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Baking For St. Mark’s Greek Fest – Holy ‘Rollers’ Gather for Cookiebaking

January 17th, 2011 · 4 Comments

St. Mark's Philoptohos Women roll koulouria

Last week, the ladies of St. Mark’s Greek Orthodox Church in Boca Raton were rolling around and laughing – but on tables, not floors, and their work was productive, and resulted in a tasty end.

The Philaptohos women who serve St. Mark’s have been working for weeks to organize and bake cookies for their booth at the 29th annual Greek Festival, one of the largest in South Florida, scheduled Jan. 20-23 at the church.

Production work made easy

Maria Pokrajac and Marina Nicolaides mix dough

Making doughs, measuring and weighing, rolling and shaping, baking and finishing – all are jobs that are assigned to different women who participate in the fest each year with enthusiasm.

Val Petroff, organizer

“Everybody knows what their job is,” said Val Petroff, the organizer and scheduler who keeps everything and everyone moving. “They’ve been doing this for years.”

Kitchen crews mix the dough and send it out to the women in the other room, who measure out pieces, roll it out, line it up on baking sheets to send back to the kitchen for the baking. Two ovens are at work.

A few thousand of three types of cookies will be the result – sold for $1 each or $8 a dozen at the fest.

Techniques are centuries old

This day, the ladies were mixing and rolling out koulouria, a pretzel-looking cookie perfect with coffee. “You knead it a while to soften the dough, like this,” Florence Pavel demonstrated the technique. “You don’t want any cracks.”

Nobody makes these with a machine – this is the way these cookies have been made for centuries in households throughout Greece. A favorite of the holidays, they also appear for any festivities.

Weighing and kneading dough

Pam Parent is in charge of the ladies who shape the cookies. “We’ve been at this for weeks now,” she said. “These women are a wonderful team.”

Sophia Arbes, one of the oven workers, said they’ll make about 600 cookies today. “Yesterday we made 1500 kourabeides.”

“It’s a lot of ‘Opa!'” said Maria Pokrajac. “We laugh a lot.”

The dough is first pinched out and weighed so all are approximately the same size cookie.

Shaping the logs

Next, the balls are distributed around the table to the rollers, who first knead it, then shape it into a 4-inch log. The women struggle with the plastic gloves that want to stick to the dough, but everyone dons them.

Dora Daskalopoulos transports trays to the kitchen

The dough is twisted like an open ended long pretzel and set onto the trays. Some of the women can churn out more than one a minute. With 30 women working, the dough is quickly made up and ready to go.

In the kitchen, Helen Konopiots shuffles trays from the oven to the racks where they cool, and gets ready for Dora Daskalopoulos to bring others ready for baking. One from each batch is tested for texture – and it’s determined whether they need more flour, butter or are fine as is.

Cookies all a variety of one dough

Golden koulouria warm from the oven

The koulouria, a buttery plain cookie, is given an egg wash and half of them get sesame seeds later. “They have to cool completely first, so we do that later,” Helen says.

Finikia checked for texture hot out of the oven

A cousin to this cookie is the oval-shaped finikia. These are similar, but the dough is flavored with cinnamon and cloves, and shaped into fingers. These will be completely cooled before being dipped into a spicy-honey mixture and sprinkled with finely chopped walnuts. Dozens of these sit on racks, ready to be glazed.

The kourbeides resemble a Mexican wedding cookie – balls of the same type of buttery dough coated in powdered sugar.

Cookies benefit the needy

The women’s group sells the cookies at the festival and the profits come back to them for helping in their community charity work.

“It’s a lot of work, but we love doing it,” said Debbie Fread, president of the women’s group.

The ladies make a day of it, gathering to bake and roll, then having lunch together before going their separate ways. Many have done this for years at St. Mark’s and other churches from their native cities.

Dora Daskalapolous was the chairwoman for her festival in Boise, Idaho, for years before coming to St. Mark’s 14 years ago to follow a married daughter to Florida.

Suzette Johnson with her mother, Florence Pavel

Florence Pavel and her daughter Suzette Johnson make the project a family affair. “Everybody pitches in for the good of the church,” Pavel said. “It’s like a miracle that everything gets done, but God takes care of us. He makes miracles happen.”

St. Mark’s Greek Festival, “Passport to Greece”

Where: St. Mark’s Greek Orthodox Church, 2100 N.E. 51st. St. (Yamato Road), Boca Raton

When: Jan. 20-23; Thursday, 4-9 p.m.; Friday-Saturday, 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Sunday, noon-9 p.m.

What: Traditional Greek dancers perform, church tours with culture lectures, food booths, activities for kids, merchandise sold.

Tickets: $5, adults; children under 12 free; food sold separately.

Information: Church phone 561-994-4722; online, www.saintmarkboca.net/festival/ – a discount coupon is available on site.

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4 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Betty and Jim Veras // Jan 19, 2011 at 2:38 pm

    One of Boca Raton’s yearly great community affairs supported by dedicated volunteers and generous contributors. The atmosphere is joyful; the participants excited ; the food superb and reasonable. Come and celebrate with your family, young and old. Come see our beautiful church and share an uplifting tour. See you over the weekend.
    Betty and Jim

  • 2 Pam Parent // Jan 25, 2011 at 12:42 pm

    Thanks for a wonderful article. You highlighted the best of our efforts, and spotlighted some very wonderful women.

  • 3 Jan Norris // Jan 25, 2011 at 12:44 pm

    I had a ball with the gals who worked that day. Hope to make this an annual event!

  • 4 teddy Pantos // Feb 28, 2012 at 11:38 am

    727 479 4721

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