If you visit Greece close to Christmas, you’ll eat far too many of these delicious Christmas honey cookies, or melomakarona. Imagine a cross between baklava and an ooey, gooey pecan pie and you’ve got these. They’re Greece’s best known Christmas cookie, and so perfect for giving as gifts to your neighbours and friends wherever you are!
Why I make these every year
It’s been many years now since I spent a run up to Christmas in Greece – sadly! One of the things I missed the most when I first left were these fabulous traditional spiced Christmas cookies that are dipped in honey and scattered with crushed walnuts.
Every self-respecting Greek household has a huge pile of shop-bought or homemade melomakarona on their Christmas treat table. Thank goodness I’ve now learned how to make them myself! 😉
And, frankly, so should you. They’re: oozy, nutty, spicy (in a delicious Christmas spice sort of way), squidgy, caramel-y, baklava-like bites of sheer delicious that just melt in your mouth. You simply cannot stop at one.
- CROWD PLEASERS – a perfect gift to give to friends and neighbours.
- THE RECIPE MAKES A BIG BATCH. Sometimes I make double and package them up in gift boxes lined with baking paper and give them as a gift.
- THEY KEEP FOR AGES – around a month at least. Move over classic Christmas fruit cake – you have competition!
- THEY’RE SURPRISINGLY EASY TO MAKE. I’d been eating them for years before I finally tried making my own. When I did I was shocked at how simple they were. Make a simple biscuit/cookie and dunk them in an easy-to-make syrup. Just delicious!
What do they taste like?
I find nearly everyone loves these! They’re very different to an average Christmas cookie, but sublimely delicious when made well. I think they taste like a cross between Greek baklava and pecan pie – how delicious does that sound?
I’m not sure I’d go as far as to say that they are healthy treats, but half of the sweetness is honey and they’re made with a mix of olive and vegetable oils, not butter.
They’re also dairy free, and vegan – if you’re OK with honey.
Ingredients in melomakarana
The ingredients in these incredible Christmas treats are surprisingly simple.
This is all you need for the cookie dough:
Flour: Just plain white flour.
Baking powder and soda
Oil: I use a cup of olive oil and a cup of something else, like canola oil, but you can use all one type if you like.
Sugar: Not too much as you’re also going to pour a syrup over the cookies, too.
An orange: Both the zest and juice.
Brandy: A sneaky little bit (well it is Christmas)! But you can easily skip this and add a bit more orange juice instead if you prefer.
Crushed walnuts and cinnamon: To sprinkle over the finished cookies.
And for the syrup:
Half and half honey and sugar: I like to keep the honey content high.
Water and lemon juice
Yummy Christmassy flavourings: Cloves, a cinnamon stick, and a piece of lemon rind. This is the part that will make your kitchen smell like Christmas!
How to make them
When I lived in Greece, for years I was afraid to try making my own melomakarona because I wrongly assumed they’d be difficult.
Here’s how easy it is to make them from scratch:
Step 1: Mix together all the ‘wet’ ingredients.
Step 2: Add the flour and baking powder/soda to the wet ingredients. Do it little by little until a stiff but oily dough forms. Sometimes you might have to add a bit less or more flour, but that’s OK!
This is what the dough looks like:
Step 3: Pinch off little bits of dough and roll them into a ball or oval shape. Use a roughly 1-tablespoon cookie scoop if you prefer. Put them on a baking tray and flatten them slightly into a round or flattened egg shape. Put a criss-cross pattern on them using the tines of a fork (this part isn’t essential but it looks good!).
This is what the unbaked cookies will look like:
Step 4: Bake for about half an hour – just enough time to make the syrup!
The second part of the recipe involves making an easy and very yummy syrup to dip the cookies into. I would normally shy away from a recipe involving a syrup but this syrup is incredibly easy – and it will make your kitchen smell absolutely amazing!
This is what you do to make the syrup:
Step 5: Just boil up sugar and honey with the yummy Christmassy flavours: a cinnamon stick, a few cloves and a piece of lemon rind.
The final steps:
Just a few more simple things to do.
Step 6: This is the fun part! There’s a little controversy around this too. Some people think it’s best to dip the biscuits in the syrup while still warm, and others think it’s best to let them cool. I’ve tried both ways and I think more syrup sinks into the cookies (yum) if you dip them while they’re still hot.
So… drop them into the hot syrup in the pan a few at a time. Flip them over and let them soak up the syrup for about 30 seconds or so.
Immediately place them on a big plate and sprinkle with crushed walnuts and a pinch of ground cinnamon. You can layer them up on top of each other in a kind of pyramid style if you like. I sometimes pour any leftover syrup over the top of the pyramid. Some of the syrup drips down onto the cookies below for extra moisture and flavour. Yum!
This pyramid style is the traditional way to display them. This looks great if you’re going to serve all of them at a Christmas party or other event!
Ways to vary them
This is a traditional way to make these cookies, but every shop and Greek household has their own melomakarona recipe. It’s just one of those recipes, which gives you freedom to create your own!
Usually I make them exactly as described in this recipe, but you can:
- Dip half of (or even the whole!) of the cookie/biscuit in chocolate after you’ve dipped it into the syrup. Then you can either leave it plain or sprinkle over some nuts and cinnamon.
- Vary the type of nuts you sprinkle on the top. It’s no problem to use crushed pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, or a different kind of nut. If you need them to be nut free (like in our house, sadly), you can skip the nuts altogether, or sprinkle with sesame seeds instead.
- You can replace the brandy with something else if you like – such as Cointreau or Grand Marnier, Amaretto, or whiskey. Or just skip it and add more orange juice instead!
Helen’s top tips
- Use a small to medium-sized saucepan to make the syrup. You need enough room to dunk 3 or 4 at the same time but you want the syrup to be deep enough for proper dunking!
- If you like, make the cookie dough a few days ahead. The dough will keep well covered in a bowl or in an airtight container for 3 to 5 days. The oil may separate out a bit, but just knead it again before beginning to shape the cookies. Alternatively, bake the cookies, then let them cool and either store them in an airtight container or even freeze them until ready to make the syrup and finish the recipe off.
- Don’t waste any syrup! If you have some left over after dunking all your cookies, drizzle the leftovers over the top of your plate or ‘pyramid’ of cookies!
More things to know (recipe FAQ)
You’ll need to add roughly 6.5 cups of flour, but I usually go by eye. I sometimes add a little less or a little more than this.
Don’t let this worry you, though. Just add the flour little by little until you have a soft but fairly stiff ball of dough that’s still a bit wet and ‘oily’ looking. If you add a bit too much flour, just drizzle in a bit more orange juice. If it’s still too gooey, add more flour.
Don’t overthink this part. Take them out of the oven after 25 to 30 minutes or when the cookies are lightly browned.
I’ve tried dunking them when hot, and dunking them when cooled. I prefer dunking them when they’re just out of the oven as I think they soak up more syrup that way.
This is actually the fun part. Drop 3 or 4 at a time into the hot syrup. Let them soak for around 20 to 30 seconds, flipping them over around half way through. Then quickly and confidently fish them out using either a big fork or a slotted spoon.
It’s fine to store melomakarona in an airtight container at room temperature. If you’d like them to keep even longer, go ahead and store them in the fridge.
Another wonderful thing about these delicious Greek cookies or biscuits (UK!) is that they keep well for a really long time – I’d say around 4 weeks. They rival Christmas cake and Christmas pudding from this point of view. They’re great treats to keep in the house for parties or for every occasion when friends and family pop over to your house over the Christmas period.
This also means they’re perfect for making ahead. Make them a week or two before Christmas and they’ll still be delicious at New Year. I like to make at least a double or triple batch. They don’t go soggy, but they do get gooey-er and squidgy-er as time goes on. But in a really good way, I think.
Oh, and did I mention that Greek honey cookies also make great Christmas gifts? I love to package them up in boxes to give to family and friends!
You can, but it’s better to freeze them before dunking them in the syrup. Just wait for them to cool completely, then freeze them in airtight containers between sheets of baking paper. They’ll keep well in the freezer for up to 6 months.
When you’re ready to finish them off, let them defrost completely then make the syrup and dunk! It doesn’t matter that the cookies will be cold since some people think they’re better dunked cold anyway! 😉
Just make them without the nuts on top! They’ll still be very delicious. If sesame is OK, you could sprinkle some of those on top instead. Otherwise don’t sweat it.
More delicious Christmas treats
- These gingerbread muffins with salted caramel frosting or icing are absolutely delicious, too!
- Make these easy chocolate lollipops to give as gifts!
- These Christmas pudding truffles aren’t fancy to make, but they’re so cute!
- This 30-minute healthy chocolate cake makes a great alternative for people who don’t like Christmas cake. And it’s healthy, believe it or not!
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Melomakarona (Greek Christmas Honey Cookies)
Equipment (affiliate links)
Ingredients (UK/Australia? Click below for grams/ml)
For the cookies
- ¾ cups sugar
- 1 orange zest of
- ¾ cups orange juice (I used the juice of 2 oranges)
- 1 cup olive oil
- 1 cup vegetable oil (I used canola)
- ¼ cups brandy (optional – you can add more orange juice instead if you like, or a different liqueur)
- 6½ cups plain flour Approximately. You may need a little less or more.
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
For the syrup
- 1 cup runny honey
- 1 cup sugar
- 1.5 cups water
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves
- 2 inches lemon rind
- lemon juice a few squeezes
for sprinkling at the end
- ¾ cups walnuts chopped/crushed (or use pistachios, almonds, hazelnuts, macadamias, even peanuts or another nut if you prefer)
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon approximately
To make the cookies
- Preheat the oven to 350F / 180C.
- Zest the orange, then combine the zest with the sugar in a large bowl.
- Pour the oils into the sugar/orange mixture and beat until well combined. Then add the orange juice and brandy and beat again.
- Sift the flour with the baking powder and baking soda, then add to the liquid little by little until a stiff, wet dough forms. You may not need to use all the flour, or you may need a little more.
- Pull off a walnut-sized piece of dough and shape it into a ball / oval in your hands, then place it on a baking sheet. Use a fork to flatten the dough and make a criss-cross pattern on it. Keep shaping and flattening balls of dough until it is all used up.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes until the cookies are lightly browned.
To make the syrup
- While the cookies are in the oven, make the syrup. Combine the honey, sugar, water, cinnamon, lemon peel and cloves in a saucepan, then bring to the boil.
- Simmer uncovered for about 10 minutes until the syrup has thickened slightly.
- Take out the cinnamon, lemon peel and cloves and stir in the lemon juice.
Dipping the cookies in the syrup
- While the cakes are still very warm, float them in the syrup a few at a time, turning them over to make sure they soak up plenty of liquid.
- After about 30 seconds, take the cookies out with a fork or spoon with holes in. Put them on a serving plate.
- Press some walnuts into the top and sprinkle a pinch of cinnamon over them.
- Once you’ve covered your plate, you can pile the others on top of each other if you like – this is how they are usually sold and served in Greece!