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A Greek Sesame Cookie That Made New Italian-Americans Feel at Home

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My parents immigrated from Italy to upstate New York in the 1950s, and some of the first friends they made were a Greek women and her husband. They were instrumental in helping my parents—and their two sons, my older brothers, who were three and six years old—acclimate to their new country and home.

My mom's friend shared many of her Greek dishes—like these Koulourakia (Greek Sesame Twist Cookies)—and my mom shared her Italian ones in this wonderfully social food camaraderie that I wish I was a part of to this day (I was born years later). The original recipe is of Greek origin and, in my initial research, I found that they were usually made for Easter, and served as a light, not-too-sweet snack with tea and coffee, as well as a daily treat or late-night snack. They freeze beautifully and make great holiday or hostess gifts.

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Photo by James Ransom

My mom taught me to make these when I was a young girl, and we made them for pretty much every holiday, wedding, birth of a new baby... Italians love a reason to bake treats and share them! This recipe was and still is my mom's favorite, simple in flavor and easy to make. She always tells us how eating these with her new friend made her miss her old home in Italy a little bit less.

Making these was always a family affair. The adults would twist them into shape and the little ones would brush the tops and sprinkle on the sesame seeds. I recreated the recipe a few years ago when I started my food blog; my goal was to archive all the memories from my family's history and show how food has touched and is still touching us today, as I make these for my daughters, friends, and so on.

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Koulourakia (Greek Sesame Twist Cookies)

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Makes 28 to 34 cookies

Cookie dough

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  • 14 tablespoons organic unsalted butter, softened
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons or so fresh orange zest
  • 1 scant cup + 1 tablespoon organic sugar
  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 tablespoons Rémy Martin XO Cognac
  • 4 cups unbleached flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • White or black sesame seeds

Egg wash

  • 1 large organic egg
  • 1 tablespoon Rémy Martin XO cognac


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Tags: greek cookies, christmas cookies, sesame seeds