Everybody likes cookies. They are easy to eat, small enough to enjoy with a coffee or tea, and just sweet enough to satisfy a craving. And, many times, one is enough. Well, we thought it would be nice to have a homemade treat on hand, since we are expecting company over the next few days. When someone visits, it is important to have something to offer, food or drink. So, we chose to make a few cookies for our guests. Typically, these cookies are called Pine Nut Cookies, but traditionally they were made from marzipan (almond paste). And, although these are not originally Greek, adaptations of the original marzipan cookies have comfortably made their way to a common sight in many Greek bakeries and homes.
Marzipan is rather expensive, and can be bought in tubes, cans, or in various pre-made shapes. We could also make our own by grinding the almonds with some sugar to make the paste. If you don't really like the flavor of marzipan, there should be alternatives. And, there are, especially with these cookies.
We could use pine nuts or walnuts and end up with similarly delicious treats, just different flavours. Today, we chose to be a little more traditional and use almonds. But, our variation to the recipe is that we used toasted, sliced almonds. That, we thought, would bring another dimension to the flavour of these pear-shaped treats.
Why pear shaped? Well, first, it is very easy to just pinch an end and make the stem part. But, pears are representative of how ancient the Greek civilisation is. According to the author of the excellent cookbook, The Olive and the Caper, "Pears originated where Greeks did, on the west of the Urals above the Black Sea. The remains of wild pear are found in Mycenaean sites." So, with the pear being so intertwined with Greek food for so long, and nuts having been used forever in Greek culinary treats, putting the two together seemed like a good fit. These were easy and quick to make, and they look so cute!
For this recipe, you will need:
1 1/2 cups nuts (8 ounces)
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 Tablespoons flour (all-purpose)
2 Tablespoons Triple Sec (or other orange-based liqueur)
32 whole cloves
2 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar (icing or powdered sugar)
Remember, we used toasted almond slices that we had on hand, but you can use almonds of any kind, walnuts, pine nuts, or pistachios (shelled) to make these cookies. This recipe yields about 32 cookies (for today's blog entry, we used half the recipe for the pictures below).
First, preheat the oven to 375° F (190° C). While the cookies are in the oven, we had to lower the temperature to 350° F (175° C), but the higher temperature was important at the start of the baking. Then, start the cookie dough. In a food processor, combine the nuts and sugar and grind to a fine powder. You will see the oil start to separate out of the nuts, and then the sugar will absorb the oil and you will watch the nut mixture turn pasty. When that starts to happen, add the flour and the liqueur. Just pour them into the food processor and use the pulse function to get the ingredients together. Now, continue to process this until the dough holds together by itself.
Take the dough out of the food processor and make a log from it. Roll it into a log or cylinder that is uniform, since this will be divided into equal pieces to make the cookies. Let the log rest for a moment to make sure that it holds its shape and does not fall apart. You can see that we left our nuts a little more coarse than fine. We agreed that we like a little texture and a little bite to a cookie, and would prefer that it is not creamy. So, we did not puree the nuts as well as the directions in the cookbook suggested. So, when you look at our dough, it does look like it is falling apart, but it is just so coarse that it took a little more pinching together than if it had been more finely ground.
Now, cut the log into 32 equal pieces. As mentioned, we made half the recipe, so you will not see 32 in the pictures below. There were different ways to cut the log into equal pieces -- use a knife and cut, just as you would refrigerator cookies. Or, use your fingers and pinch equal amounts off the log and lay the pinched portions aside as you go. Whichever way is easy for you, do that. You could even use a scale to weigh each piece. We chose to pinch our pieces so they felt like they would be the right size. Sometimes, we know how big we want the bite to be, and we may not have 16 pieces, but the pears seemed like the right size for us. So, pinch or cut the pieces and lay them aside.
Now comes the fun part. Using the palms of your hands, and your fingers, roll the chunks of dough into ball shapes and place them on a cookie sheet. Just to mention that we always line our cookie sheets with either parchment paper or with the reusable silicone mats. Because these cookies are very oily when they are raw, we thought parchment would be the best choice today. After you have rolled each chunk into a ball, use your index finger and thumb and pinch one end of the ball. Pinch with these two fingers and turn the ball in your hand to keep all the edges rounded. This was the hardest thing to photograph! But, you pinch and turn, pinch and turn, and then lay the pear shaped cookies on the cookie sheet.
Now, add the stems to the pears. Using the whole cloves, poke a clove right into the pointed side of the cookie to give the appearance of a stem coming out of a fruit. Do this for each cookie. When we sat back and looked at the whole tray of cookies, we thought it was so cute, and the cloves really do have the right shape!
Bake the cookies in the oven for 5 minutes at 375° F (190° C), then, turn down the temperature to 325° F (165° C) and continue to bake until the cookies are lightly golden on top -- about 15 minutes total. They will have the same golden colour as a toasted nut -- whatever nut you are using. Keep that in mind when baking.
Let the cookies rest for only a moment, and then, using a sifter, sprinkle the powdered sugar (icing sugar, confectioners' sugar) all over the cookies. It's the same process as making kourambiedes (see last year's blog entry by clicking here). You want to sprinkle the powdered sugar on the warm cookies so the sugar melts a little bit and makes a bit of a glaze or a coating on the cookies. You can add more powdered sugar later if you want white cookies, but for now, sift enough on there to cover the entire top of the cookie.
Then, the cookies are ready to serve. You can add more powdered sugar, or you can leave them as they are. Some were warmer than the others, and the sugar melted more on those cookies. But, we know for sure that they looked beautiful! We thought that we had baked our batch a little too long, and they were maybe a little dark for what we wanted. But, then, we realised that we had started with some toasted almonds, so our dough was already darker from the start!
We can keep these cookies in an airtight container for up to 2 weeks. It is such a simple recipe and not too time consuming to bake. Really, the whole process, start to finish, took us about 30 minutes. We think that most people can find 30 minutes in a day to make some cookies. And, if we wanted to make different shapes, we probably could. We could just leave the cookies as balls, put a clove in the top of the ball and call them apple shaped! Or, we could make slices from our original log and omit the cloves, and just have cookies. We don't think the shape of the cookie matters as much as how delightful it tasted. Perfect for company, perfect for Great Lent!