A Greek-American friend of mine told me about Artopolis bakery in Astoria. This bakery is the real deal; there are both savory and sweet pastries of all varities – from spanakopita, to biscuits, to cakes, to tarts. Once I knew of its existence, I found myself going out of my way to stop by Astoria and load up on their treats. I immediately fell in love with a cookie called melamakarona. These honey soaked biscuits were kept in a tray behind glass, which added to the allure. They looked so precious; their golden-brown color, glistening with honey and topped with chopped walnuts. The aroma is fragrant, with hints of clove and cinnamon. The texture of the cookie is baklava-esque, as it’s soft from the honey bath it sits in.
It was love at first bite. And I was intrigued by a sign near the cabinet that stated that the cookie itself was vegan – made with olive oil instead of butter and eggs – making it parve as well. (Side note: although the cookie itself is vegan, it is soaked in a sugar/honey syrup which is, depending on your vegan stance on honey, is traditionally not considered vegan.) I knew this was going to be a cookie that I tinkered with in my kitchen, and so the exploration began.
I whipped out my trusty copy of Vefa’s Kitchen, a Greek cookbook, and looked for a recipe for melomakarona. I was interested to learn that the cookies were a traditional Christmas cookie and that melomakarona literally translates into “honey-dipped cookie”. The recipe in Vefa’s Kitchen was not vegan, so I tinkered and experimented with the recipe, substituting olive oil for butter, and modifying the spices to get the fragrance that drew me in at Artopolis. After a few attempts, I churned out a version that came pretty close to the one I fell in love with. You can read about this experimentation here, on my blog, Sustainable Pantry.
A few weeks ago, when I started planning my Rosh Hashanah menu, these cookies popped back into my head as I was pondering what kind of honey dessert to make. Then it came to me – could I substitute applesauce for some of the olive oil to make apples and honey cookies!? It just might be possible! I returned to the kitchen to tinker. I have been getting apples in my CSA basket for a few weeks. I peeled some and threw them in a pan with a bit of water and a cinnamon stick to make a quick applesauce. Then I looked at the recipe to see how it could be modified again.
The original recipe uses orange as an accent flavor, with orange zest, Cointreau and fresh orange juice in the biscuit recipe. I decided to leave that out and substitute half the olive oil for applesauce. When I was mixing the dough for the biscuit, I felt like it could use a bit more applesauce, since the moisture from the orange juice and liquor was removed, so I added more. The cookie is first baked and then doused in sweet honey syrup, and the second part of the recipe is the same as the original. And although the Rosh Hashanah cookie’s texture is different than the one from Artopolis and my original modified version, it is still pleasant, if a bit more rustic. Since I decided to mash the applesauce by hand, there are a few small bits of apple in the cookies, which I think that adds to the apple-ness of the final product, and underscores the Rosh Hashanah theme.
I can’t wait to serve these to my family and tell them about the provenance of the humble cookie that they are enjoying. From a Greek Christmas biscuit via an Astoria bakery to a Rosh Hashanah Apples-and-Honey cookie in Forest Hills, Queens…A true melting pot recipe indeed!
Wishing you all a sweet, healthy and happy new year!
Apples and Honey Cookies Modified loosely from Vefa’s Kitchen
Makes 24 cookies
For the biscuit:
• 2 cups all purpose flour
• ¼ teaspoon baking soda
• ¼ teaspoon baking powder
• ¼ teaspoon cloves
• ½ - 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• ¾ cup applesauce (homemade or bought)
• ¼ cup olive oil
• ¼ cup sugar
For the syrup:
• ½ cup honey
• ½ cup sugar
• ½ cup water
For the topping:
• ½ cup chopped walnuts
• ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
• Pinch of ground cloves
1) Preheat oven to 350F
2) Sift together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, cloves and cinnamon and make a well in the center
3) Blend the oil, sugar, and applesauce with a food processor or an immersion blender
4) Pour the blended wet ingredients into the well, and slowly incorporate into the dry, without over-blending, with a wooden spoon
5) Make 1T round balls and place a few inches apart on a parchment-lined baking sheet.
6) Bake cookies for about 30 minutes until golden brown, but start checking at 25 minutes, as they tend to get dark very quickly. Turn off the oven and keep cookies inside for 10 more minutes. (This is a step that wasn’t necessary with the original cookies, but with the applesauce, they didn’t firm up as well as the original – take out when they are firm, but not browned.)
7) Meanwhile, make syrup: Mix honey, sugar and water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil and stir until sugar is dissolved, skimming any white foam that appears. Turn off heat.
8) Mix the topping ingredients together.
9) Transfer baked biscuits to a pyrex or other baking dish immediately when you take them out of the oven, and pour over the syrup. You may notice the syrup coming up the sides of the biscuits – this is OK, they will soak all the syrup up eventually. Top with walnuts. Cover with wrap and store at room temperature for 3-5 days. These cookies are better after one day of resting in the honey-bath.
Alexa Weitzman is an acupuncturist in Queens and Long Island, NY, and writes a food blog, sustainablepantry.com, highlighting local, seasonal food. She is obsessed with educating people on traditional diets and their healing powers.