On a steamy Saturday in early August, the parking lot behind St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church smelled, improbably enough, of butter.
The source? The koupopiethes cookies that were being baked for the 37th Annual Greek Food Festival, which runs Thursday through Sunday on the church grounds at 5300 S. El Camino Road (for details, visit www. lasvegasgreekfestival.com). So many cookies were being baked -- 4,000, in fact -- with such pure, simple ingredients as fresh butter, that the aroma was clearly identifiable as it drifted out of the kitchen and into the hot desert air.
Marina Adamy, chairwoman of the pastry booth along with Maria Shinas, said the koupopiethes were among three types of cookies being baked for the festival (the others being koulourakia and loukoumáthes), and church members were baking 4,000 of each type, to be sold for two for $1 or in $2 assortments. The 35 men, women and children who were baking the cookies were putting in several full days mixing the dough (in a mixer so large that the bowl is moved about on wheels), forming and baking and packing them into large pans to be sealed up and frozen until the big day. Or days.
While they worked, there were the tell-tale signs of a typical volunteer experience, such as boxes of commercially prepared donuts and bagels. Lunch, however, was a fragrant homemade spinach-and-rich dish made by one of the volunteers -- vegetarian, because the church members were in a fasting period.
Maria Shinas, 31, said the hot kitchen seemed like the logical place to be, because the work helps the church. (Funds raised from the festival support church activities and facilities.)
Besides, "I was raised to bust my butt in the kitchen," Shinas said. And then, with a shrug:
"It's Greeks and food."
(Sweet butter cookies)
1 pound butter
2 cups sugar
2 tablespoons baking powder
6 cups flour
2 tablespoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon anise extract
1 egg, beaten (optional)
Sesame seeds (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Cream butter until fluffy and gradually add sugar. Beat in eggs. Continue to beat while sifting flour and baking powder. Add flour mixture gradually. Then add vanilla and anise extract. Refrigerate for about 2 hours.
Roll dough into 6-inch lengths, 1/2 inch in diameter. Fold in half and twist ends, resembling a braid. Brush with beaten egg and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if desired. Bake for about 12 minutes, or until light brown.
8 ounces unsalted butter
2 cups confectioner's sugar
1 egg yolk
1 tablespoon brandy
1/2 cup finely chopped toasted almonds (optional)
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
3 tablespoons confectioner's sugar, sifted
Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
Melt butter until bubbles subside and sediment is golden; do not burn. (This step is nontraditional, but many Greek cooks do it.) Pour clarified butter into mixing bowl, leaving sediment in pan.
When butter has solidified, add 2 cups of icing sugar and beat with electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add egg yolk and brandy and beat well.
Remove bowl from mixer and stir in almonds, if using. Sift flour and baking powder twice and mix lightly into butter mixture.
Break into small pieces the size of a large walnut. Shape into crescents or roll into balls, place on a flat surface and pinch tops twice, making 4 indentations and at the same time flattening them slightly. Insert a clove into the center of each cookie. Place cookies on ungreased baking trays and bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until lightly colored. Leave to cool on trays for 10 minutes.
Sift 3 tablespoons icing sugar over waxed paper and lifting warm cookies onto it; sift more icing sugar on top and sides. When cool, place in a container and sift remaining sugar on top of cookies. Seal and store for two days to improve flavor. When serving, place each in a small paper cupcake container.
1 package active-dry yeast
4 cups warm water (105 to 115 degrees)
5 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 quart salad oil for frying
1 cup honey
2 tablespoons water
1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts (optional)
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in 1/4 cup of the water. Add remaining water.
Stir together flour, baking powder and salt; add to water mixture. Beat 10 minutes; you should have a spongy batter consistency. Cover and let rise in a warm place 2 to 3 hours, or until doubled.
Place a little oil in a cup. Fill deep saucepan three-quarters full of oil; heat to 360 degrees. Take a small handful of batter into left hand, squeeze batter up through your fist, dip a teaspoon into cup with oil and with the teaspoon remove batter that was squeezed from fist and drop in hot oil. (Or, dip teaspoon in cup of oil, and scoop a teaspoonful of batter and drop in oil.) Fry until golden (do not overbrown). Fry 4 to 5 at a time. Drain.
In a small saucepan, heat honey and water. Quickly dip loukoumathes in honey; place on a platter. Sprinkle with cinnamon and walnuts. Serve warm.
(Phyllo pastry with cream filling)
1 1/2 cups fine semolina
1 1/2 cups (generous) sugar
6 cups milk
Grated zest of 1 unwaxed or well-scrubbed lemon
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons butter
1 pound phyllo pastry
Beat the semolina, sugar and eggs until frothy. Transfer the mixture to a pan and add the milk, stirring constantly. Bring to a boil several times and then stir in the grated lemon zest. Leave to cool.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Melt the butter and brush over the individual sheets of pastry. Place half of the pastry on a greased baking sheet, spread the creamy mixture evenly on top and cover with the remaining pastry. Bake for about 20 minutes, until the pastry is golden brown and crispy on top and the filling has set.
Leave the bougatgsa to cool slightly, then sprinkle with confectioner's sugar and cinnamon and cut into slices. Bougatsa is best eaten while still warm.
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or almonds
4 tablespoon breadcrumbs
4 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
10 ounces phyllo pastry
1 cup butter, melted
For the syrup:
1 cup (generous) sugar
7 tablespoons honey
1 cinnamon stick
Juice of 1 lemon
Mix the walnuts or almonds with the breadcrumbs, sugar and cinnamon. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Grease a shallow baking pan large enough to accommodate the sheets of pastry. Brush the pastry sheets with butter and place the first two into the baking pan. Cover the upper layer with nut filling. Lay another buttered sheet on top and cover with filling. Repeat until you have completed eight layers of filling. Add another layer of buttered pastry and cut off any excess pastry from around the edge. Place one final buttered layer on top and cut a diamond-shaped pattern into it. Sprinkle with water and bake in the center of the preheated oven for 30 to 40 minutes, until golden brown.
To make the syrup, boil the sugar in 6 cups of water for 5 minutes. Add the honey, cloves and cinnamon stick and continue to simmer. Remove the cloves and cinnamon stick and stir in the lemon juice. Bring the syrup to a boil, then set aside to cool.
Remove the pastry from the oven and pour the syrup over it. For this stage, either the pastry should have cooled and the syrup be warm, or the pastry should be warm and the syrup cool, so that the baklava does not become too soft.
Cut into diamond shapes and serve.
-- Recipes from St. John the Baptist Greek Orthodox Church
Contact reporter Heidi Knapp Rinella at email@example.com or 702-383-0474.