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Kourambiedes are Greek shortbread cookies with a rich, nutty flavor provided by the addition of almonds. Numerous variations of the sweet cookies are served at holidays, often accompanied with other desserts such as melomakarona, pastries made with honey. Kourambiedes are closely related to Mexican wedding cookies or Russian teacakes, although the recipe has a few variations which make it distinctive. Much like other shortbreads, kourambiedes tend to be crumbly, and they can be messy to eat.
In Greece, kourambiedes are served after dinner with coffee and tea on a platter with an assortment of pastries. The cookies can be eaten plain or dunked in beverages. During the holidays, some bakers wrap the cookies in wax paper to distribute to friends and families. Kourambiedes also take well to freezing, so a cook can make a large batch and thaw the cookies out as needed.
To make very basic kourambiedes, beat one cup of sweet butter until it is light and fluffy. Slowly add ½ cup of powdered sugar, following with one egg yolk, two tablespoons of brandy or cognac, one teaspoon of almond extract, and one teaspoon of vanilla extract. Sift together two heaping cups of cake flour and one teaspoon of baking powder, mixing these ingredients slowly with the wet ingredients. Finally, toast and grind ¾ cup almonds, and add the ground nuts to the dough.
Form the kourambiedes into small crescent shapes, and lay them out of a greased baking pan. Bake at 375 degrees Fahrenheit (191 degrees Celsius) for approximately 18 minutes, until they start to turn slightly golden and firm. Roll the cookies in powdered sugar and allow to cool on racks, garnishing each with a single clove, if desired.
Regional additions to the recipe for kourambiedes include orange or rose water, along with citrus zest. These additions can add a tangy zip to the cookies which some people greatly enjoy, although purists may prefer plain kourambiedes. Whether ordinary or zesty kourambiedes are baked, the end result should be light, fluffy shortbreads, if the butter has been thoroughly beaten.
To store kourambiedes, allow them to cool completely before layering them in tins in waxed paper. The cookies can also be frozen in plastic bags or containers, and set out to thaw when they are needed. Kourambiedes are relatively sturdy, but they tend to lose powdered sugar if they are knocked about, so handle them with care, especially when packing them into cookie assortments.
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