Melomakarona are soft, oval-shaped Greek cookies scented with orange and cinnamon, drenched in honey syrup and covered with crushed walnuts. Yes, they are irressitable! This recipe makes 60 cookies; they keep well so that you can enjoy them for a while or gift them to family and friends.
This post is brought to you in partnership with California Walnuts. All opinions are my own.
How about a different kind of cookie this holiday season?! Something that's a cross between your favorite soft cookie and honey-rich baklava!
Yes, there is such a thing and they are called Melomakarona!
If you visit Greece between Christmas and New Year's day, you are bound to try some of these cinnamon-scented honey cookies covered with loads of crushed walnuts.
The good news is, these cookies are easy to make at home and the ingredients are familiar and readily available.
This melomakarona recipe makes 60 cookies that will keep well, so you'll have plenty to share!
What are Melomakarona cookies?
Some call them finikia and others call them melomakarona, pronounced "melow-ma-kah-rona", and they are the quintessential Christmas cookies of Greece.
The name itself, melomakarona, is a combination of the two words: “meli”, which means honey and “makarona," which comes from the ancient word “makaria," meaning blessed.
Melomakarona cookies are soft cake-like cookies that are scented with orange and cinnamon, soaked in honey syrup and covered with crushed walnuts.
There are many versions of these popular Greek cookies. But traditionally, they are butter-free, eggless cookies so that those who follow the Orthodox Christian fast (no dairy or eggs) are able to enjoy them.
Let's walk through what you'll need to make these cookies.
There are three components to this recipe: the syrup, the cookie dough and the crushed walnut topping. You may already have the ingredients you need right in your pantry! Here they are:
- For the syrup: Sugar, water, 1 orange (any kind), cinnamon stick, and honey, which is stirred off-heat at the very end.
- For the cookie dough: Extra virgin olive oil, brandy, orange juice, orange zest, sugar, ground cinnamon, pinch of nutmeg, all-purpose flour, baking powder and baking soda.
- For the walnut topping: ¾ to 1 cup walnut halves. You'll want to measure the walnuts first, then finely chop them using a knife or put them in a zip-top bag and lightly crush them with a kitchen mallet.
A bit about walnuts in this recipe
Lucky for us, there is no shortage of quality walnuts here in the Unites States--thanks to the fertile soils of California's central valley! That's why I buy California walnuts in bulk and store them in the freezer in a tight-lid container; they will last for months and I get to use them as needed. (Here is more about California Walnuts).
In this Greek honey and walnut cookies recipe, you will use at least ¾ cup of walnut halves becuase they are not just a good-looking garnish here. Walnuts add texture and a welcomed nutty flavor that is essential in a good melomakarona recipe.
How to make melomakarona: Step-by-Step
(print-friendly recipe with ingredient list below)
- Make the syrup
You'll need a medium saucepan. Combine 1 ½ cup of water with 1 cup sugar, 1 zested orange (cut in half), and 1 cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil until the sugar dissovles (about 5 minutes or so over medium-high heat).
Remove from heat and stir in the honey then set the syrup aside to cool completely.
TIP: It's important to give the syrup time to cool completely. As it sits, flavors will further develop. Also, the fresh warm cookies (straight from the oven) will better absorb the hot syrup and that's what we want!
- Make the dough
You'll need two bowls. In a large bowl, combine the extra virgin olive oil, brandy (if using), orange juice, orange zest and 1 cup sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix well.
In another bowl, sift the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, and baking soda).
Now, slowly add the dry ingredients to the bowl of wet ingredients, while continously stirring with a wooden spoon.
Once all the dry ingredients have been added, knead the dough. You want the dough to be smooth, but do not overwork it.
- Shape the melomakarona
Prepare 1 or 2 large sheet pans and line them with parchment paper. Now begin to shape the cookies. Use a measuring spoon and scoop up about 1 ½ tablespoons of the cookie dough and shape it between your palms into an oval shape (like a small egg). Lightly pat to flatten a little bit (it should not be too flat) and set on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat, forming the cookies until you have used up all the dough. Line the cookies about ½ inch apart in the sheet pans.
Using a fork, lightly go in the center of each cookie and make a crosshatch pattern. The cookies should flatten a tiny bit more in the center (but you should not push so hard the cookies become too flat).
- Bake in a heated oven at 350 degrees F for about 20 minutes.
The cookies should have a very slight golden color, they should not brown.
- Drench the melomakarona cookies in the cool syrup
Now, as soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, place a few cookies at a time in the saucepan of cooled syrup and turn them around for a few seconds until they have absorbed some of the syrup. Set the drenched cookies on a tray or flat dish (it helps to use a slotted spoon to transfer the cookies out of the syrup).
- Add the crushed walnuts.
Top each cookie with a generous pinch of the chopped walnuts and then pat the walnuts lighty so they will stick to the cookies.
How long will these Greek cookies keep?
I asked this question in a Greek recipe exchange group I belong to, and learned that every Greek in the group makes an even larger batch than my 60 cookies! The good news is, these honey cookies will last a good couple of weeks (some keep them longer) if properly stored.
Store melomakarona in an air-tight container at room temperature. And to prevent the layers of cookies from sticking together, it helps to place sheets of wax paper in between the cookies.
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For the syrup
For the cookies
- 2 cups extra virgin olive oil (or 1 cup extra virgin olive oil and 1 cup grape seed oil)
- ½ cup brandy
- ½ cup orange juice
- Zest of 1 orange
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- 7 ½ cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¾ cup to 1 cup walnut halves, finely chopped (chop the walnuts after measuring)
- Make the syrup. In a medium saucepan, combine the water, sugar, orange, and cinnamon stick. Bring to a boil over medium-high for 5 minutes or until the sugar dissolves completely. Remove from heat and stir in the honey. Set the syrup aside to cool completely (do not remove the cinnamon or orange until you are ready to use the syrup).
- Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- In a large mixing bowl, combine the EVOO, brandy, orange juice, orange zest, 1 cup sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg. Mix.
- In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder and baking soda.
- Slowly, add the dry flour mixture to the wet olive oil mixture (I added ⅓ of the flour at a time), while mixing with a wooden spoon. Once all the flour has been added, use your hands to knead the dough until smooth (do not overwork the dough).
- Prepare a large sheetpan (or two) and line with parchment paper.
- Take about 1 ½ tablespoons of the cookie dough and shape it between your palms into an oval shape (like a small egg). Lightly flatten (do not flatten too much) and set on the prepared sheet pan. Repeat, forming the cookies until you have used up all the dough. Line the cookies in the sheet pan, making sure to leave about ½ inch between them.
- In the center of each cookie, lightly press the tines of a fork in a crosshatch pattern. The cookies should flatten a tiny bit in the center (but you should not push so hard the cookies become too flat).
- Bake on the center rack of your heated oven for 20 to 25 minutes; the cookies should be golden in color but they should not brown too much.
- Remove the orange and cinnamon stick from the syrup.
- As soon as you take the cookies out of the oven, put them in the cold syrup, flipping them around for about 20 to 30 seconds or so (you will need to do this in batches, making sure that all the cookies are able to absorb enough syrup).
- With a slotted spoon, remove the cookies from the syrup and arrange them on a tray or directly on your serving dish. Sprinkle each cookie with a generous pinch of the chopped walnuts (pat the walnuts lightly so they will stick to the cookies).
- Storage: Store melomakarona in an air-tight container at room temperature. And to prevent the layers of cookies from sticking together, it helps to place sheets of wax paper in between the cookies.
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