My mom is a second-generation Greek Orthodox Albanian-American. For us kids, the first day of school after Easter was awkward. Why did our Easter Bunny come on a different weekend? How come the other kids got colorful eggs and ours were only red?
So, growing up we celebrated both Greek and American Easter.
One weekend it would be Easter Baskets, candy, the Easter Bunny, and eggs dyed every color of the rainbow. Greek Easter was all about church, red eggs and, best of all, Easter at my Nena’s house.
Her efforts could be detected from the driveway. Savory, tangy lamb. Roasting chicken. Bread rising in the oven. One step into her downstairs kitchen (my Nena had one upstairs, too) and the heavenly, buttery scent of chicken Lakror (a flaky pie filled with goodness) and Kuluraqka-Kulure (Albanian Tea Cookies) would bring you to your knees.
Though I’m no pro in the kitchen (my husband does all the cooking), I love to bake. This American Easter, a long, long way from my family in DC, I was seized by the desire to make Albanian Tea Cookies.
Talented in the kitchen, my Nena knew her recipe by heart. I got mine from The Albanian Cookbook, and they taste exactly as I remember. Subtly sweet with a satisfying, decadent, scone-y denseness.
Albanian Tea Cookies (Kuluraqka-Kulure)
Adapted from The Albanian Cookbook
4-5 cups flour
1 ½ cups sugar
2 ½ teaspoons baking powder
5 eggs (reserve one)
1 cup (two sticks) butter
1 teaspoon vanilla
Oven at 400
1. Separate 4 egg whites (setting aside the yolks) then beat until stiff. I use my awesome KitchenAid mixer for this. I just discovered the paddle vs. the whisk attachment. For the egg whites, I use the whisk attachment on high until the eggs look meringue-y.
2. Switch to the paddle attachment (this you don’t have to do. It works just fine with the other attachment. I just like to pretend I know what I am doing). Pour in the 4 yolks, baking powder and sugar. Beat 20 minutes (I use the lowest setting). This is why the KitchenAid is awesome. No way would I do this by hand.
3. Preheat the oven to 400. Start melting the butter.
4. Add melted butter and flour gradually, mixing until it forms a dough.
5. Line your baking sheets with parchament paper (or your liner of choice). Take a small amount of dough (I go for ping-pong ball size, maybe a little less).
6. Roll the ping-pong ball amount out on your hand so that it’s like a little snake. Similar to those you used to make with Play-Doh. For me, I know it’s the right length when the dough snake runs the length of my middle finger almost to my wrist. But you can make yours as long or short as you like. Also, it’s ok if your snake looks like it swallowed something. Mine are always lumpy too. Don’t worry! It’ll look great once it’s baked.
7. Braid it. This sounds more complicated than it is. Really, you’re just twisting. I usually just make a ‘U’ with the dough, then flop one end over (so it looks similar to the pink breast cancer ribbon) and then twist once. Voila! Somewhat imperfect, but does the trick.
8. Once you’ve filled up your cookie sheets with twists, grab the egg set aside earlier. Beat it (yolk and all), then, using a pastry brush (or your fingers – the pastry brush is a recent addition to our kitchen), coat each cookie. I tend to get a little over-zealous, so use just enough to coat each cookie.
9. At this point, my Nena (and Albanians of the world) would stop there, maybe tossing on a few colorful balls (the ones that look like sprinkles but are harder). I don’t. Though the cookies are divine as they are, I have a major sweet tooth and so must add something colorful and sugary.
10. The book’s recipe says to bake for 20 minutes and that it makes 6 dozen cookies. Generally I make anywhere from 3-4 dozen. Also, in my horrible gas oven in which I can only bake one tray at a time, they take 10 -12 minutes. So, as you’re baking, leave the oven light on and take a look after 10 minutes. If they look golden, chances are they’re done!