Many countries have taditional Christmas cookies. Melomakarona (μελομακάρονα) are the version from Cyprus (the Greek bit, as well as being from Greece). They’re laden with the flavours of orange and spices, dipped in syrup and dusted with nuts. They’re really delicious, so when the cookie jar is empty, why wait for Christmas?
I started with a recipe from food blog Afrodite’s Kitchen, but there are plenty of others which vary in terms of choice of nuts, choice of spices and various other details. So everyone agrees that you dip the cookies in syrup, but some people cool the syrup first and others specify hot syrup. And I made my melomakarona round and dimpled, but other recipes are clear in preferring more of an egg shape.
I’ve halved the quantities in the original recipe and simplified things a bit. My dough came out a bit too floury, so I have reduced the amount of flour slightly here. Add a bit more flour (or, in the opposite direction, orange juice or water) if you think you need it.
150ml sunflower oil
50g icing sugar
4g (1 tsp) cinnamon
1g (¼ tsp) nutmeg
1g (¼ tsp) ground cloves
1 tsp ground ginger
6g (¾ tsp) baking powder
6g (¾ tsp) baking soda
3g (½ tsp) salt
400g OO flour
Preheat oven to 175℃ fan.
With a potato peeler, take a couple of thick pieces of rind from the orange and reserve. Grate the rest of the zest of the orange and juice it (expect around 80ml of juice).
Put the almonds and hazelnuts on a baking tray. When the oven is up to temperature, roast them for around 10 minutes until they’re a medium brown colour. Remove and leave to cool until you can handle them. Meanwhile, you can get on with making the cookie dough.
Put the sunflower oil, orange juice and zest, icing sugar and spices into a bowl.
Once the nuts are cool, reserve around 20g of each (you’ll be using them later for dusting). Blitz the rest to a powder (but don’t overdo it: you don’t want the oil coming out of the nuts).
Add the nuts to the oil and spice mixture and whisk until smooth.
Put the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl, stir until even; add these to the wet mix.
Mix thoroughly and knead until you have a smooth dough which is the consistency of a thick paste.
Divide the dough into balls of around 30g each (my dough made 27 cookies). Press each ball into your choice of a dimpled circle or an oval.
Place on a baking sheet and bake for around 20 minutes
Leave to cool
The syrup, and final assembly
1 cinnamon stick
2 thick pieces of orange rind (from above)
Almonds and hazelnuts (from above)
Chop the toasted nuts finely. You can use your food processor, but don’t blitz the nuts to a powder as you did with the others.
Combine water, sugar, honey, cinnamon, cloves and orange rind in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and then turn the heat down to simmer.
Dip each cookie into the simmering syrup. Afrodite’s Kitchen says 10-15 seconds max, but I found it needed 20 to get enough syrup to soak in: this probably depends on the exact texture of your dough.
Sprinkle the cookies with the chopped nuts.
You can leave them to cool at this point, but you don’t have to…
It being that time of year, I was casting around for a Christmas cake that was suitably exotic for this blog, but still had that fruit-laden richness for cold winter evenings. To my surprise, the one that leapt out at me was a recipe from Sri Lanka, which makes something that’s recognisably in the English Christmas Cake tradition, but softer and moister. The ever-reliable sbs.com.au provided the recipe.
What distinguishes the Sri Lankan version is a hefty dose of chow-chow preserve (other Sri Lankan touches are the addition of rosewater and cardamom). Chow-chow is a fruit with many names: choko, chouchou, mirliton, chayote; it’s roughly the shape and consistency of a quince, with a bright green skin reminiscent of a Granny Smith apple. I couldn’t find the preserve locally, but the fruit was readily available in Indian or Caribbean stores, of which we have plenty in London, so I made my own preserve, which wasn’t difficult. (Admission: I did leave mine on the stove for way too long, so it crystallised on setting: this didn’t seem to damage the cake overly.)
Traditionally, you would cover the cake with marzipan and hard icing. That’s too much sweetness for me, so I just made the fruit cake. I also left mine relatively soft and gooey, which is really delicious, at the expense of being tricky to cut. You may want to leave yours in a bit longer than I did.
The chow-chow preserve
Starting with this recipe, this made enough for two cakes. You may want to halve the amounts.
1.1 kg chayote (3 fruits)
1.5 kg sugar
380 ml water
¾ tsp salt
Peel and chop the chayote.
Put everything into a preserving pan and cook until the fruit is soft and the syrup is thick. You probably want a sugar temperature of around 105℃ – I went well over that.
Cool, and put into sterilised jars until needed.
150g unsalted cashews
150g unsalted almonds
200g glacé cherries
500g chow-chow preserve
150g glacé pineapple
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cardamom
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp rosewater (see Note)
Grated zest of 1 orange
Grated zest of 1 lemon
60 ml brandy
250g unsalted butter
385g caster sugar
180 g semolina flour
Preheat oven to 140℃ fan
Line a cake tin with baking paper (these quantities work perfectly for a fairly tall 20cm x 20cm tin)
Chop the almonds, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
Chop the cashews, toast them in a dry pan, set aside to cool
Halve the cherries (if they weren’t already bought that way
Chop the pineapple and chow-chow preserve so that the pieces are smaller than half a glacé cherry. How small you want to go is up to you.
Put all fruits, zest, spices, rosewater and brandy into a large bowl and mix them up.
When the nuts are cool, add them also and mix
Chop the butter into small pieces and cream it with the sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer
One a time, separate the eggs, adding the yolk to the butter-sugar mix and incorporating it, and reserving the white in another bowl.
Combine the egg yolk/sugar/butter mix with the fruit-nut mix, add the semolina flour and stir until evenly spread.
Beat the egg whites until soft but not hard, fold into the mix.
Spoon the mixture into your lined tin, pressing it to the edges to smooth out any ruffles in the baking paper.
Cut another square of paper and place it on the top: this will stop the cake drying out
Bake for around 3 hours, or more if you prefer a less gooey cake