Koulouraki is a type of Greek pastry that is light, only slightly sweet and usually served around the Easter holidays. The main ingredients are butter, eggs, sugar and flour, though flavorings such as cloves, Ouzo, nutmeg or vanilla are sometimes added. The shape of koulourakia distinguishes them from similar sweet pastries, because the dough is often twisted, braided or coiled. The surface of the pastry is treated with egg wash to help it brown and sprinkles of sesame seeds. The pastries are often eaten with tea or coffee or served as a snack during the course of the day.
The basic, traditional koulouraki dough begins with butter and sugar that are mixed together until they have formed a smooth mixture, a process called creaming the butter. Eggs are incorporated completely into the mixture. If additional liquid ingredients such vanilla, Ouzo or cream are being used, then they also are added to the wet mixture.
The dry ingredients for koulourakia are sifted together. This is usually flour, baking soda and a small amount of salt. The dry ingredients are added to the wet ingredients and the entire mixture is stirred until the dough becomes thick but not overly sticky to the touch. At this point, any flavorings — such as mahlep, which is made from cherry pits, or slivered almonds — can be added.
There are a number of ways for koulourakia to be rolled out. The most common way is to form a single rope-like length of dough, join the two ends together and twist it once or twice until the dough is pressing gently against itself. Another way is to take a single length of the dough and form it into a spiral shape. Other shapes for koulourakia include braids made from two or three separate pieces of dough, letters of the Greek alphabet and even the shape of a hand.
The shaped dough is coated in an egg wash before it is placed in an oven to bake. The wash, consisting of just eggs and water, is brushed over the surface of the uncooked dough. While baking, the egg wash will help to create a browned, glossy surface on the pastry. If sesame seeds are being sprinkled over the top of the koulourakia before they are baked, then the egg wash also helps to keep the seeds in place as the dough rises in the oven. Once ready, koulourakia are placed in an oven and baked until they have puffed slightly and browned on the surface, after which they can either be served immediately or stored in an airtight container for later use.