Grease & line a 2 lb loaf tin or use a paper liner
In a large bowl mix together the rye flour, plain flour and the spices.
In a small saucepan heat the honey to boiling point & turn it off the heat & allow to cool slightly.
Pour the hot honey over the flour and mix well.
Beat the yolks with the icing sugar until they are pale and fluffy.
Add this to the flour and honey mixture.
Mix the bicarbonate of soda with the water and mix this in.
Put the mixture into the prepared tin & smooth the top.
Brush the top with cold water.
Bake for around 40 minutes in the long tin & 1 hour in the loaf tin. Check earlier and cover with greaseproof paper to stop burning if necessary.
This piernik is not very sweet and could be split in half and sandwiched back together with powidła – Polish plum spread (see notes in previous piernik post) and covered in a chocolate coating made from melted butter & dark chocolate.
I just had it sliced and spread with powidła (Polish plum spread) or sour cherry or raspberry jam.
Served on La prune by Jet for Ter Steege in The Netherlands.
In Medieval times in Britain on Christmas Eve a porridge made with oats, to which was added dried fruits, spices and honey was eaten. This was the origin of Christmas Pudding.
The spices used were a reminder of the Wise Men – the 3 Kings that came from the East.
By the 16th Century as ovens became more in use, butter and eggs were added and wheat flour replaced the oats and this became the Christmas cake.
We never had this cake at home until sometime in the late 1970s when my mother tried out this recipe from a magazine.
It is a very moist cake and reminiscent of Christmas pudding.
Because it is so moist it will only keep for about 2 months but it is one that can be made really at the last minute and one year I made it just 4 days before Christmas.
However if you want to add marzipan & icing then you should make it about 2- 3 weeks in advance, to give time for this to be done.
900g mixture of currants, raisins & sultanas
175g chopped mixed peel (if you have a 200g tub just use it all)
175g glacé cherries cut in half (if you have a 200g tub just use it all)
Grated rind of 1 lemon & 1 orange
1 large cooking apple, peeled and coarse grated
225g fine grated carrots
1 teaspoon rum
110 ml strong cold tea (I use a scented one like Earl Grey)
350g Butter or block margarine
350 g soft dark brown sugar
4 tablespoons of black treacle
6 large eggs – beaten
400g plain flour – sieved
½ level teaspoon salt
6 level teaspoons mixed spice
½ level teaspoon of cinnamon
½ a grated nutmeg
1 tablespoon cocoa – yes cocoa! – sieved
1 tablespoon ground almonds (optional)
Put all the fruit, carrots, rum & tea into large bowl, mix and leave for 15 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 2 – 150oC.
In another large bowl, cream the margarine and sugar, beat in the treacle and eggs.
Mix all the dry ingredients together & fold them in using a large metal spoon.
Fold in the fruit mix using a large metal spoon.
This amount will make one of the following cake sizes:
10” square – I find this shape the best to cut up.
8” round plus a small loaf.
Grease and line the cake tin
Put all the cake mixture into the tin to fill the shape and smooth the top.
Bake at Gas Mark 2 – 150oC for
10” square – 2 ½ hours
10” round – 3 ½ hours
8” round plus a small loaf (I have never tried this – will suspect around 2 hours).
The above are guides as it does depend on your oven – you need to check earlier.
Leave to cool completely in the tin.
Wrap in several layers of foil to store.
Decorating the cake
It depends on who is coming and whether there are lots of marzipan & icing lovers on how much I decorate the cake.
Sometimes I just dust the top with icing sugar.
Sometimes I just have marzipan on the top dusted with icing sugar – but lately I have had marzipan & Royal Icing lovers coming so have decorated the top & used a cake frill around the sides.
Marzipan is a paste made from ground almonds, honey or sugar & egg white.
It is thought that it originated in China and then came to the Middle East and from there it came to some parts of Western Europe through Spain & Portugal and to Eastern Europe from Turkey.
The old name in English is marchpane and the Polish is marcepan and the name appears to come from Italy where it was known as panis martius or marzapane which means March Bread – but why March Bread – I am notsure!
It was certainly being used in the 15th century in Europe.
Preparing the cake for marzipan
Brush the surface of the cake with warmed apricot jam.
I usually make my own marzipan but of course you can buy ready made marzipan.
If you are going to ice the cake as well then allow 1 week for the marzipan to harden so the nut oils do not discolour the icing (If you know it will be eaten quickly this is not really a problem).
Ingredients per egg white
1 egg white
75g ground almonds
40g icing sugar
40g caster sugar
1 -2 drops of almond essence
I usually do a 3 egg white amount of marzipan
In a bowl mix the ground almond, icing sugar and caster sugar.
Lightly beat the egg white & add the almond essence.
Add the egg white mixture to the dry ingredients and mix together with a wooden spoon until you get a unified mass of marzipan.
You want a mixture that you can roll out – you may have to add more icing sugar to achieve this.
You need to dust a board with icing sugar to roll out the marzipan easily.
This icing uses egg whites and give a firm icing good for doing fancy decorations (which I do not do!).
Using sugar to make icing was a sign of wealth & power and this became very popular in Victorian times.
It was used on Queen Victoria’s wedding cake in 1840 and so got the name Royal.
You can ice right up to the last minute but it does take around a week for the icing to fully harden.
Ingredients per egg white
1 egg white
300g icing sugar
Juice of 1/2 lemon ( this is optional but I usually use it)
If just doing the top of the cake I would use 2 egg whites.
You can buy powdered Royal icing which is icing sugar & dried egg white and you just add water or water & lemon juice. (I have used it but have used fresh egg whites as well!)
Lightly beat the egg whites and then mix in the lemon juice.
Add the icing sugar a few tablespoons at a time and keep mixing until you have have the icing thick enough to work with.
Spread the icing on top of the marzipan using a small spatula & have a mug of hot water at hand to dip the spatula in.
I do not do any fancy icing – just random peaks – also achieved using a spatula.
Some new Christmas cake decorations bought recently
Pierna is an old Polish word for spices and piernik is a cake made with honey and spices.
Some sources say the name is frompieprz – pepper or piorun – thunderbolt or devil – because of its spiciness.
These cakes have been known in Poland since the 12th century and the spices would have come from Turkey (originally brought back by the crusaders) or India.
The very first recipes were just honey, flour (wheat or rye) and spices.
Honey was the original sweetener, long before sugar, and when you travel in Poland you will find many village ladies selling their own honey, the taste varies greatly depending on where the bees have found their flowers and the honey from a forest region is very dark and full of flavour.
Piernik can vary from being a soft dense cake to a drier but soft biscuit.
The Polish town of Toruń is famous for its piernik and Chopin was very found of this.
Pierniki (plural) coated with chocolate are called Katarzynki – which means Katherine’s cakes – named after Katarzyna the daughter of one of the bakers.
Similar cakes are found throughout Europe including the French paind’éspices, the Dutch peperkoek and the German lebkuchen.
Piernik is often translated as Gingerbread but ginger is only rarely used!
The main spices used are cinnamon , cloves and cardamom with the addition according to different recipes of: aniseed, black pepper, caraway, coriander, nutmeg, dried orange and/or lemon peel and then in later recipes allspice which is from the New World.
Spice Mixture for Piernik
Having looked at many recipes I have made my own basic 3 spice mixture – to which I can add other spices if I want a variation.
I have mixed equal parts of ground cinnamon, cloves & cardamom & saved them in a jar.
In Polish shops in England you can buy ready mixed spices for piernik.
This little packet contains around 2 tablespoons.
You can use the mixed spice mixture which is sold by Marks & Spencer which contains: dried orange peel, cassia (a variety of cinnamon), ginger, nutmeg, pimento (allspice) and caraway.
Piernik in Poland is associated with the Christmas season and would be made for Christmas Eve and for Christmas Day, it would also be made for Święty Mikołaj – December 6th – St Nicholas Day. This a day for present giving in Poland to children and I would always get a piernik shaped and decorated to look like the bishop that was St Nicholas.
I have been looking through my many recipe books and there are just dozens of different recipes & I have been trying some of these out.
Many of the recipes have the addition of chopped nuts and/or mixed peel – I have not added these to my tests as I just wanted to try out the “basic” recipe.
Some of the recipes were for large quantities & I have cut them down in size. Many do not give baking tin sizes or oven temperatures – so I have done a bit of trial and error with some of the ones I have done.
In many of the recipes the dough or batter once mixed up is left for up to 3 weeks before baking. This indeed is a slow fermentation!
Even if the piernik is mixed and baked on the same day, most of them benefit from being wrapped and left for several days before serving.
The recipes in this post are ones you mix and bake on the same or the next day.
My mother made miodownik – honey spice cake (which could be classed as a piernik). Hers is a more moist cake using vegetable oil, which is certainly a more modern ingredient.
This first recipe is adapted from a recently bought little cookbook.
The honey used in the book was given as fir tree honey – this would be a dark honey and would make the cake very dark.
(I remember getting some of this when one of my cousins came from Poland – it was nearly black!)
The honey you use will make a difference to the colour and flavour of the cake. I have used a basic clear type honey.
As only honey is used in this recipe, I think this one is nearer the old recipes.
450g plain flour
350g runny honey
125g butter or block margarine
Grated rind of a 1 lemon
1 egg – beaten
100ml of milk
1 + 1/2 teaspoons of spices
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
pinch of salt
Pre-heat the oven to GM4 – 180°C.
Grease and line a large loaf tin – mine is longer than the regular 2lb tin.
Gently melt the butter in a small saucepan.
Mix together the spices, bicarbonate of soda and salt & add these to the flour in a large bowl.
Add the egg, the milk and the lemon rind and mix together.
Add the honey and the milk and mix together till you have a uniform smooth consistency.
Put the mixture into the tin and smooth the top.
Bake for around 50 minutes – checking a little earlier & cover with greaseproof paper it it looks like burning on the top if you need more time.
Leave to cool in the tin.
Wrap in foil to store.
The piernik can be dusted with icing sugar, topped with icing or with chocolate icing – of course these are relatively modern additions to the medieval piernik!
Addition of pepper
I made the piernik as above with the addition of 1/2 a teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper with the spices.
I did not think it added much to the flavour – I was expecting it to be a little peppery!
This little honey recipe book has around 2 dozen recipes for piernik to choose from! (miód is Polish for honey)
400g plain flour
1 tablespoonful of butter
120g of granulated sugar
250g runny honey
125ml of milk
1 teaspoon of baking soda
2 teaspoons of spices
Warm the honey slightly.
Put the flour in a large bowl and rub in the butter.
Add the sugar, bicarbonate of soda and the spices.
Mix in the eggs.
Add the honey
Add the milk & mix to give a very thick batter.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and leave it in a cool place for a couple of hours.
Grease & line a 32cm by 22cm baking tin.
Pre-heat the oven to GM 5 -190°C.
Put the cake mixture into the tin and spread it out.
Bake for around 30 minutes (check earlier and cover if it looks like burning.)
Leave in the tin to cool.
Wrap in foil and leave for a couple of days .
Tea plate is Sonnet by Royal Doulton, 1971 to 1998.
This piernik can be dusted with icing sugar, topped with icing or with chocolate icing.
It can also be cut into 2 slabs which are then sandwiched together with powidła which is a lovely spread – often translated as jam but is not really a jam.
It is made from fresh ripe plums which are heated and stirred for hours until the water is driven off and you get a thick paste. The traditional version does not have any extra sugar added.
I bought some in my local Polish shop, I have seen it for sale before in glass jars, this product is in a plastic tub
Pierniczki – Small Honey Cakes
Pierniczki are a small cake or biscuit version of piernik.
For Święty Mikołaj – December 6th – St Nicholas Day I often buy packets of these glazed with clear or white icing or chocolate (You can get them in lots of shops nowadays including Lidl & Aldi) but sometimes I make them myself as they are very easy & delicious.
280g plain flour
1 teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
180g of granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of spice
100g of runny honey
Icing sugar to dust
Pre heat the oven to GM 5 – 190oC
Grease several baking sheets.
In a bowl mix all the dry ingredients together.
Beat the eggs lightly and mix these and the honey into the dry ingredients.
Place tablespoons well apart on the greased sheets and bake for about 10 minutes.
They do spread quite a bit.
Leave to cool for a few minutes on the tray and then put the on a wire rack to cool and the dust with icing sugar.
Pierniczki – Small Honey Cakes (filled)
The dough for these is made the evening before.
120g runny honey
60g granulated sugar
2 teaspoons of spice
40g of butter
250g of plain flour
1/2 teaspoon of baking powder
1 large egg
Powidła, apricot or sour cherry jam
Lightly beaten egg white for a glaze
Heat the honey in a saucepan over a moderate heat and add the sugar and spices, stirring all the time for about 3 to 4 minutes so that the sugar is dissolved but do not let the honey boil.
Remove from the heat and allow it to cool.
In a separate pan melt the butter and then set that aside to cool.
In a large bowl add the baking powder to the flour.
Pour in the honey mixture, melted butter and the egg and mix with a a wooden spoon to form a soft dough.
Transfer to a small bowl and cover with a cloth and refrigerate overnight.
The next day -take out for 15 minutes before using.
Grease several baking sheets.
Pre-heat the oven to GM 4 – 180°C
You need a 6cm round cutter.
Cut the dough into halves or thirds.
Roll out the dough till it is thin and cut out circles.
Place a largish teaspoon of the powidła or jam on the middle of the circle (going for height).
The more jam the better but it can be hard to seal the circles – takes a bit of practice!
Place another circle on top and press the edges together firmly.
You can brush the tops with beaten egg white.
Place on the baking sheet – leaving some space between circles.
Bake for 15 minutes – checking earlier as they burn easily.
Leave to cool slightly on the tin before placing them on a wire rack.
Dust them with icing sugar.
Served on tea plates – Counterpoint by Royal Doulton 1973 – 1987.
Easy unfilled option
I think once you have tried the jam filled ones, these will be the only ones you want!
However if you want a harder biscuit to decorate with icing then just place single circles on the baking trays and bake for 8 – 10 minutes – you really need to keep an eye on these as they burn very easily.
These come out as a quite hard biscuit.
These can be decorated with icing or chocolate icing.
I used a rum butter cream made from 80g butter, 1 egg yolk 1 tablespoon of rum and around 230g of icing sugar.
Cream the butter and the egg yolk and add the rum. Mix in the icing sugar until you have the desired consistency.
More butter cream would have been better – I was trying to use the minimum this time!
I added chopped nuts to the top and sides (I used a cake stand with a small lip – a totally flat stand would have make it easier to add the nuts to the sides).
Served on – Tuscan China – Bird of Paradise – Hand Painted – 1930s
An Austrian Influence
A few weeks ago I bought an excellent Austrian cookery book in a charity shop.
I know that there is a lot of overlap & influence between Polish & Austrian Cookery and have enjoyed looking at this book and comparing my recipes with ones here.
On the back cover it says
“The culinary flavour of Austria is a gentle flavour. It knows of the fiery spices of Hungary and the elegance of French cuisine. It derives much of its strength from Moravia and much of its daring from Poland.”
For several of the cakes apricot or redcurrant jam is used to cover the top and sides of the cake before icing it.
For a walnut gateau, similar to my recipe, redcurrant jam is used.
I decided to do a variation of this with my walnut tort and to use raspberry jam.
The 2 cakes were made as above.
A poncz(sweet punch) was used made from 50ml of weak black tea and 1 tablespoon of sugar to drizzle the cakes.
The cakes were then sandwiched together with a raspberry butter cream using 60g Butter, 180g icing sugar & 2 tablespoons of raspberry jam which were creamed together.
Then the top and sides were covered with raspberry jam, warmed slightly for ease of spreading and then this was allowed to dry.
I then made a lemon icing with the juice of 1 lemon and icing sugar and used this to cover the top and sizes.
Served on Royal Grafton – Woodside – from the 1950s
This did not work too well – the icing I made was too stiff and I disturbed the jam underneath and got a mottled pink and white icing which then dripped down onto the base of the cake stand!!
However my friends thought the cake tasted wonderful and loved the combination of flavours, so I decided to make the icing with the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon of raspberry jam & icing sugar and see how that worked.
Do not cover the cake completely or it will go very soggy – cover it with a net or similar which will let the air circulate but keep insects off.
Alternative Icing 1
I decided to test out the raspberry icing over a creamed sponge cake – I used 4 eggs and equal amounts of butter, caster sugar and self raising flour and baked them in 2 x 20 cm anodised baking tins.
I sandwiched the cakes together with a layer of jam and the raspberry butter cream as above.
I then made a thick icing using the juice of 1 lemon, 1 tablespoon of raspberry jam & icing sugar.
Served on Aynsley – Las Palmas – 1960s
Alternative Icing 2
This icing was not as tangy as on the original cake so I tested this again with a more pouring, dripping glaze – this time using the juice a lemon, 1 tablespoon of raspberry jam & enough icing sugar to make a more pouring glaze.
I made just one 22cm round walnut cake and cut it in half & used a poncz(sweet punch) made from 50ml of weak black tea and 1 tablespoon of sugar to drizzle the cake.
A few thoughts!
With hindsight I would not use one cake again as it was hard to cut it through evenly & there were lots of crumbs – if I only wanted to use 4 eggs, I would make 2 smaller cakes.
I still have not got the icing quite right – this time there was too much & it was a bit too runny – maybe just the juice of half a lemon would be enough – however the taste was very good.
The cake improved over the next few days as the icing seeped into the cake.
Served on Colclough – Stardust – from the 1960s.
As with the cakes above do not cover the cake completely or it will go very soggy – cover it with a net or similar which will let the air circulate but keep insects off.
This cake recipe is one I came across recently and I like it because it uses tea – a drink well loved in Poland.
It is similar to a keks which is usually made in a loaf tin but I like to make this one in a round tin.
The recipe uses 8 tea bags and I think Earl Grey, Lady Grey & Empress Grey tea bags are really good. (If you do not have tea bags then use 8 teaspoons of loose tea, but have it in a muslin bag as you do not want the tea leaves in the cake.)
I have used dried fruits consisting just of currants, raisins, sultanas & peel.
You could make it more Polish by using a bakalie mixture which also has chopped dates, figs & prunes, however I would not add nuts – or if you want to use them – add them after the overnight soaking.
500g mixed dried fruit
8 tea bags (Earl Grey, Lady Grey or Empress Grey)
300ml boiling water
500g self-raising flour
325g butter or block margarine
1 teaspoon mixed spice
pinch of salt
Place the teabags in a large bowl and add the boiling water and stir to make a very strong tea.
Add the dried fruit and stir well.
Leave the fruit to soak overnight.
Pre-heat your oven to GM 3 , 150°C.
Grease and line a 23cm loose bottom or a spring-form tin.
Place the flour and butter or margarine into a large bowl and use your finger tips to rub in the fat until the mixture looks like breadcrumbs.
In a bowl mix the sugar, salt & mixed spice thoroughly.
Add the sugar mixture to the flour & butter mixture and stir well.
Add the eggs and the soaked fruit and all the remaining liquid and stir well.
Pour the mixture into the baking tin and level the top.
Bake in the oven for 1 hour 40 minutes.
Check after an hour and place a piece of foil or greaseproof paper on the top if it is beginning to burn.
Check to see if the cake is done with a cake tester or skewer.
Note – This cake is large and you run the risk of having it underdone in the middle – make sure it is cooked in the middle when testing.
Leave to cool in the tin.
Served on tea plates – Greenway Hostess – design by John Russell, 1960 – 1979.
Smaller Sized Cake
This cake is large so I thought I would have a go at making a smaller version.
There are 5 eggs in the original recipe so I decided to do a 3 egg version.
To make it more Polish, I used a bakalie mixture which had chopped dates, figs, peel & prunes as well as the currants, raisins & sultanas.
300g bakalie or dried mixed fruit
5 tea bags (Earl Grey, Lady Grey or Empress Grey)
200ml boiling water
300g self-raising flour
200g butter or block margarine
1 teaspoon mixed spice
pinch of salt
As above – using a 20cm tin.
Bake for around 1 hour 20 minutes – checking after 50 minutes and covering if necessary with a piece of greaseproof paper to stop the top burning.
Maybe because of the different dried fruits I thought it came out drier than the large one & I served it sliced with some butter.
However I have found that if you wrap the cake in aluminium foil for a day or two – it improves – becoming more moist.
Served on tea plates – La prune – by Jet for Ter Steege in The Netherlands.
Wiśnie is the Polish for sour cherries which I have described in More Duck.
Having made sponge with sweet orange jam I thought I would try this with sour cherry jam – the one I used is from Lidl and is very good with a sharp sour taste. The taste goes really well with the dark chocolate.
I made an English style sponge for ease.
75g caster sugar
75g self raising flour
Pre-heat the oven to GM4 – 180°C
Grease and line the base of a round 18cm diameter baking tin.
In a bowl whisk the eggs and caster sugar until they are pale and creamy.
Gently fold in the flour.
Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 20 – 25 minutes until golden.
You will need around 3 to 4 tablespoons of jam.
Warm the jam slightly to make it easier to spread.