For days now I had been trying to get myself into the spirit of the holidays. The house had been decorated for about two weeks but I still hadn't gotten into that Christmas-y swing of things.
But nothing says Christmas for me like the smell of cookies and sweets baking away in the oven. So what better way to get into the Christmas mood than to start baking? By the end of the week, I should have ready our traditional family recipes for koulourakia and kourambiedes but to start things off today I decided to try my hand at a new recipe.
This weekend I found myself devouring an issue of a Greek food magazine called "Gastronomos;" an issue which I perused a number of times before but which really grabbed my attention the other day. I was salivating over many, if not all, of the dishes illustrated on the vibrant pages--it was the December 2006 issue of the magazine so, of course, it was dedicated to holiday cooking and the rich food set out against the rich Christmas color palette really brought out the holiday spirit in me.
One of the issue's articles featured Kaiti Koufonikola, owner of Cafe Avissinia in Athens' Monastiraki, cooking at home for the holidays. Kaiti Koufonikola's cooking, according to the article, combines the distinct cuisines of Constantinople and Northern Greece. I think her simple dishes spoke to me the most as the article so successfully illustrated her passion for cooking traditional, no frills recipes and sharing those heartwarming dishes with a large group of family and friends. I related not only to her style of cooking but to her style of entertaining and giving back to those who surround her through life's simple pleasures.
It is my daughter's "name-day" today--Dec. 15--as it is the feast day of St. Eleftherios and I've decided to prepare some of Kaiti Koufonikola's dishes for our family and friends who will visit us this evening. I'll share the rest with you later this week as I have yet to begin cooking (speaking of which, I really should get back to the task at hand) but today I wanted to share this recipe for Seker Pare which I adapted from Kaiti Koufonikola's recipe I found in the pages of "Gastronomos." Seker Pare are delightful "cookies," if you will, made with fine semolina, baked until golden and then soaked in sweet syrup. I love the texture of desserts that call for semolina (ravani being among my favorites) and plan on adding these simple seker pare to our family's holiday baking repertoire.
P.S. I'd like to send these cookies to Susan of Food Blogga for her Eat Christmas Cookies event. All the entries look absolutely delicious and it's a great way to swap cookie recipes and get into the spirit of the holidays. Have a look here!
(Adapted from a recipe by Kaiti Koufonikola featured in "Gastronomos")
Makes about 36 pieces
2 sticks butter, room temperature
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 1/2 to 3 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup fine semolina
1/3 cup fine semolina
1/3 cup whole blanched almonds
Whisk together 2 1/2 cups of the flour and baking powder in a bowl and set aside. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, incorporating well after each addition. Stir in the semolina and mix until just combined. Add the flour and mix until the dough no longer sticks to the sides of the bowl (use more of the remaining 1/2 cup flour as necessary--I finally used about 2 3/4 cup total).
Heat the oven to 375 degrees and line a cookie sheet with parchment. Form the dough into balls about the size of a walnut shell and place on the parchment lined cookie sheets. Place a whole almond in the center of each ball, pushing it in so only half the almond is showing.
Bake until light golden. In the meantime, heat 2 cups of water with 2 cups of sugar and bring to a boil. Add a 3-inch piece of lemon peel and two vanilla beans, opened and scraped, and simmer mixture until the seker pare are done.
Once the seker pare are removed from the oven, spoon about half the hot syrup over and allow the cookies to sit for about 5 minutes. Spoon the remaining syrup over the sweets and serve at room temperature.