These cookies truly look like SNOWBALLS so the flavors should remind you of winter, whether it’s the colder and crisper smells outside or the warmer more domestic smells inside of a warm oven or a chimney fire, comforting your bones as you’re eating them. KOURABIEDES are like buttery shortbreads, but less crispy and more melt-in-your-mouth and the only crunch you’ll feel is from the roasted chopped nuts on the inside and as you can see, they’re covered with more icing sugar on the outside than there is sugar on the inside which makes them silky when they touch your lips (and which make a snowy mess when you’re eating them).
Everybody that I know who makes these every year for Christmas, has several versions and keeps re-adapting them every year which is what makes these fun to make and to share. They’re easy holiday cookies that people prepare and offer as gifts or swap with each other (since they always make so much of them) and we ask one another for each other’s recipes because everybody has their versions and are always trying to perfect them. It’s an evolving cookie recipe and people look forward to their new batches that they will make to eat, to offer and/or receive.
Like I said, so many variations are possible.
The most difficult decision to make at the beginning is the butter content whether it’s 100% butter (organic cultured butter is best) or a combination of 75% butter, 37,5% vegetable shortening and 37,5% olive oil margarine spread (or even better, just freeze the olive oil until hard, then transfer to the refrigerator for an hour until it becomes creamy and thick). Using a combination of butter with 82% fat content and vegetable shortening and olive oil which have 100% fat content makes the cookie crumb finer and more melt-in-your-mouth. Try both !
Usually there’s very little sugar on the inside, whether you use powdered sugar or icing sugar, about 75 grams or about ½ cup and almost 2 ½ times more icing sugar sprinkled as a thick coating on the outside or about 200 grams. I prefer to increase the sugar content of the cookie dough to 100 grams or ¾ cups and decrease the sprinkling and coating to 1 ¼ cups or 150 grams, since in the end, a lot of the icing sugar on the outside falls off everywhere as you’re eating them (but it’s so pretty).
Then there’s the flour. If you use all-purpose flour instead of cake & pastry flour, you’ll need less flour or a bit more liquid, because all-purpose flour absorbs more liquid than finer cake & pastry flour and the crumb will be less fine with all-purpose flour.
Then there’s the choice of nuts (which I double the amount usually used). People traditionally used almonds because they were more readily available and less expensive but why not try it with pistachios and pine nuts too, which are more resinous in flavor (but also much more expensive when you’re making many dozens of cookies) so a combination may be preferable with 50% almonds and 25% pine nuts and 25% pistachios. But it’s just a suggestion !
The liquid flavorings and dried spices vary too.
Some prefer a warmer touch and use cognac and orange juice, while others prefer a cooler and crisper variation with ouzo and floral waters. Ouzo has a crisp and bright taste because of the anise. A little bit of citrus is also a good idea and I suggest lime juice. For the floral touch, geranium water is nice and feels more seasonal than rose water (which is the most common) or orange blossom water.
A touch of cloves is customary but a pinch or two of nutmeg gives a nice wintery woodsy taste. Two pinches of cinnamon is common too (but I avoid it since so many other winter desserts contain cinnamon). Adding some green cardamom brightens up the overall flavor, as does adding some crushed mastic resin, which tastes like you’re licking sap off a Christmas tree, but mastic resin is harder to come by (unless you have a Middle-Eastern or Balkan or Greek grocery store close by). In the end, I use a little bit of each, about 1/8 tsp or 2 pinches of each ground spice !
Either way, these little extra pinches of ground spices will only be small hints and very subtle nuances of flavors and will not overwhelm the overall taste, they’re just there to balance or even out the heaviness of the fats and sugars, so feel free to double up on any of the spices. I like it when they taste or at least smell like a combination of the winter season that we experience outside as well as inside : mostly fresh, crisp, woodsy, resinous aromas with just a hint of citrusy and floral tones and the warmth from the roasted nuts.
I always try to make a first batch of 24-30 cookies of the more traditional version (with all butter, all almonds, cognac, orange juice, rose water and cloves) and then I’ll make a second batch with fancier reinterpretations (butter, vegetable shortening, chilled olive oil (or olive oil spread / margarine if you can find it), ouzo (sometimes combined with some gin), almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, geranium water, lime juice, cloves, nutmeg, cardamom, mastic resin) and they’re both great; but I encourage you to try out different variations with each batch and to share them too, because that’s what this winter holiday season cookie is all about !
And anyways, whatever recipe you decide to make this year, you’ll quite probably modify for next year cuz that’s the evolving tradition ! … :)