Paximathakia Portokaliou! Paximathakia Portokaliou! I've been shrieking that in my head for the past week or so, imagining myself as a Greek maiden hawking cookies by the seashore, sun beating down on my brow, cookies crumbling in their little basket. Paximathakia Portokaliou! I mean, did you ever hear a sweeter cookie name? Biscotti, snooze. Cookies, yawn. Paximathakia Portokaliou! Cookies with a name like that must have character.
And character they have, especially when you consider that the dough for them is kneaded by hand on a counter, like for bread dough. The process of making these cookies was such a delight. I might have mentioned I no longer have any electrical appliances in my kitchen anymore (well, besides a toaster but that joined my household once I got to Berlin). My food processor and my hand beaters and my immersion blender - I left them all behind in New York. So making cookies by the creaming method or the food processor is a thing of the past, at least until I buckle and buy a set of German beaters.
The other day, I had friends coming over for tea and discovered I had only three crumbling cookies in a limp little plastic wrapper to offer. Paximathakia Portokaliou! (is it okay if I just make the exclamation mark part of the cookie name? I think it fits) would require everything I had in the house already and seemed like the perfect tea sweet.
You dissolve baking soda in orange juice, then mix into that froth some cinnamon (just barely a hint of it), olive oil, lemon peel and juice and some toasted sesame seeds. I'd actually just been given a sack of lemons from a friend's backyard - in Greece - and the olive oil I used was from my mother's olive harvest last year and that, I would say, already made me feel like I was living some kind of agricultural utopian dream. If only I'd ground the flour myself!
Into the wet mixture went flour, sugar and baking powder. The dough was turned out onto the counter and within minutes, not the ten required by the original recipe, had come together into a smooth, elastic ball of dough, fragrant with citrus and spice and faintly nubby to the touch from the sesame seeds.
The rest of the process is pretty simple, too. Logs are formed and sliced. Logs are par-baked then cooled. Cookies are sliced and dried out in a warm oven until crispy. Their fragrance is wonderful, as you can imagine, and eating them is lovely, too. They crunch in just the right places and are barely sweet at all. In fact, even better than at tea time, says my mother, the cookies go just right with coffee for breakfast. Did you know Italians eat cookies for breakfast? They really know how to live, huh.
You'll have to take her word for it, dear readers, because after I made that batch of Paximathakia Portokaliou, I ate half of one to tell you about them, and then - uh - watched them all disappear. Quite literally. Poof! Paximathakia Portokaliou!, despite your imposing name, you were gone before I knew you.
Makes about 4 to 5 dozen
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons pulp-free orange juice
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 1/2 tablespoons grated lemon peel
1/4 cup lukewarm water
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
3 1/2 cups (14.88 ounces) flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1. Heat the oven to 400 degrees. Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer, or in a large mixing bowl, dissolve the baking soda in the orange juice.
3. To the orange juice, add the olive oil, lemon juice, lemon peel, water, cinnamon and sesame seeds. Beat with the whisk attachment or using a hand mixer at medium speed until thoroughly combined, 3 to 5 minutes.
4. In another bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar and baking powder.
5. Add the dry ingredients to the liquid in the mixing bowl slowly, using a dough hook or a wooden spoon. Then knead with your hands in the bowl until the dough holds together. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead until the dough is smooth and soft, about 5 minutes, adding more flour as needed.
6. Divide the dough in half and knead again until it is dense and holds together lightly. Form each half into a loaf about 14 inches in length and one-half to three-fourths inch high and place on the cookie sheet. Using a floured knife, partially cut the dough into one-half inch slices (slice almost to the bottom but not all the way through each slice). Repeat with the remaining half of dough, forming a second log and leaving a few inches between each as the loaves will expand as they bake.
7. Bake the loaves until the bottom of each loaf is golden and the tops are just starting to brown, about 15 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and lower the oven temperature to 200 degrees. When the dough is cool enough to handle, cut the slices all the way through. Place them upright on the cookie sheet, leaving a little space between each cookie. Return to the oven and bake until very dry, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
8. Cool completely before storing in airtight containers or in the freezer.