Christmas is celebrated in many different ways depending on where you are. Traditions vary, as do food and types of celebrations. Greek tradition wants sweetness to be spread at Christmas time! Every Greek home, over the Christmas season, smells of cinnamon, clove, honey, rosewater, and orange as Greeks bake their Christmas sweets.
In Crete, Christmas means crispy, crunchy, syrupy, “ξεροτήγανα-Xerotigana” literally meaning ‘dry fries’, sprinkled with walnuts, sesame seeds, and cinnamon. One of the most popular sweets on the island which we create not only at Christmas but at many other important moments in life, such as weddings, engagements, baptisms, etc
The dough needs simple ingredients, but the art is in “folding the strips” and there are many “techniques” and even more shapes, some easier and others more difficult that require skill and experience.
Read the recipe below and try it out!
- 600 gr (+ a bit extra) plain flour (4 cups)
- 1 lemon juice
- ½ kg salt
- 120 ml olive oil
- 60 ml raki or lukewarm water
- 160 ml of lukewarm water
- crushed walnuts for garnish
- sesame for garnish (optional)
- cinnamon for garnish (optional)
For the syrup:
- 350 g sugar
- 6 whole cloves
- 480 ml of water
- 120 ml of honey (preferably thyme honey)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- In a large bowl pour the olive oil, water, raki, lemon juice, salt, and stir.
- Then start gradually adding the flour, kneading with your hands, until it becomes a hard dough (and does not stick to the hands).
- After that, cover it with a kitchen towel and let it rest for 30 minutes.
- Next, take the dough and “feed” it through a pasta machine, starting at the widest setting and reducing settings notch by notch down to the fourth setting, flouring and folding as you go, to form a 60cm x 12cm sheet. Cut each sheet lengthways into 4cm-wide strips with a serrated pastry wheel and set aside in a single layer on a lightly floured tray.
- Cover them well with towels so that they do not dry out. (It is better to make them in portions and not all together, for example, make 15 and fry them, then make the remaining 15, and fry them until they are all fried so that the dough does not dry because it becomes very “fragile”
- Working with one pastry strip at a time, loosely loop around your index and middle fingers, then loop again around three fingers then once again around four fingers to form a loose spiral. Press it together at the end to seal, and set aside.
- Next, you need to fry them. You will need a deep pot with olive oil that has been heated well but without burning the oil.
- After wrapping all the dough around a fork, carefully lower it towards the oil by turning it horizontally, and immediately put it in the hot oil. With the help of another fork, hold the dough in a horizontal position and let it fry for a minute. You do not want it to get colored.
- Take it out and place it on absorbent paper, repeat with the remaining spirals, and set aside to cool.
- There are many techniques in turning the dough to create the flower, varying in difficulty. It takes a little practice to do this. In the past, they had a cane cut on the edge and there they fixed the dough and fried it. In addition to a flower, we can give the shape of a bow which is easier (cut the strip of dough about 20 cm long and create the bow by putting a little water on the joints so that the dough sticks).
- After having fried them all and they have them cooled down (they cool quickly) make the syrup.
- Put the sugar, water, cloves, and cinnamon in a saucepan and let them boil for 5 minutes.
- Remove the cinnamon sticks, add the honey, remove the foam that may form on the surface, lower the heat to keep the syrup warm, and start dipping the dried spirals in it.
- Leave them for half a minute and take them out and place them on a baking sheet. As they are hot with the syrup, have the nuts and the roasted sesame ready, and sprinkle them on top. If you want, you can garnish with a little cinnamon too.
The best way to enjoy them is with a shot of cold Tsikoudia*
*Tsikoudia, also often called raki in the eastern part of Crete, is an alcoholic beverage, a fragrant, grape-based pomace brandy of Cretan origin that contains 40% to 65% alcohol by volume. Tsikoudia is made by distilling of pomace, what remains of grapes pressed in winemaking. The pomace ferments for about six weeks in a tightly-sealed barrel and is then distilled.