Traditionally prepared for Christmas, kourambiedes are delicate melt-in-the-mouth cookies. You find similar cookies in various Middle Eastern countries, often sprinkled with rose water or citrus flower water just before they are rolled in confectioner’s sugar. The old island recipes called for lard, as butter was not a common ingredient. There are also recipes for kourambiedes made with the strongly-flavored sheep’s milk butter, while there are Lenten versions made entirely with olive oil. Today most homes and bakeries prepare the cookies exclusively with butter, but I love this old, Cycladic version.
Makes about 30 large cookies, or 40 small
1/2 cup lard or butter, softened
1/2 cup light, mellow olive oil (not fruity)
1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar, plus about 2 cups to sprinkle on the cookies
1 egg yolk
Zest of 1 large lemon
3 tablespoons ouzo, Pernod, or any other anise-flavored liqueur
3 cups unbleached cake or all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon ground white pepper (optional)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup coarsely ground toasted almonds (not skinned)
In a food processor or electric mixer, beat the lard or butter and olive oil with 1/3 cup confectioners’ sugar for about 6 minutes. Add the egg yolk, lemon zest, and ouzo and process for 2-3 minutes more. Sift the flour with the baking powder and the pepper, if using. Fit the processor with a dough hook and gradually add the flour. Process the mixture for 2-3 minutes, until a soft dough forms. Add the almonds and process until the dough is smooth again, about 1-2 minutes more.
Preheat the oven to 350º F (180º C).
Shape tablespoons of dough into round, oval, or crescent-shaped cookies, and place on a cookie sheet, leaving about 1 inch between the cookies so that they won’t stick together as they expand.
Alternatively flatten the dough on the work surface making a square about 1/4 inch thick, and with small cookie cutters cut rounds, squares or crescents. Collect and flatten the leftover dough, then cut into shapes.
Bake for about 25 minutes, until pale golden. Cool for 10 minutes.
Spread 1 cup confectioners’ sugar on a large serving plate. Very carefully, because they break easily, roll each cookie in the sugar, and place on a rack to cool. Proceed with all the cookies, adding more sugar to the plate as necessary.
Finally, sift additional sugar on top of the cookies and let rest for 3 to 4 hours or overnight. Carefully pack the cookies in boxes, spreading a piece of waxed paper between each layer.
Toasted Almond Cookies will keep for 2 months or longer.