Sifnos & her almond sweets

Of all the islands we visited while we were living in the southwestern Cycladic archipelago, Sifnos was probably the one that surprised us the most.  We had heard good things, but having been in and out of the unimpressive port town many times on the way to and from ‘our’ island, we weren’t really sold on it.  We gave it a great chance to impress us by visiting at the height of spring flowers.  It stole our hearts, so much that we gave it the very high accolade of “we’d be willing to live here.”   Today’s recipe is a wonderful traditional sweet from the island, but before we get to that, we have to get in the proper mood first!

The beach of Vathy (“deep”).  When we were there, it was a glorious day – too cold to swim, but not too cold to enjoy the beach.

A small country house with olive trees near Vathy.  Unlike some of the other islands nearby, Sifnos is able to support an impressive amount of olive cultivation.

Above:  a dovecote in the midground, below the town, alongside some beehives, among the olives, and between several ancient stone terraces.  <- A sentence with a lot of prepositions.

Sheep in a field in the town of Exambela.

Another dovecote – the island is pretty well stocked with them.  I thought that these were a specialty of the island of Tinos (where I’ve never been) but was pleased to see that Sifnos is full of them as well.

The monastery of Panagia Chryssopigi between Apokofto and Saoures beaches.

Sifnos is ideal for walking… there are dozens of beautiful walking trails like the one from which I took this photo.

This ‘pond’ formed from rain water or melted snow at the top of a mountain where we were walking.

So… are you hungry yet?

Sifnos is famous for sweets made with almond paste, called amydalota.  The word means ‘almond’ as an adjective, as in ‘almond-shaped’ or ‘made of almonds.’  There are many Greek sweets made of almonds that carry this same name, and this particular version can be found on other islands besides Sifnos, but that’s where we had them and I think Sifnos is most famous for them.

When we tried these in Sifnos, we absolutely loved them:  they are not particularly sweet, except for the sugar coating, and they have a rib-sticking gummy mealy graininess to them that sounds awful but is just perfect.  I have been looking for a recipe pretty much since we left.  The recipe I ended up with after a little adjusting is not at all time-consuming, and the results are very close to what I remember eating in Sifnos.  S agreed with me that these were just as good as the ones we got at the traditional Siphnian pastry shop!

These are traditionally given out at weddings, and the website where I found the recipe (which I adjusted somewhat) says that they preceded the now-customary ‘boubouniera’ or tulle-wrapped Jordan almonds; and are still handed out at Siphnian weddings today.  You definitely don’t need a wedding to have an excuse to make these – but I made them for our wedding anniversary.  Not only are they wedding-related, but we spent our first wedding anniversary in Sifnos.  So these were a particularly ‘sweet’ treat for us!

Although many recipes say to coat them in confectioner’s sugar, this is not how they’re made in Sifnos.  Instead, they are coated in superfine sugar.  If you have superfine sugar, use it; otherwise, process regular sugar in your food processor.  If you do this first, you never have to wash your food processor bowl.  Set the sugar aside.

If you don’t have almond flour, process almonds in the food processor until they are the same grind as the almond flour.  If your almonds still have the papery peel on them, don’t remove it – they are even better this way.  You don’t want to use roasted almonds, though.

Either way, put the almond flour in the food processor.  Add the semolina and part of the sugar.  Process.  (Because my food processor is so small, I did this in two batches.)

Add the egg whites and vanilla, process again.  (I saved some of the processed dry ingredients, and put them over the top of the egg white and vanilla, so it was layered; I think this makes it easier to incorporate.  My food processor isn’t that great, though.)

Add in 1 tbsp of orange-flower water, and process.  Add another 1 tbsp orange-flower water, and process again.  At this point, it should be a thick, moist, and workable dough.

Remove it to a bowl.  If you do this in two batches, remember to put 1 egg white, half the vanilla, and 1 tbsp orange-flower water in each batch, and then combine in a bowl.

Spray or wet your hands with orange-flower water.  Form the dough into cones, about 1.5″ long, with a small depression at the thick end.

The usual word to describe this shape in Greek means ‘little pears,’ but as I was making them, I thought they looked like noses 😛  S came in while I was making them and said they were pyramids.  They can be whatever you like 😉

Place them on a wax paper-lined baking sheet.  Bake.

I baked mine 12 minutes, but really 8 minutes is enough.  Mine got a little brown on the tip and the bottom, which is not really ideal.  I guess I should have paid more attention….

If you live in this part of the world, you can probably get orange-flower water in either a regular bottle or a spray bottle – I have both and I think that if you use orange-flower water often (as I do), it’s nice to have both on hand.  If you can’t get it in a spray bottle, you’ll need a clean spray bottle to put your orange-flower water in so you can do the next step!

When they’re baked and cooled, spray them well with orange-flower water.   Roll each cone in the sugar to coat it well.   (I have a few of them sitting upside down in the bowl because I ran out of space – but within a few minutes, I didn’t have that problem anymore, if you know what I mean….)

Siphnian amydalota
makes 15-20 pieces
traditional recipe, adjusted from here

400g almond flour (or almond kernels, with or without peel, processed fully in food processor – not roasted)
100g fine semolina
200g white granulated sugar, divided
1 tsp vanilla extract
2 small egg whites (or 1 large egg white)
1/4 cup orange-flower water

1.  Preheat oven to 180 C / 350 F.  In a food processor, process 120g of the sugar to create superfine sugar (heavier than confectioner’s sugar).  Remove and set aside.  In a large food processor, combine almond flour, semolina, and 80g sugar.  Process.  Add egg whites and vanilla.  Process.  (If using a small food processor, put half the dry ingredients in, process, transfer to a bowl; process the other half of the dry ingredients, transfer to the same bowl; mix together well.  Put half the dry ingredients back in the processor with half the vanilla and one egg white; process with 1 tbsp orange flower water.  Transfer to a clean bowl.  Repeat with the other half.  Transfer to the same bowl.)

2.   With your hands sprayed / wetted with orange-flower water, form the dough into 1.5″ long cones with a depression at the wide end.  Set them upright on a wax-paper lined baking sheet.  If the dough starts to break apart, re-wet your hands with orange-flower water.

3.  Bake for 8 minutes.  Allow to cool so that they can be handled.

4.  Spray the cones with orange-flower water and roll in the previously processed sugar.

5.  Store in an airtight plastic container.  They will keep several weeks.  Serve at room temperature.

Nutritional Information
per piece, assuming the recipe makes 16 pieces

217 calories
13g fat (1g saturated, 12g unsaturated)
22g carbohydrate
6g protein
3g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol
4mg sodium (0% DV)
197mg potassium (6% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
phosphorus, selenium, magnesium, vitamin E, riboflavin, manganese, and copper.

You might also like:
Anise-almond biscotti with orange glaze
Almond flake cereal
Dark chocolate mousse


spicy Siphnian revithada

The island of Sifnos is famous for a few things:  the Siphnian Treasury, one of the most famous buildings at the site of Delphi; nice ceramics; and baked chickpeas.

S and I visited Sifnos last spring, when we were living on a nearby island.  We were swept off our feet by the island – the beautiful mountain trails, the seemingly infinite wildflowers, the ancient towers sprinkled all over the island, and of course the lovely villages like Kastro above, where we wandered for hours.

Food-wise, we were on a budget of close to nothing, so we mostly picnicked our way across the island, but we did try the famous Siphnian revithada, or baked chickpeas.  The story with these chickpeas is that they are baked in brick ovens for forty-eight hours.  The baking dish is specific to Sifnos, and is called a tsoukali.

Click for source

One look at it, and I knew it wouldn’t fit in my little oven.  However, I knew I wanted a ceramic cooking pot, and Sifnos is the best place to get one for a great price, so I bought a lower, flatter one instead.

Isn’t it lovely?  And it fits in the oven!

The famous Siphnian chickpea dish is indeed delicious, but I can’t afford to run my oven for 48 hours straight!  So to give it more flavor, I put spices in it.  Purists, take note:  this is not true Siphnian revithada, this is my version!  I make my own spice mixes; the one I use here is a garam masala; I toast the spices and then grind them in my grain grinder, but you can use storebought garam masala if it’s available where you live, of course!

It still takes a long time, so plan accordingly.  Do please take note of how frugal this recipe is to make.

I always start with dried chickpeas.  Funny story:  if you read American cooking blogs, books, or watch American cooking shows, they all say the same thing:  dried chickpeas are far superior to canned.  I believe this, personally; but today I saw a Greek chef on TV proudly showing a can of chickpeas that he found in a foreign market, saying “the dried ones are fine, but these are just so much better!”  It really made me laugh; such a “grass is greener” moment.  Americans often go for the canned beans and peas for convenience; Greeks don’t usually have access to canned.  So of course everyone wants what they don’t have!  But having used both, I prefer dried chickpeas, because they don’t turn to mush and of course have no added salt, and the flavor is less muddy.

Soak your chickpeas for about 8 hours (or overnight) in potable water; rinse; and toss with the garam masala.

Line the bottom of the clay pot with thick slices of onion.

Pile the chickpeas on top.

Cover with the rest of the onions, and a layer of thickly sliced tomatoes.

Cover and pop in the oven and wait patiently for…

Spicy Siphnian Revithada
serves 4 

200g dry chickpeas, soaked 8 hours, drained, rinsed
3 large onions, sliced in 1/4″ rings
2 large tomatoes, sliced in 1/4″ rings
1 tbsp garam masala
400mL water
1/4 cup olive oil

1.  Toss the chickpeas with the garam masala.  Line the bottom of a clay pot with half the onions.  Put the chickpeas on top of the onions.  Cover the chickpeas with the remaining onions, and then the tomatoes on top of the onions.  Pour the water over everything.  Cover the pot with its lid.

2.  Put the pot in a cold (not pre-heated) oven.  Turn it to 220 degrees Celsius (430 Fahrenheit) with the air setting if you have it.  After 1.5 hours, reduce the heat to 180 degrees (350 Fahrenheit).  After another 30 minutes, turn off the oven, leaving the pot inside.

3.  After another hour, remove the pot and divide into portions.  Divide the olive oil between the portions.  Salt at the table.

Nutritional Information
per serving, i.e., 1/4 of the total recipe

416 calories
18g fat (2g saturated, 16g unsaturated)
53g carbohydrate
15g protein
14g dietary fiber
0mg cholesterol (0% DV)
329mg sodium (14% DV)
775mg potassium (22% DV)
Contains a significant amount (+10% DV) of the following:
vitamin A, thiamin, vitamin B-6, phosphorus, magnesium, zinc, vitamin C, iron,  riboflavin, folate, manganese, and copper.