“Finikia,” Panay Lignos Burland and Carrie Catsulis Gautreau replied when asked for the Greek name of Honey Dipped Cookies.
“No, no,” insisted Elpis Polyzopoulos, “they are Melomakarona.” Polyzopoulos, who moved to Baton Rouge nine years ago from Athens, Greece, garnishes her Honey Dipped Cookies with a mixture of finely chopped walnuts, cinnamon and clove. Burland and Gautreau don’t use clove. They do include orange peel in the syrup; Polyzopoulos does not.
The three women, along with Mary Michalos Webb; Jennifer Rood, whose mother-in-law is Greek; and Maria Pentas, a native of Cyprus, had gathered at Burland’s Baton Rouge home to prepare cookies and pastries for the inaugural Baton Rouge Greek Festival, which will be from noon to 10 p.m. Saturday at Town Square in downtown Baton Rouge. The event will benefit local charities and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church’s building fund.
How to flavor Kourambiethes (Greek Wedding Cookies) also brought debate. “Everyone makes things differently,” noted Bourland.
Webb, a distant cousin of Burland, and Gautreau, a New Orleans native whose parents were from Greece, prefer almond extract in their Kourambiethes.
However, brandy, orange liqueur, anisette or vanilla extract can be used, and Polyzopoulos thought a bit of brandy was needed in the cookie dough Webb had made. She added Metaxa, a Greek brandy, before the women began forming the dough into crescent, round and oval shapes. Once the cookies came out of the oven, they were liberally coated with confectioners’ sugar.
While they are called wedding cookies, the popular Kourambiethes appear at any special event, such as Christmas or baptisms, Polyzopoulos said.
Pentas arrived with a pan of baklava. She likes to use lots of different kinds of nuts in her sweet dessert, made with butter-drenched phyllo dough brushed with butter and soaked with a honey-citrus syrup. Pentas uses chopped walnuts, pecans and almonds.
Gautreau, who learned to make baklava from her mother, said, “It takes a while to make. There’s a little process to it. You’ve got to melt the unsalted butter ahead of time” to make clear or clarified butter.
The women are all members of Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church, which they said has a congregation of about 35 to 40 families of not only Greek, but also Romanian, Bulgarian, Lebanese, Russian and Italian ancestry. “Anyone who is Orthodox or a convert,” someone said.
Burland’s husband, Jimmy, is chairman of the nonprofit Baton Rouge Greek Festival Inc. “Guests will dine on exceptional Greek food, cooked by hard-working members of the Holy Trinity parish, using authentic Greek recipes,” he said.
Besides cookies and pastries, the festival will feature other Greek delicacies for sale, such as lamb and beef gyros; chicken pita sandwiches; grilled and marinated pork and chicken souvlaki (shish kebabs); grilled lamb burgers; Greek salad and Greek fries; assorted breads; baklava ice cream sundaes; and Greek wines by the glass. Hot dogs, chicken tenders and popcorn will be sold in the children’s area, which will feature rides and games.
There also will be a Greek market where bulk spices, cheeses, breads and canned items will be available.
Among the day’s events will be performances by Alpha Omega, a Greek band from Atlanta, and visitors will have an opportunity to learn traditional and modern Greek dancers.
Jimmy Bourland, whose family name was Americanized from Varloumas when his grandfather arrived at Ellis Island, said Saturday’s festival also will benefit the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul of Baton Rouge and other local charities.