One of the most popular and iconic Greek Christmas honey cookies are melomakarona. There are soft honey cookies and if there is one smell or flavor that reminds me of the winter holidays, well this is it.
You can find melomakarona cookies in every household and bakery, all over Greece, during the winter holiday season. Every family has its own recipe and they are a delicious addition to the Christmas table.
Typically, melomakarona are eaten before Christmas, during the nativity fasting, because they don't contain eggs or dairy. In my house, they used to be served as a treat for my mom's and my dad's name days.
A perfectly melt-in-the-mouth cookie infused with cinnamon and orange flavor soaked in honey syrup and topped with walnuts. They fill the home with incredible aromas while baking. The most delicious Greek way to treat yourself during the Christmas Holidays!
What are melomakarona?
Melomakarona are a type of Greek Christmas soft honey cookies. We scent them with orange and cinnamon, soak them in honey syrup, and top them with chopped walnuts.
The word melomakarono (plural: melomakarona) is a combination of the words meli (μέλι) meaning honey, and makarios (μακάριος) meaning blessed.
With a long history and roots in ancient Greece, makaria were oval-shaped cookies (bread-like) served during funerals. The addition of honey, in the Byzantine Era, made them more festive, and nowadays are the absolute Christmas blessing!
In some regions of Greece, melomakarona have the name finikia. While we typically bake melomakarona, many recipes of finikia suggest deep-frying them.
Ingredients used to make melomakarona
Oil: Mild olive oil provides the best flavor, but if you find olive oil too intense, you can replace half or the whole amount of it with another vegetable oil (sunflower, corn, or sesame oil). While olive oil adds extra flavor to melomakarona, vegetable oils make them more crunchy (when baked) and fluffier when soaked in syrup.
Alcohol: Typically, we infuse some brandy into the dough. It is possible to substitute brandy with cognac, or if you want to bake alcohol-free melomakarona, substitute the alcohol with freshly squeezed orange juice.
Sweetener: If you want to make this recipe refined sugar-free, substitute the granulated sugar with coconut sugar.
Semolina: We use semolina so that the melomakarona can absorb more syrup. This way, they become fluffy and crispier.
Tips & tricks
For a vegan option, use vegan honey or replace the honey with maple syrup or agave nectar. You can always soak the cookies in a simple sugar syrup flavored with cinnamon, cloves, and, orange or with 1 teaspoon of rosewater or vanilla extract in it.
Choose a tall pot with a narrow bottom when making the syrup. The syrup level should be high enough to cover the whole melomakarono when you soak it in the pot.
Use a slotted spoon to remove the melomakarona from the syrup.
Rest the dough covered for ~ 15 minutes to make fluffier melomakarona.
Do not fall into the trap of adding extra flour. The dough can be sticky but after resting it for a few minutes it will easily be pliable. Adding too much flour results in too tough melomakarona.
There are two possible ways to soak the melomakarona in syrup so that they absorb it and become moist to the inside. The best way is to dip warm melomakarona into cold syrup. The other option is dipping cold melomakarona into warm syrup (when unfreezing or you don't have the time to prepare everything the same day).
How to serve melomakarona
Serve melomakarona with any topping of your choice. Traditionally topped with chopped walnuts, honey, and some cinnamon but if you have an allergy you can use pistachios or almonds.
In some Greek regions, it is typical not only to garnish them but also to stuff the cookies with chopped walnuts.
A recent trend is to dip melomakarona in chocolate.
How to store melomakarona
Melomakarona will last throughout the Christmas Holidays (in my case they last up to 4 ½ weeks), provided that they are properly stored. By properly I mean that first, they need to cool down completely, on cooling racks, at room temperature. Then, store them in an airtight container, or seal them with cling film.
It is better to store these Greek cookies in an airtight container, in a single layer, so that they don't stick together because of the syrup.
Do not store melomakarona in the fridge because they will become hard.
You can freeze melomakarona for up to 3 months, in an airtight container. Bake them, and let them cool completely, but do not dip them in syrup. You can soak them in warm syrup after thawing them.
Other Greek Christmas recipes
Try also this:
Melomakarona (Greek Christmas Honey Cookies)
For the cookies
- 500 g/4 cups all-purpose flour
- 125 g/½ cup freshly squished orange juice
- 250 g/1 cup sunflower oil or mild olive oil
- 50 g/3 tbsp cognac
- 85 g/⅜ cup sugar
- 2 tbsp/12 g orange zest
- ½ tablespoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 75 g/½ cup fine semolina
For the syrup
- 300 g/1½ cups granulated sugar
- 400 g/1½ cups water
- 100 g/5 tbsp honey
- 1 stick cinnamon
- 5 whole cloves
- ½ fresh orange in slices
- 115 g/1 cup walnuts
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 2 tablespoon honey
Prepare the syrup
- In a pot, over medium/high heat, add all the ingredients for the syrup, except the honey.
- Bring the mixture to a boil, and keep boiling it for 4 minutes until the sugar has dissolved.
- Remove from the heat, pour the honey and stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool.
Prepare the melomakarona
- Weight the ingredients. In a large bowl, beat the olive oil with the sugar until it dissolves. Add the orange juice and zest, the brandy, the ground cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg. Lastly add the baking soda.
- When the mixture starts to foam, sift the flour, semolina, and baking powder into the liquid mixture.
- Stir the ingredients together and then using your hands knead the dough, until everything is combined and the dough is soft and smooth.
- Do not overwork the dough because it will become tough, and the oil may start to seep out, resulting in a soggy cookie. Rest the dough for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven at 190°C (375°F) and line two baking trays with parchment paper. Set aside. Start shaping the cookies by using about 30g of dough, walnut-sized pieces, into a round or traditionally into an oblong shape.
- Place on the baking trays and poke them lightly with a fork and make some holes, or press them lightly into a cooling rack, not all the way down to create some holes.
- Bake for about 30 to 35 minutes or until golden brown. If your oven doesn’t bake two trays at a time, bake them separately.
- When ready, take them out of the oven and dip them into the cold syrup, in batches, for 30 seconds, flipping them on both sides. The alternative is to soak cold melomakarona in warm syrup.
- Use a slotted spoon to take them out of the syrup, place them in a platter, drizzle with honey, sprinkle with chopped walnuts and cinnamon.
- Enjoy 😉
Servings: 1 (54g) | Calories: 189kcal | Carbohydrates: 26g | Protein: 2g | Fat: 8.7g | Saturated Fat: 1.1 g | Trans Fat: 0g | Cholesterol: 0mg | Sodium: 18mg | Potassium: 48mg | Fiber: 0.8g | Sugar: 13.58g | Vitamin A: 8IU | Vitamin C: 1.8mg | Calcium: 12mg | Iron: 0.81mg