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Traditional Cretan Holiday Cookies & Pastries


On the Greek island of Crete, these five sweets - cookies and pastries - are traditionally made and served over the Christmas and New Year's holiday season. They are enjoyed at other times of year as well, but in December and January, they come together to create a fabulous collection of tastes and textures.

The first three are uniquely Cretan, and the others are holiday favorites all over Greece.

1. Xerotigana- Honey-Dipped Spiral Pastries

Xerotigana- Honey-Dipped Spiral Pastries
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
These crispy, lighter-than-air pastry spirals are dipped in a honey syrup, then sprinkled with cinnamon, chopped walnuts, and sesame seeds. The recipe includes a step-by-step tutorial to make the spirals.

2. Kalitsounia - Sweet Cheese Pastries

Kalitsounia - Sweet Cheese Pastries
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
These sweet cheese pastries are a Christmas favorite on the island of Crete, where they are either baked or fried. Unlike many other Greek pastries, this recipe calls for an egg dough instead of phyllo.

3. Koulourakia Christouyennon - Christmas Sesame Cookie Rings

Greek Sesame Cookies - Holiday Ring Shapes
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Variations of these delicious small sesame cookies can be found all over Greece, in bakeries and at home. They are made without butter and eggs and can be stored for up to two months. In my little corner of Crete, we add yeast and form them into small wreath shapes once a year: at Christmas.

4. Melomakarona - Honey-Dipped Spice Cookies

Melomakarona - Greek Christmas Honey & Nut Cookies
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Melomakarona are a Christmas tradition in Greece (but enjoyed at other times of the year). All over Greece, kitchens will be filled with the wonderful smell of these spice cookies that will adorn tables, be given as hostess gifts, and eaten in huge quantities.

5. Kourabiethes - Sugared Shortbread Cookies with Almonds

Kourabiethes - Traditional Sugared Almond Cookies
Photo © N. Gaifyllia, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Kourabiethes (also kourambiedes) are traditional celebration cookies, served at Christmas, New Year's, weddings, and baptisms. Toasted almond shortbread-type cookies topped with a generous coating of confectioner's sugar, they melt in the mouth.

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