Photo by Faithy (Peggy)
The Amateur Baker
If I were feeling any lazier than I already am, I would do a midweek roundup for Kourambiethes in only three words: "Everyone loved them." But I haven't sunk quite that far yet, so here goes a full-blown summary.
Faithy considers that she cheated because she used ghee that she'd purchased and already-chopped almonds. I think that's just smart shopping. She also dipped them in granulated sugar before baking and then sprinkled them with confectioners' sugar. (I think this extra step makes up for the shortcuts). "So addictive I couldn't stop eating." A baker's version of crack?
To Milagritos, they brought back memories of her younger days in Melbourne, which "has the world's largest Greek population outside Greece," (you probably didn't know that. Now you do). Milagritos remembers sampling them all, in the interests of fairness. Having tried nearly every possible variation and permutation on Kourambiethes, so she knows of what she speaks. "Extra delicious," is what she says. "Thumbs up" are what her niece and nephew do.
Orin may not have sampled all the Greek cookies in Melbourne, but she does think that these cookies make you want to be Greek--"or at least have a Greek friend." Orin tell us that "traditionally, the cookies will be sprinkled with drops of rose water prior to dusting with powdered sugar." Instead, she strews her cookies with tiny sprigs of dried rosebuds. I can see platters of these being served at a wedding reception--except that everyone at the party would have powdered sugar on their best clothes.
I think that Kim wrote the most poetic summary of these cookies, where she compares them variously to sand and to Marilyn Monroe, "There's the kind of beach sand that is brownish and littered with rocks and debris. Then there's the kind that is heavy and dark ... and is always wet. Then there's the kind of soft white sand that glimmers in the sun ... and ... you want to spend your ... dying day on. ....The Kourambiethes ... would definitely fall under the category of the sand-of-all-sand cookies.... They must have gone to Marilyn Monroe Charm School and learned the art of seduction.... Kourambiethes are the whitest, lightest and crunchiest sand cookies I've ever tasted...."
While some of our bakers tried to figure out how to pronounce "kourambiethes," Kristina gave up, and just referred to them as almond shortbread-y cookie things, and it turns out that a kourambieth by any other name would taste as good. Kristina also joined a group of other bakers whose enjoyment of these cookies went in two stages: 1) eat a frightening number oneself because they are so good and 2) get them out of the house quickly so one will avoid eating any more. Friends and colleagues of Alpha Bakers are lucky people.
Unless they are friends and colleagues of Michele. Not that Michele isn't a good person; of course she is. But she was not going to be giving away any of these cookies (and she made a double batch!). And not that she doesn't like giving away her baked goods. That's part of baking. But these cookies.... well, they're just too good to be shared. "Add these cookies to the list of baked goods that tempt me to one of the deadly sins." (Hint: it's not lust). "They are that delicious."
Here is what Rachel learned from an internet search on kourambiethes. (I have now typed this word so often that I don't even have to think about it. Still can't pronounce it without stumbling, though.) "Kourambiethes can have almonds or not, can be decorated with a whole clove or not, and are usually but not always shaped in a flattened sphere. The other distinguishing feature, which still doesn't show up in every recipe, is beating the butter and the powdered sugar for an extra-long time to enhance the tenderness of the cookie." I hope that clears up everything for you.
Rachel's research does explain why Jeniffer baked her kourambiethes with a clove in the center. It turns out that a number of us have some kind of Greek connection. Jeniffer used to babysit for a "portly" toddler named Aristotle, the son of Greek deli owners. Jeniffer learned that authentic kourambiethes are made with a clove in the center (if round) or are shaped like crescents. Through Jeniffer, we learned that kourambiethes are not just made with any brandy, but with Metaxa (well, of course).
Catherine had a brilliant idea. She was caught on the phone by an organization selling a raffle tickets, and, in a weak moment, she agreed to sell some. The potential donee can either buy some tickets and receive a kourambiethes (or maybe two) or not buy the tickets and not receive the cookies. I know what I'd take. In fact, if we lived in the same hemisphere, I'd sign up here and now. According to Catherine, not only are these delicious, but they also have these virtues: "minimal and straightforward," "easy peasy," "fun, fast, and easy," and "problem free." So mix up some more, Catherine, and win the blue ribbon for most raffle tickets sold.
One of the people reading Joan's blog said that her opening photo reminded her of Elizabeth Bennet, in Pride and Prejudice: the floral bone china, the freshly pressed linen napkins, the wine glasses. But I keep thinking of all that powdered sugar. Surely Mr. Darcy wouldn't spill, would he? Even her friends' comments, ("The cookies just turned out to be beautiful to behold and delicious to savor") seem British to the core. Would the Bennets' cook turn out these Greek biscuits for tea? Would the entire plot line have changed had Mr. Darcy spilled sugar on his cravat? We'll never know.
Every year, Vicki and her brother to go a local Greek Food Festival. Vicki has noticed powdered sugar cookies, but has never bothered to taste them because she becomes giddy over the baklava. She asked her brother if he'd ever tried them. He said, "You mean those hard as a rock flavorless cardboard powdered sugar cookies?" Who knows what kind of kourambiethes are sold at the Greek Festival, but "hard," "flavorless," and "cardboard" are not words that describe Vicki's "incredibly delicate and tender" cookies. Next year they may just have to stay home, watch Never on Sunday, and eat Vicki's kourambiethes.
Aimee does a quick, one- or two-sentence summary that's always very good at, well, summarizing her experience. This week it's "clarified butter creates a tender, nutty cookie that melts in your mouth." That pretty much says it all. Except that she was game enough to turn on her oven in the sauna-like heat in order to get her post up. Aimee cleverly used a mini crockpot to clarify the butter so she didn't have to stand by the stove in her steamy kitchen. And when her kitchen cools off, she still has some cookie dough ready to make more.
Tony, being Tony, made a few changes in the recipe, but nothing major, and certainly nothing that you might think is odd. He added some sea salt (a few others added salt too--it was a very noticeable omission, but I figured Rose has her reasons), almond extract, orange oil, orange zest, and extra butter. Tony also has some fun photos of some of his tasters this week--it's wonderful to see their expressions change from concentration on the job at hand to delight at the taste).
Hope I didn't forget anyone this week. If I ever do, I'm extra-careful to include them this week. I'm talking to you, Orin!
And next up: the elusive elderblueberry pie. Only the elderberries are elusive. I actually have an elderberry bush in my front yard, but it is not bearing berries. My plan is to go to the farmer's market Saturday morning and see if there is anything elderberry-ish in stock. If I can't find anything, I will probably just make a plain old blueberry pie. I know that some of you got dried fruit, and some have found a source for the fresh berries. It will be interesting to see what everyone comes up with.