Mary’s Pantry: Baking Greece’s Christmas culinary traditions in her Adelaide home kitchen

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With Christmas and New Year’s fast approaching, Maria’s home kitchen in Adelaide works like a quirky timer. 

“Let me get the oven going because kourabiedes (shortbread cookies) need their time,” the owner of Mary’s Pantry says before she offers me a coffee with a wide smile.

“The secret for the kourabiedes lies in the butter and I make my own because I could not find one I like,” she explains.

Mary baking up Greece’s Christmas culinary traditions in her Adelaide home kitchen.

A migrant from north-western Athens, Maria started her home food business two years ago with the vision to keep traditional recipes alive, bring to Adelaide original Greek flavours and stay connected to her heritage.

While we chat about her business, she keeps an eye on the traditional Christmas shortbread cookies that are now golden and ready to come out of the oven. Pulling out the tray, she notices that some of the cookies are not perfectly shaped and decides to reshape them with a round cookie cutter.

“I need to make sure they are all the same shape and size,” she says with a smirk, subtly acknowledging her sense of cultural perfectionism and the pride she takes for her products.

During this festive season she makes nearly 3,000 pieces of kourabiedes and they are  only one of the many delicacies she offers. 

“It’s challenging at times because I do everything from prepping, to packaging, taking orders, delivering, invoicing and managing my social media pages -but it’s worth it,” says the business owner.

Her favourite day of the week is Saturday because this is when she delivers her sesame bread rings (koulouria Thessalonikis) to Omega Foods -one of South Australia’s well known Greek family-run businesses.

“I wake up at 4am to bake and by 9:30 I am at Hindmarsh to deliver the koulouria. People -especially the seniors- are waiting for me and even offer to help me unload my car. 

“They taste the koulouria and tell me how the flavour brings back memories from their school days in Greece.”

This sense of community is what keeps Maria going. 

“How can I stop when I know they will be there, waiting?” she says, knowing that retaining the Greek food heritage is important not only to the Greek but the wider South Australian community.

“We often have people over and share meals. They enjoy our filoxenia (hospitality) so much and comment on how we are open to share our food and culture.”

And Maria stays true to her word.

The kourabiedes have now settled. She picks up one by one and dips them gently in icing sugar. Her smile widens only when every cookie is neatly covered and ready to be plated.

She offers me one to taste while she buzzes around trying to create the perfect set up for a photo. Then she prepares a box for me to take home. You see, you can’t leave a Greek household empty handed. 

We talk about more cooking ideas, our common roots, the challenges we have faced as migrants in a new country and why we appreciate living in Australia. Maria tells me that one of her dreams is to one day have her own shop to sell her goods.

How good would this be? Kourabies, Greek coffee served with a smile and a yarn in Adelaide, the Athens of the South, sounds like a great idea to me.

*For recipes, to book catering services, cooking classes or to follow Maria’s culinary adventures follow her social media pages on Mary’s Pantry.

Mary’s Kourabiedes Recipe 

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups European Butter
  • 1/2 cup Icing Sugar + Extra for dusting 
  • 1 cup Toasted Almonds Flakes 
  • 4-5 cups All-purpose Flour 
  • 2 tsp Vanilla Extract 

Directions:

  1. Bring butter to room temperature, soft enough that when you press with your finger you still feel some resistance. 
  2. In a stand mixer with a whisk attachment add your softened butter and 1/2 cup of icing sugar beat on high until fluffy and white around 10 mins. 
  3. Change to a paddle attachment add the vanilla and almonds and stir on low for a few seconds until incorporated. 
  4. Slowly start adding your flour on low depending if your butter and temperature you might need less or more flour. 
  5. Test the dough with your hands, you want it to form a shape not crumbly and sticky. Add flour if needed. 

Fun part:

  • Dust your bench with some flour and place your dough. Take a piece of baking paper and cover your dough. With a rolling pin roll the dough to approx. ½ inch thickness.
  • Take your favourite cookie cutters and dip them in flour every time you cut a cookie. 
  • In a tray add a baking sheet and the cookies leaving some space in between. 
  • Place in the freezer for 30 minutes or fridge for 1 hour. That will help your cookies to retain their shape. 
  • Pre-heat your oven to 160C Fan-forced
  • Bake straight from freezer for 20-25 mins, depending on size. You might need to adjust baking time. 
  • Let them cool down overnight. 
  • Dust your cookies with icing sugar the following day and store in a sealed container for up to 1 month.

*All photos The Greek Herald / Argyro Vourdoumpa.

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