A more than 200-year old recipe I got from Frosso Patiniotis, my very lively 96-year old aunt. She bakes every year these quite unusual, fragrant kourambiedes –shortbread-almond cookies– a few weeks before Christmas. I may have eaten them before, but I don’t seem to have noticed how very different they were from the ones I get from Tsourtis’ bakery, on Kea’s main town.
Frosso gave me the recipe she had gotten from Mrs Dandoura, mother of her class-mate and best friend Chrysouli who recently passed. Mrs Dandoura had learned to make kourambiedes from her mother and grandmother. They came from a wealthy, shipping Galaxidi family, a town 15 klm southwest of Delphi that had flourished in the 18th and through the 19th century as a result of maritime trade and commercial exchanges with the West due to its exquisite natural port.
Calculating the generations that baked these festive cookies, we concluded that the recipe must be at least 200 years old. Thus kourambiedes were not, as the Greek version of Wikipedia cites “brought by prosfyges (refugees),” the Anatolian Greek population who fled after the defeat in the Greco-Turkish War (1919–1922) from Smyrna (Izmir) and other parts of Turkey. Prosfyges did, indeed, introduce quite a few special foods to Palaioelladites —the local Greeks– but certainly kourambiedes were already part of the local festive table in many parts of the country.
Probably the word kourabies (plural kourabiedes) derives from Qurabiya a Persian and/or Arabic word with many variations, used for similar short-bread cookies throughout the Eastern Mediterranean and north Africa. Often sprinkled or with the addition of rose or citrus-flower water, I have not seen any version of these cookies that contained so many spices, and I just imagine that the cosmopolitan Galaxidi merchants were maybe inspired by the festive European/Grerman cookies. But this is my assumption, as I am also baking Pfeffernüsse and Lebkuchen these days…
Paula Wolfert in her wonderful 1988 book ‘Paula Wolfert’s World of Food‘ has a version of kourabiedes she calls ‘Greek Butter-Almond Cookies’ and over the years she kept telling me how amazing they were. As she wrote in the headnote she served them in her wedding, as many Greek families do.
Makes about 30 large or 40 small cookies. (more…)