it will actually be 4 years since I arrived to Cyprus (my husband had been here for 6 months already), so this time of the year is always one of memories of years past, a time to reflect on how much our life has changed since that day.  Back in 2007 there was just the two of us, and an almost-empty apartment with a bed, a sofa, an outdoor table with 4 chairs for the balcony, and a Christmas Tree that my husband had arranged for me, to make me feel at home. In the year that followed we furnished our house, we had twins, we  met new people, we adapted, and Cyprus started becoming our home.

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Making a place one’s home involves incorporating new habits and letting go of some others. We change, sometimes imperceptibly, with every new country we live in and those mutations are only perceived when contrasted with people and places that we have met before. As Nelson Mandela said in “A long walk to Freedom”: There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered”.

One of the ways in which we have changed is in the food we eat, particularly during holidays and other celebrations. We approach new places also through their food and, in the process of adapting, we incorporate new flavours, we make them our own, and they travel with us wherever we go. This is the case with the cookies I will share with you today, which have come to  mean Christmas to me, as much as  Panettone or Turrones (which are some of Argentina’s traditional holiday sweets ).

Melomakarona are, in fact, the cookies of advent. Greek Cypriots fast during this period (they adopt a vegan diet, eliminating all animal products) and, during that fast, they snack on these cookies, which are highly caloric. Everything in their flavour speaks of this season:  they take cinnamon, clove, orange,  honey and walnuts, and they are dipped in syrup for extra sweetness. If you are looking for a different cookie to bake these days, I highly recommend these ones. They will fill your home with true holiday cheer!

Here is the recipe I use, as was given to me by my neighbour (and adapted by her  from the book “Cyprus cooking for friends“, by Sandra Lysandrou)

Ingredients

1 cup sugar

1 cup orange juice

3 cups vegetable oil (canola)

1/2 cup brandy

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cloves

1 teaspoon salt

8 1/2 cups self raising flour

5 teaspoons baking powder

{For the syrup}

1 1/2 cups sugar

1 cup honey

1 1/2 cup water

{For topping}

1 cup finely ground walnuts mixed with 1 tablespoon of cinnamon (I like to mix walnuts and almonds)

Preparation: 

a-Preheat the oven at 140 C/ 284F

b- In a large bowl, mix sugar, oil, juice, brandy, spices, 7 cups of flour, baking powder and salt. Work the dough, adding the extra flour as needed, until it becomes fluffy. The dough must be oily, not dry, so stop adding flour when it becomes just workable.

b- Form the melomakaronas by taking small pieces of dough and shaping them into ovals with your hands.  Note that this is a dough made with self-raising flour and a fair amount of baking powder as well, so the cookies will expand in the oven. It is consequently better to make them rather small, and to place them in an ungreased baking tray  separated from each other, to give them place for growth. Bake them until  the bottom is golden brown (approximately 30 minutes).

c- Allow the cookies to cool down completely and prepare the syrup by mixing sugar, water and honey and bringing them to the boil. Once the syrup boils, remove it from the heat and dip the cookies in it, soaking them for a few seconds.  Note that it is very important that the cookies are completely cool when you do this, otherwise they will not absorb the syrup! For the same reason, you will need to reheat the syrup if it cools down before you are finished dipping the cookies.

d- Place the cookies on a wire rack to drain the excess syrup and sprinkle the crushed nuts mixture over them.

I hope you will like them !

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