Learn all the secrets for the best kourabiedes (Greek butter cookies) with almonds, vanilla and icing sugar. These shortbread-like cookies are ideal for your Christmas baking!
Kourabiedes (or Kourabiethes) and melomakarona are the two types of traditional Greek cookies made especially during Christmas and Vasilopita (New Year's Eve cake) is made a few days after to celebrate the New Year.
Kourabiedes go by many names. They're also known as Greek butter cookies, shortbread cookies, or Christmas snowball cookies because they get covered with icing sugar and look like little delicious snowballs.
Because they're made with butter, vanilla extract and roasted almonds, they're the perfect way for your kitchen to smell like holidays, and for your family to love you even more!
Though, Christmas is not the only time these are baked.
They’re also made as treats in engagement ceremonies, weddings and Christenings, because of their white color which represents purity.
I on the other hand, make them every time I feel the need to eat some!
Butter: Traditionally, butter made from sheep and goat milk is used. However, I also make them from cow's milk butter and they're still delicious. For the best results you should use clarified butter or ghee.
Icing sugar: Icing sugar is used instead of caster sugar, because it makes the dough more soft and velvety.
Egg yolk: It should be from a large or extra large egg. If you double the recipe you can use a whole egg instead of 2 yolks.
Almonds: Freshly roasted almonds give Kourabiethes they're siganture flavor and fragrance. However, some people make them without the almonds. My opinion? Skip the almonds only if you hate them!
Flour: For the best results use pastry flour (in Greece this is called "soft" flour and it has a lower protein content). You can make your own pastry flour if you mix 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon of all-purpose flour with 1 tablespoon cornstarch.
Baking powder: It's used for leavening.
Aromatics: Vanilla extract, a couple tablespoons brandy and some cinnamon are used for extra deliciousness.
Instructions - Tips
1. The most important step of this recipe is to beat the butter with the sugar VERY well until it is very light and fluffy. For this, a stand mixer is ideal, because it can take up to 15 – 20 minutes.
If you use clarified butter (ghee) it should be slightly cold. If you use normal butter it should be at room temperature so make sure you take it out of the fridge a few hours before you start.
2. Because almonds play a great role in these cookies, you should use freshly roasted almonds. I like to roast my almonds in the oven at 320°F/160°C for 20-30 minutes (exact time depends on the quantity and size of almonds).
3. Good quality butter and vanilla extract are also important for great taste. I also add a pinch of cinnamon because it enhances the flavor of the rest of the ingredients.
4. Don't add too much flour. Keep 2 tablespoons of the flour aside and add them to the dough only if it is very soft and sticky.
5. How to shape them: make little balls and flatten them with your palms. Press lightly with your finger at the center of each cookie to form a very shallow puddle. This will help the kourabiedes hold more icing sugar.
These cookies will keep for up to two weeks (or more) when stored in a cool dry place inside an air-tight container.
Store them without dusting them with powdered sugar, because it can attract moisture.
What kind of butter to use for these snowball cookies?
If you read this blog on a regular basis, then you know I love cookies with olive oil, especially these Cretan almond cookies (kalorizika). For kourabiedes you have to use real butter. Many traditional Greek recipes use clarified butter made from sheep and goat’s milk cream but cow's butter will also work.
No matter what type of butter you choose, make sure it is one you like its taste and it’s of good quality. For this recipe I usually use half cow’s butter and half sheep & goat butter.
Another secret is to clarify the butter. I must admit that I don’t normally do this, except from special occasions! If you read the ingredients on the packaging of the butter, you’ll notice that it contains about 15% – 20% water. What that means is that in one cup of butter there are about 3 tablespoons of water and a little more than ¾ of a cup fat.
This water will prevent the cookies from reaching their maximum tenderness level. In this article from serious eats you can see how to remove water and get some nutty browned butter (or beurre noisette) at the same time. Totally optional!
Can you use icing sugar for snowball cookies?
Powedered sugar, also called icing or confectioners sugar is an important ingredient of this recipe. Though you can make the dough with regular white sugar, icing sugar makes them more tender and helps with the texture. Most of the times, it also contains a bit of corn flour which further improves the tenderness.
The amount of sugar in the dough is not very much because these snowball cookies are covered with additional icing sugar after they're baked. Remember to let the cookies cool completely before you cover them with icing sugar because otherwise the coating can absorb moisture and become soggy.
Baking time will depend on the size of the cookies.
I like to form my cookies the size of a medium walnut (about 1.06 ounces/30 grams each cookie if you have a kitchen scale).
For this size it takes about 35 minutes at 350°F/175°C for them to bake. But I like my cookies on the crispy side. If you like them lighter in color and a bit softer, then bake them at 330°F/165°C for 17-20 minutes.
Kourabiedes (Greek butter cookies)
- 1 cup (240 g) butter at room temperature or slightly cold (see notes).
- 2 tablespoons (28 g) corn oil or sunflower oil
- 1 cup (120 g) confectioners’ sugar
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ¼ teaspoon cinnamon ( optional)
- a pinch of salt
- 1 egg yolk from a large egg
- 2 tablespoons (30 g) brandy or cognac
- 3 ¼ cups (390 g) sifted pastry flour (if you don't have pastry flour, use all-purpose flour)
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 ½ cups (190 g) freshly roasted almonds (crushed)
- Confectioners’ sugar for coating and dusting
- Preheat your oven to 350°F (175°C)
- In the bowl of your electric mixer, with the whisk attachment, beat the butter and the oil with the confectioners’ sugar until very fluffy (10 – 15 minutes for best results). Add the yolk and beat until well incorporated. Add the vanilla, the cinnamon, the salt and the brandy and mix until combined.
- In another bowl, mix together the flour and the baking powder. Add the almonds and almost all of the flour to the butter mixture (keep 1-2 tablespoons of flour aside). Stir gently with a spatula or by hand until just combined and all of the flour is absorbed. Do not over mix!
- Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. It should be soft and not sticky. If after the resting time it's a little sticky, add the rest of the flour until pliable.Form little balls the size of a small walnut (about 30 grams), flatten them out between your hands and make a shallow indentation in the center with your index finger.
- Place on baking sheets lined with baking paper and bake for about 30-35 minutes or until golden brown and fragrant.If you want them white in color and softer bake for 17-20 minutes.Remove from the pan, place on a rack and let them cool completely. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
- Pastry flour is regular flour with less protein content. You can make your own "pastry flour" by mixing 3 cups plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour with 2 tablespoons corn starch.
- Butter: For the butter you can choose goat and sheep butter, cow's milk butter, or a mix of both. It's best to be clarified (ghee). Choose according to your taste. Clarified butter should be slightly cold, whereas normal butter should be at room temperature.
- Measure the flour: If you don't have a scale to measure your ingredients, then the flour should be lightly spooned into a measuring cup taking extra care not to compact it. Then it should be leveled with a straight object (a long fork will do!).
- Don’t add all of the flour at once - you may not need it all. Also, don’t over-work the dough because your cookies will be tough.
- Let the cookies cool completely before you dust them with confectioner's sugar. This will prevent the coating to absorb moisture. If after some days you notice that the coating has started to show condensation signs, shake it off and coat the cookies with a fresh coating. Another option is to store cookies in an airtight container and dust them with sugar just before you serve them.