Almond Shortbread cookies (Kourambiethes)

Every family has Christmas traditions.  Some are cultural, some have been around so long we think they are cultural, some were bred out of circumstance, and some are so new we don’t even realize they are traditions until they are gone.

For the past several years, I would take Christmas Eve off work and drive up to my grandmother’s house to help her with her Christmas baking.  The baking was inevitably complete by the time I arrived.  I was convinced that she woke up extra early that morning so that she could finish before I got there, keeping her recipes secret from me for another year.  Kourambiethes have been my favourite treat since childhood: the ritual of dusting off the excess icing sugar, that first bite of buttery goodness melting in my mouth, the crunch of the first toasted almond. I rarely stopped at just one.  Maybe because they were my favourite and maybe because she needed to feel needed, kourambiethes were the one cookie we never baked together.

This Christmas was my first Christmas without my grandmother, and the first Christmas that I realized my drive to her house on Christmas Eve morning was a tradition that I will miss.  I decided to start my own tradition, and woke up early on the morning of December 23rd (though not quite as early as she would have woken up), sorted through her recipe box until I found a card for “kourambiethes” in her distinctive cursive, and got to work.  Like all her recipes, it was little more than a list of ingredients, but all those years in the kitchen with her paid off.  I had been her helper long enough to know that the eggs went with the butter, the liquor was the last liquid to be added, and icing sugar could be re-sifted.  So I set to work, combined ingredients in a way that made sense to me, and hoped for the best.  What came out of the oven a little over than an hour later was better than I could have imagined.  With the first bite, I was transported back to my grandmother’s kitchen, icing sugar falling on my sweater as I bit into a still-warm cookie, recognizing the taste as “yiayia’s recipe”.  Her secret was safe with me.

Prep time: 30 + 10 minutes, cooking time: 20 minutes, makes ~60 cookies


1 lb butter

2 egg yolks

2 cups + 2 tbsp icing sugar

2 tsp baking powder

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 cup amaretto or similar liqueur

1 cup slivered almonds, toasted

4 cups flour

  1. In a large bowl, combine butter and egg yolks
  2. Add vanilla extract and liqueur
  3. In a separate large bowl, combine 2 tbsp icing sugar, baking powder and flour
  4. Slowly scoop dry ingredients into bowl with wet ingredients, continuing to mix
  5. Add slivered almonds and mix
  6. Grease 2 large baking sheets
  7. Scoop dough into roughly 1″ balls, and create an S-shape or flattened balls
  8. Bake for 20 minutes at 360F, or until cookies begin to brown
  9. Remove from oven and transfer to wax paper
  10. While cookies are still warm, dust evenly with remaining icing sugar, making sure that cookies are fully covered
  11. Let cool, and remove excess icing sugar

Keep for up to 1 month in the fridge

The source material

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s