If there is one cookie that beats traditional Scottish shortbread then this is the one. These Greek Christmas Shortbread Cookies are loaded with toasted almonds, infused with brandy, scented with vanilla, and coated with icing sugar. Super crumbly, with crunchy almond pieces, and an ultra buttery flavor.
Their Greek name is Kourabiethes, but you may also come upon them, under the name of Christmas Snowball Cookies, or Greek Almond Shortbread Cookies. They are a Traditional Greek Christmas Cookie that's in every Greek home during Christmas.
It's the cookie we leave for Santa next to the fireplace (or under the tree) along with a glass of milk on Christmas Eve. Oh, and I can guarantee Santa finds these Almond Shortbread Cookies delicious. Since all I ever found was icing sugar left on the little plate. But seriously now...they do taste DIVINE!
The flavor mix of butter, vanilla, brandy, and toasted almonds is one of the best on earth! And like this wasn't enough, they have the perfect cookie-texture. Their still crumbly even while you chew them. With a nice crunchiness from the toasted almond pieces. I'm telling you, you really have to try these Christmas Shortbread Cookies!
As for making them...
Two Ways To Make Greek Kourabiethes
There are two ways in which you can make these shortbread cookies. The first way is to use an electric mixer with the hook attachment on. It doesn't require a lot of mixing since you add in most ingredients basically at the same time.
And the second way is to knead the dough by hand. And before you go whaaat? Let me explain why I always prefer this method.
First and foremost, authentic shortbread was mixed using a wooden spoon (electric mixers didn't exist back then). I have tried this method and trust me it's even harder than hand mixing.
Secondly and most importantly, what happens when you use an electric mixer is that butter gets very creamy and airy. Which is what we want when we make a cake, and what we don't want when we make a cookie or tart dough. That's because the more you work the butter, the more flour it absorbs. Resulting in a more dense cookie (therefore less crumbly).
And thirdly working any dough by hand, helps you understand it better. You can tell if it needs extra flour or not.
Quality Almonds = Quality Cookies
Two years ago, when it was time to make these Christmas Shortbread Cookies (meaning 5 days before Christmas), I was feeling a bit lazy. So what I did was buy skinned almonds, instead of buying raw ones and skin them myself (like I always do). The result? I made the worst Kourabiethes I have ever made!
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Storebought skinned almonds were so flavorless that they really ruined my cookies. Not even toasting them helped. It's the flavor of toasted almonds, that makes these shortbread cookies stand out from the crowd. Otherwise, they're just a plain buttery shortbread cookie.
So if you want my advice, do spare some time blanching and skinning raw almonds. It definitely worths the effort and does make a difference.
Greek Christmas Shortbread Cookies Recipe (Kourabiethes)
For The Cookies:
- 300 grams / 10.5 oz butter at room temperature
- 50 grams / 1.7 oz granulated sugar
- 50 grams / 1.7 oz icing sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 30 ml brandy
- 200 grams / 7 oz almonds raw & unsalted
- 500 grams / 17.6 flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- ⅓ teaspoon baking soda
- plenty of icing sugar for coating
- OPTIONAL: rose water
Prepare The Almonds:
- Preheat oven to 200°C / 392°F. Half fill a small saucepan with water and bring to a boil, over high heat.
- Add the almonds and boil for 2 minutes.
- Drain almonds in a colander and transfer them to a bowl with cold water.
- Remove the skins of the almonds. To do that just squeeze the skin on their pointy side for the almonds to pop out.
- Lay the almonds on a sheet pan covered with parchment paper.
- Roast almonds for about 10 minutes or until they get a deep golden color.
- In a food processor, blend half the almonds until they look coarsely chopped. Blend the remaining almonds so they look finely chopped.
Make The Cookies:
- Dissolve baking soda in the brandy and set aside.
- Cut the butter into small squares.
- Cream the butter either by kneading it with your hands, or using a mixer on low speed. Just until it gets slightly creamy. Don't overwork the butter in this recipe.
- Mix in the sugar, icing sugar, brandy and soda mixture, and vanilla extract.
- In a bowl combine flour and baking powder. Incorporate the flour mixture into the batter in small bits at a time.
- Add the chopped almonds and mix until fully combined.
- NOTE: (If you make the cookies using an electric mixer let the dough rest in the fridge for 15 minutes).
- Preheat oven to 180°C / 356°F.
- Take small pieces of the dough (about 45 grams) and squeeze in your hand to remove air. Shape into a ball. And now the fan part: Throw the ball on your working surface in order to form a flat-bottomed ball.
- Repeat process for remaining dough. Place cookies on a pan or your ovens tray that's covered with parchment paper.
- Bake cookies for 20 to 25 minutes until they get a light golden brownish color.
Coat The Cookies:
- Add plenty of icing sugar to a large mixing bowl.
- Add cookies to the bowl (a few at a time) and shake the bowl to coat them with sugar. Flip them once to coat on the other side as well. NOTE: It's better to do this right as they come out of the oven. While cookies are hot and sugar will stick to them.OPTIONAL: You may sprinkle them very lightly with rose water. This gives an extra gentle aroma and also helps the sugar stick to them even better.
- Transfer to a serving plate and sprinkle with extra icing sugar on top of the cookies. Enjoy!
- As for storing these cookies, my favorite option is to store them in a good old-fashioned cookie tin. It keeps them nice and fresh for up to 4 weeks. Or use an airtight food container instead.
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