A while back - Sept. 29, 2010, to be precise - I wrote about my Grandma Bollas' chocolate chip cookies. My uncles Bob Bollas and Jerry "Bob" Sweet let me peruse her handwritten cookbooks, and for the sake of preservation for posterity and my own curiosity, I started typing up some of the recipes. I didn't get all the way through her cookbooks, but I wound up with a 33-page document full of cookies, cakes and other tasty treats.
I got the impression that the notebooks were solely intended for her own personal use because many of the recipes are just a list of ingredients with an oven temperature and a baking time. Sometimes there weren't even measurements included.
I thought it would be fun to attempt to decipher one of these "incomplete" recipes and to play detective by finding similar recipes to use as reference. And I knew exactly where I wanted to start.
Melomakarona, Greek honey cookies, are shown on the left. Melomakarona are similar to Grandma Bollas’ Greek cookies, shown at right.
Now, my Grandma Bollas - Anna Lubert before she was married - was Polish, but her husband, Nick Bollas, was Greek. So I was most curious about several recipes that were all labeled "Greek cookies" with no further explanation.
The first recipe I came across with that title seemed to be part of one recipe and part of another, with two lists of ingredients and little instruction other than "Bake 325/30." The second recipe took the second ingredient list from the first recipe and had a little more detail on how to mix up the cookies, but left no indication on what temperature or how long to bake them. A combination of the two recipes might yield good results, but since the recipe called for 10 to 12 cups of flour, I decided to pass on this one for the time being. Gluten-free flour is expensive!
My most promising lead came with the third recipe titled "Greek cookies." There were only two lines of instruction, but that was still more direction than the other two recipes. The recipe also contains orange juice, which gave me more to work with when I turned to Google for research - searching for "Greek cookies with orange juice" yields more specific results than a generic search for "Greek cookies."
Grandma Bollas' Greek cookies
1/2 cup oil
1 tablespoon sugar
1/4 cup orange juice
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 1/2 cup flour
1/4 cup nuts
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup water
Mix together oil, sugar and orange juice. Add dry ingredients, including nuts, and mix. The dough will be stiff. Roll dough into balls and bake on an ungreased cookie sheet at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until golden brown.
In a small saucepan, bring honey and water to a boil, then reduce heat to a simmer. When cookies are baked, dip in the honey and water glaze, then place on a rack to cool.
(Greek Honey Cookies)
1 egg yolk
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon grated orange peel
1 1/4 cup butter, melted and cooled
3 1/2 cup flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon. ground cloves
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup chopped nuts
1 cup honey
1/2 cup water
Combine the egg yolks, orange juice, sugar and orange peel. Mix well. Gradually add the butter and continue blending until the mixture is as thick as mayonnaise. Sift the flour with the baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices. Mix the dry ingredients into the egg mixture and knead the dough until smooth. It will be stiff.
Pick up a tablespoon of dough. Squeeze slightly to form an egg shape. For a filled cookie, press a few pieces of nuts into the center of the dough before shaping it.
Place the cookies on ungreased baking sheets, press each cookie slightly with a fork or the back of a spoon. Bake in preheated 350 degree F oven for 20 minutes or until slightly browned.
Bring honey and water to a boil, then let it simmer gently. When cookies are baked, dip each one in the syrup for a few seconds, place on a wire rack to drain. Sprinkle the cookies with the nuts.
Makes about 50 cookies.
Recipe from Cooks.com
It appears that Grandma Bollas' recipe is a version of melomakarona (or melokarona), an olive oil-based cookie that's dipped in honey and nuts. (The recipe with all the flour might be koulouria, which is traditionally made for Easter.) I found a simple version of melomakarona online that wasn't too dissimilar to Grandma Bollas' version, and I set out to make both kinds, for comparison's sake. The usual gluten-free disclaimers apply: I used Bob's Red Mill Gluten-Free Flour Blend and a pinch of xantham gum in each recipe.
I made Grandma Bollas' cookies first. The dough came together quickly and reminded me of the homemade play dough my mom would make us when we were kids. Because the dough is oil-based, all the flour and dry ingredients that might normally stick to the side of your mixing bowl are easily incorporated. The recipe didn't make very many cookies; I got just about two dozen.
Once the cookies are baked, you dip them in a glaze of heated honey and water. In the other versions of the recipe I looked at, you sprinkle the chopped nuts on after you've dipped the cookies. My interpretation of Grandma Bollas' version calls for the nuts to be mixed into the cookie batter itself.
The result is a crisp cookie with a subtle nutty flavor. To me, it's a grown-up cookie, one to be enjoyed with a cup of coffee or tea and a good book.
Next, I tried the "modern" version of the recipe. This recipe used butter instead of oil, but the result was the same: a dough that looks and feels like play dough. It also uses spices that weren't in Grandma Bollas' recipe. Instead of rolling the dough into balls, these cookies are rolled into egg shapes, and you make a slight indentation on the top of the cookie before baking. After they're done baking, you dip them into the honey glaze and sprinkle chopped nuts on top.
Neither this recipe nor Grandma Bollas' specified what kind of nuts to use. I used pecans because I like them and I had them on hand, but many of the other melomakarona recipes called for walnuts.
I must confess, I did like the Internet recipe a little better than Grandma Bollas', but the taste of the cookies was very similar. The egg-shaped cookies with the nuts sprinkled on top looked prettier, too. They wouldn't be out of place on a cookie table at a wedding or at a bridal or baby shower.
This is definitely a cookie I will make again, and I have Grandma Bollas' cookbook to thank for it.