Pinching and rolling, as the sweet aroma emanated from the oven, I thought of my childhood, my Yia Yia, and the trail of powdered sugar that has followed me all of my days – and well into Monday night as I baked kourambethes.
Kourambethes are the delectable Greek powdered sugar butter cookies.
As I formed the dough, trying to keep the balls uniform in size, my earliest memories drifted in like the sweet powdered sugar of my childhood home. Many-a-morning, I would slowly awaken to the distant whir of a motor. Opening my eyes, I would find our bedroom door closed and I would know by the sound that the “mixmaster” was spinning and kourambedes would soon be baked.
My grandmother, Yia Yia, insisted that the “sweet butter” and confectioner’s sugar be beaten for an hour. I’m sure it heralds back to the time before electric mixers were common appliances and the women took turns hand turning the dough. I know it isn’t really necessary these days, with the power of a KithenAid, but, I beat the butter for an hour just the same.
Yia Yia once sent me to the neighborhood corner store, Fred and Ed’s, for sweet butter, which I could not find. Returning, empty-handed, she sent me back. I returned, near tears, Fred telling me he had no such butter. Aunt Christina saw me from her kitchen window; going to the store, leaving the store, crossing the street, and taking the sidewalk that connected our two houses to our back doors. Back and forth she watched me obediently pass. Her house was the corner house with a clear view to Fred and Ed’s opposite her house. She finally stopped me and asked what I was doing. “Yia Yia wants sweet butter, they don’t have any, but, she keeps sending me back”. My aunt explained that sweet butter was another name for unsalted butter. She told me the color of the box I needed to find, then waited for me to once again enter the corner store – and finally finding the sweet butter!
So . . . back to my baking, pinching and rolling my memories. My handed down recipe for kourambethes calls for a saucer of powdered sugar and 5 or 6 cups of “Swandsdown” cake flour, sifted three times. The only way I can tell if the mixture is ready to bake is to taste a pinched piece. Yia Yia always pinched off a small bit of dough for us to taste as children, and that is my true measure, to this day. Once the dough past the taste-test, the baking began. The scents and flavors of my life wafted from my childhood to that of my daughters, one of whom asked me if I would make kourambethes again. . .
. . . and so, I did. With sweet butter.
Were you ever sent on an errand for an illusive ingredient?