Melomakarona - spiced, honeyed and orange-flavoured VEGAN walnut cookies from Greece

If you have never had these or heard of them, prepare yourself for a very unexpected sensation of delight!  According to Greek tradition these are made only in the run up to the Christmas holiday, during fasting time.  They are completely vegan and absolutely irresistible.  We like making them in double and triple quantities to surprise our friends with.  They get better in the couple of days after they are made and keep for several weeks, especially if stored in an airtight container in the fridge.  You will see that they are always eaten well before the few weeks are over.

INGREDIENTS

Cookies

1 1/2 cups Opus oléa extra virgin olive oil 

1/3 cup sugar

1 cup fine semolina

Grated zest of 2 oranges

2/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 cup brandy

1 cup ground walnuts

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, or more depending on flour type

Honey Syrup

1/2  cup sugar

1 cup honey, preferably Greek

1 1/2 cups water

2 cups walnuts, chopped, to sprinkle over the cookies

METHOD

Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius (375 degrees Fahrenheit).

Add the olive oil and sugar in a bowl and mix for 2 minutes. Add the orange zest and juice, the salt, ground cloves, ground cinnamon and semolina and blend another 3 minutes. Dilute the baking soda and the baking powder in the brandy and add them to the mixture together with the ground walnuts. Mix for about 2 more minutes.

Place the flour in a large bowl and add in the wet mixture from your other bowl. With a wood spoon or your hands mix the flour into the wet ingredients, until you have a soft dough that feels quite oily and is a little bit sticky.  Knead for 2-3 minutes and cover with cling film. Let rest for about 30 minutes.

Use an ice cream scoop to get even sized amounts of dough. Divide every dough ball in half and shape into small ovals. We like our melomakarona on the more miniature size side.  The traditional shape and pattern is achieved by pressing the tines of a fork on the top of the cookie, to create a ridged pattern that will help absorb the syrup and hold the chopped walnuts.

Place the cookies on baking sheets lined with baking paper, about 3 cm apart (a bit over an inch).  Bake for about 20 minutes, or until they start to color. Let cool on a rack.

While the cookies are in the oven, make the syrup: In a small saucepan on medium-low heat, mix the sugar and water until warmed through and the sugar is completely dissolved.  Remove from the heat and add the honey. Mix until dissolved and let cool slightly.

Drop one layer of slightly warm but not hot cookies at the time in the honey syrup and let them soak about 1 minute or a bit longer, depending how soft or crunchy you like your melomakarona . Layer the syrupy cookies on a platter or in an airtight container and sprinkle with chopped walnuts. Add more layers, sprinkling each with chopped walnuts.  You may want to drizzle more syrup over if you see the cookies have absorbed it all and become a bit dry.  

They are best made ahead a couple of days before serving so all their amazing flavours have melded together and matured.

To buy Opus oléa click here.