Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Melomakarona Cookies

With Christmas packages needing a little sweet treat from the home ovens, it's been cookie baking time here at Chez Crispy, and so I was glad that this month's host for the Gluten Free Ratio Rally, Caroline of The G-Spot Revolution, picked COOKIES. Our dedicated band of gluten-free bakers tackles a new baking adventure each month (together we've made pasta, pate a choux, pie, doughnuts, cake and other goodies) using major ingredients by weight and ratios in our experimentation. For cookies, we were trying out a ratio of 3 parts gluten-free flours, 2 parts fat, and 1 part sugar.

Cookies are familiar territory to most home cooks and thankfully, the architecture that gluten provides to other other baking endeavors is not crucial to most cookies that are not made of wheat flour. I wanted to try something unusual for this month's cookie challenge, so I turned to the boatload of baking cookbooks that had recently come into our used bookstore, Old Saratoga Books. One of them, A Baker's Odyssey: Celebrating Time-Honored Recipes from America's Rich Immigrant Heritage, by Greg Patent (NY: John Wiley and Sons, 2007), has entranced me with its intriguing heirloom recipes from bakers from all corners of the world. From Wales to Mexico to Nigeria, the book is stuffed with baking lore and instructions to make the most interesting baked goods.

Patent's description of  Melomakarona Cookies, an ancient holiday cookie from Greece, reeled me in with its siren song. Melomakarona are made with flour, nuts and semolina, perfumed with orange, olive oil and spices and then soaked in a honey-nut syrup. It just seems like something Penelope would have served to Odysseus on his return home, so that he could take in the tastes and scents of his native land and they could lick the honey from each other's fingers. A sensual cookie indeed.

When I produced a batch of this wonderful cookie for my family, however, the kids kept referring to them as maccarena cookies, or worse, melanomas, and only the adults really dug into them. I don't think they were chocolatey or sickly sweet enough for them, but we grownups savored them all week long. They are lovely with a cup of fragrant herb tea and it's a nice contrast between a not-too-sweet, nutty cookie drenched in honey syrup with a nice crust from the potato starch to keep things interesting in one's mouth. Melomakarona also keep well at room temperature and just keep soaking up their honey syrup.

I used a blend of potato starch (for crisp cookie texture), corn flour (not to be confused with corn starch or corn meal. It's a flour that I got from the health food store and I thought it would substitute well for the semolina, adding some nutty flavor and stretchiness to the dough), and buckwheat (for more nuttiness) and this seemed to work well in adapting The Baker's Odyssey recipe to a gluten-free version. Next time I think I would reduce the baking time by 5 or 10 minutes because my cookies did not seem to absorb as much of the syrup as I think they should have because the outsides were fairly crisp. Or maybe I would use half as much potato starch and add in cornstarch or white rice flour to make up the difference. When serving the cookies, I made sure to dole out some extra syrup and chopped nuts after tipping the cookie plate so they could be dunked anew after each bite. They also soften up a little bit if you heat them for a minute in the microwave.

Here then is my contribution to the GF Ratio Rally's cookie extravaganza:

Greek Melomakarona Cookies
(adapted from Greg Patent's A Baker's Odyssey)

6 oz. corn flour
6 oz. potato starch
6 oz. buckwheat flour
1 tsp. xanthan gum
2 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. salt

Extra flour for shaping the cookies (I used white rice flour)

6 oz. olive oil
3 oz. sugar
6 oz. orange juice
Grated zest of one orange

1-1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1/2 tsp. ground cloves
3/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

4 oz. honey
4 oz. sugar
6 oz. water

1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts

Whisk together corn flour, potato starch, buckwheat flour, xanthan gum, baking powder and salt.

In a larger bowl, whisk together olive oil and 3 oz. sugar to dissolve sugar. Add in orange juice and zest. Gradually mix in flour mixture above until well combined. Slowly add in spices and 3/4 cup walnuts until blended. Let dough rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes. This seems to let the oil suck into the flour and the dough thickens up a bit. It's a very soft dough, but not difficult to work with if you have extra flour to coat your hands.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment. With floured hands, take about 2 Tbsp. of dough and shape into ovals, fitting fifteen cookies onto each prepared cookie sheet.

Bake for 25-30 minutes, until cookies are browned and spring back when pressed. Midway through baking time, rotate cookie sheets from top rack to bottom so that they brown evenly.

While cookies are baking, make the syrup by adding honey, 4 oz. sugar and water in a small pot. Bring to a boil, stirring occasionally to make sure sugar dissolves. Reduce heat to low and simmer 10 minutes.

Immediately upon taking the cookies out of the oven, slip them onto another cookie sheet or glass baking dish and then drench them in your hot syrup. Let stand for 15 minutes, then flip cookies and let them sit in their hot syrup bath for another 15 minutes. Turn them right side up again and sprinkle with 1/4 cup walnuts. Patent says to let the melomakarona sit overnight before tasting, but this is impossible. The warm cookies are very good right away, though they do improve after soaking in more syrup after a long nap.

Makes 30 cookies.

Be sure to check back with The G-Spot Revolution, where Caroline has links to a wealth of gluten-free cookie posts from the other Ratio Rally bakers. And if you are looking for other gluten-free cookie recipes to try out for your holiday table or Christmas care packages, here are some from the Crispy Cook archives. I like a cookie that is long on spice and not overly sweet, as you can see below.

Swiss Basler Brunsli
Almond Cloud Cookies
Mexican Cinnamon Cookies
Apricot-Ginger Shortbread
Elegant Sesame-Ginger Cookies (vegan)
Peanut Butter Kisses
Elizabeth Barbone's Lemon Bars
Ginger-Nut Lace Cookies
Mocha-Pepper Sandwich Cookies
Fig Newtons
Rudolph's Noses (no bake chocolate-cherry cookies)

Happy baking!


Caroline @ The G-Spot said...

These sound WONDERFUL! Thank you so much for sharing. :)

Rachel said...

My pleasure, Caroline. I appreciate all the work that goes into hosting a blog event, so thanks back atcha.

Lisa @ GF Canteen said...

that spice mixture must make the house smell festive. looks delicious.

Erin Swing said...

Those look about right to me! Says the woman who has married into a Greek family & drools over melomakarona that my mother-in-law makes every Christmas. Χρόνια πολλά! (Rhonia polla!) Merry Christmas!

Morri said...

These look so cool! I'm a big fan of all things heritage, especially where food is involved.

I'm trying to say melomakarona out loud... is it MELLOW-MA-CORONA?

Anyway, you've just made me want to travel to Greece. I hope you're proud of yourself. ;]

Seriously, though... awesome job.
<3 M.

Rachel said...

Lisa: Yeah, those spices did make the house smell lovely. I'm drooling over the thought of some of the other cookies the Ratio Rally bakers made too!

Erin: Thanks for the compliment. You are lucky to be part of a Greek family with these cookies and spanakopita as part of the food traditions.

Morri: My cookbook says these are pronounced mel-oma-KA-rona. They are pretty darn tasty.

Jenn said...

I've never heard of these before, but they sound and look amazing!! What an awesome cookie idea :)

Karen said...

the rally is quite international this time, i would love to try Greek cookies!

Tara Barker said...

Such a unique cookie! I love the flavor combinations. And I love it when old recipes make their way into the current repertoire. Thank you for these!

Jonathan said...

If the kids won't have them, then more for us! I love the use of nuts, honey, and flower essence in Mediterranean desserts. Thank you for sharing, Rachel!

charissa (zest bakery) said...

Interesting! I've never heard or tasted these before so I must make them soon!

Eliotseats said...

I am laughing out loud at the names your kiddos gave these cookies. I think they look great!

Unknown said...

Not sure if my previous comment went through:

These look awesome. Can't wait to make them.

Quick question: do you know if your buckwheat is toasted or raw? I started grinding my own buckwheat flour (super easy). Toasted buckwheat is usually nuttier and darker.

Unknown said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rachel said...

Thanks Breanna. I used raw buckwheat flour purchased from the supermarket, but your toasted buckwheat flour sounds like a great idea.