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The sweetest Christmas sweet, the one dripping with honey, the most guilt-free sweet made with olive oil, honey and walnuts, may also be the most difficult to make to our liking. Perhaps because the olive oil has to be top quality, the honey aromatic and the walnuts crunchy. Or perhaps because no one can match the mouth-watering melomakarona our grandmother used to make. Their Christmas cousin, the kourabies, is also held to high standards. It must not stick to the roof of the mouth; it should be light and crispy, with just a scent of butter but not so you can taste it; in short, it should be rich in flavour, in aroma and in ingredients.

Two old-fashioned sweets

It is possible that the kourabies, like many other specialities of Greek cuisine, came from Asia Minor along with the Greek refugees who hid their rich cultural heritage in what little baggage they could carry. In many parts of Greece, kourabiedes (plural) or some version of them are served throughout the year, particularly at weddings and christenings. The name is borrowed from the Turkish word kurabiye, which may have come from the Persian word gülābiye; it contains the root words gül and ab, meaning rose and water - rosewater. Still, the internet offers a number of other suggestions for the word’s origins. No matter which explanation you accept, one thing is for certain: the kourabies symbolises the Christmas holidays, with a generous sprinkling of icing sugar and childhood memories.

The word melomakarono, on the other hand, sounds like it would be associated with honey (“meli”) and macaroni, but the latter at least is highly unlikely. The likelier explanation is that it derives from the word “macaron”, a French sweet that is known as “macaroon” in English, and first appears in 16th century cooking references. This word, together with the honey that is characteristic of this pastry, probably came into use much later, in the late 19th century. In many parts of Greece, melomakarona (pl.) are also called foinikia, or chourmades (dates), because they resemble them in shape and sweetness. For some, the word melomakarono comes from the psychopitta made for All Souls’ Day, and the ancient Greek word “makaria”, meaning blessed, a sweet that became a melomakarono after it was dipped in honey. Nevertheless, the French macaron or the Italian maccheroni/macaroni sounds sweeter and more uplifting.

Melomakarona, kourabiedes and plenty of Yule logs on the Athenaeum InterContinental’s Christmas menu

The traditional Greek melomakarona and kourabiedes, chocolate Yule logs, syrup-soaked pastries, sweets with chestnuts, fruit and cream, gourmet or classic - no matter what you most enjoy or how you like it, the Athenaeum InterContinental Athens is preparing a wide selection of sweets and irresistible flavours just for you. Set aside any guilty feelings and enjoy!

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