Spiced honeyed Christmas biscuits (melomakarona) and a melomakarona base, orange flavoured cheesecake
Melomakarona and kourabie are the two sweet treats, that more than any other, define Christmas in Greece.
Here some of the melomakarona dough is used to make a base for a small cheesecake serving 4-6 persons. The rest of the dough still makes 12-15 melomakarona to enjoy with your coffee. Both the cheesecake and the melomakarona themselves are perfectly suited to the spice and sweet dried fruit notes of the Santorini vinsanto wine by Tsantali.
As we need to dip the melomakarona hot as they come out of the oven into the cold syrup, we always start by making the spiced syrup first.
For the spiced syrup:
1 cinnamon stick
1 strip of orange peel
For the melomakarona dough:
250g plain flour
50g fine semolina
100ml rapeseed or sunflower oil
50ml extra virgin olive oil
10g caster sugar
1 orange, zest and juice
½ tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cinnamon
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda
For the cheesecake mix
200ml double cream
50g cream cheese
100g Greek yogurt
50g caster sugar
2 gelatine leaves
½ orange, juice and zest
2 tbsp orange flavoured liqueur
1 tsp vanilla extract
100g walnuts, finely crushed
A few pieces of candied orange, quick caramelised or even fresh orange segments and/or edible flowers (optional)
Put all the syrup ingredients, apart from the honey, in a small saucepan and bring to a medium heat. Stir till the sugar is melted and increase the heat to boiling point. Leave 1 minute on the heat and remove. Stir in the honey and leave to cool. Discard the spices and orange peel.
Preheat the oven to 200 0 C.
In a bowl, sieve the plain flour, semolina, sugar and spices. Make a well in the middle and add the olive oil, vegetable oil and orange zest. In a glass, dissolve the soda into the orange juice and add to the bowl too. Mix the dough thoroughly but don’t overwork. Take enough dough to spread onto the base of a lightly greased spring form cake tin, measuring 16-18 cm. Increase the height of the tin, by using some baking paper to make a collar to line the perimeter of the tin on the inside.
Use the remaining dough to make equal weight balls (I like mine no more than 20g heavy), press slightly or make pretty designs using the back of a spider ladle or a fork and place on a baking tin lined with some baking paper or a silicone mat. Bake everything for 20 – 25 minutes till they are a deep golden colour.
Spoon 4-5 tbsp of the syrup to flavour the cake base. Use the rest to dip in all the melomakarona. The melomakarona will store in an airtight container for a week.
To make the cheesecake, soak the gelatine leaves in some cold water.
In a bowl whisk the yogurt, cream cheese and orange flavoured liqueur. In another clean bowl, whisk the double cream with the caster sugar and vanilla extract to a soft peak stage. Fold the whisked cream into the cheese/yogurt mix and add the orange zest.
Put the orange juice in a small saucepan and heat the orange juice. Add the gelatine and whisk to melt. Add the gelatine to the cheesecake mix and spoon on top of the melomakarona base. Leave the cheesecake in the fridge till needed. When you are ready to serve the cheesecake, sprinkle with the crushed walnuts and drizzle with a little honey. Candied or even fresh citrus segments compliment this beautifully.
For the festive table, Irini recommends to accompany this dish with a bottle of the excellent Vinsanto sweet orange-red wine produced by SantoWines in Santorini.
Find more of Irini's recipes on her website or in her book.