I made this cake for my nephew when he came to visit recently as he loves cakes with lemons.
You need to make the sponge for a “Swiss roll” and then fill it with lemon cream.
The sponge cake made using potato flour is very Polish but fresh double cream is not usually found in Polish cookery – soured cream is the norm. Also lemon curd I think of as quite British although I did come across something similar in one of my Polish cooks books. You can make your own lemon curd but I use Sicilian lemon curd from Marks & Spencer as I think this is so lemony.
I made the sponge using the recipe Biszkopt – Sponge Cake using Potato Flour
Or to be easier, use the English Style fat free sponge recipe from
I have been making this placek (low flat cake) for years but I cannot remember where I got the recipes from.
The cake varies every time I make it as I alter the type or amount of each chocolate used and I also alter the dried fruit and nuts.
It is not quite a Polish recipe as Demerara sugar is used rather than granulated & this is not a typical Polish ingredient.
Sugar is produced from either sugar cane (a perennial grass) or sugar beet (a tap root). When sugar cane is refined you get lots of partially refined products such as: treacle, golden syrup, Demerara sugar & various other brown sugars.
Demerara sugar is so named after a region in Guyana where it was first produced.
When sugar beet is used to make sugar you do not get all these brown sugars.
In Poland the main sugar products on sale are granulated sugar and icing sugar, also you can find vanilla sugar, for baking, which is sold in little sachet which contain one tablespoon of sugar.
120g butter or block margarine
120g Demerara sugar
120g self raising flour
1/4 teaspoon of vanilla essence
100g chopped chocolate (can be a mixture of dark, milk & white)
100g chopped nuts
80g sultanas (or currants or raisins)
I think dried cranberries might work well here but have not tried these as yet.
I think of these as very British – but we all love them and they have become part of our Christmas Day celebrations. Originally the pies were made with meat and this idea of meat and spices came from the Middle East and it is thought to have been the brought back by the Crusaders.
I make these with the pastry that I learnt from my mother – a variation on kruche & półkruche, pastry (a richer shortcrust pastry). Using the proportion of 2 parts flour to 1 part butter.
200g plain flour
100g butter or block margarine
1-2 tablespoons of icing sugar
1 egg yolk
Juice of 1 lemon (and maybe 1 tablespoon of cold water)
Lightly beaten egg white
I always make my own mincemeat using the recipe in Delia Smith’s Christmas cookery book but without the chopped almonds (I do not like the crunch of the nuts).
When making the pies I add a little extra brandy or sherry to the mincemeat and stir it in.
My tins are anodised aluminium and have a gentle rounded shape, this I think make for the perfect balance between the pastry and the filling.
I put “tops” on my mince pies – but not fully covered ones.
The tops are brushed with beaten egg white and sprinkled with caster sugar.
Method for pastry
Rub the butter into the flour to make “breadcrumbs”.
Mix in the icing sugar.
First with a knife and then with your fingertips mix in the yolk & lemon juice (and maybe a tablespoon of cold water.)
You are aiming to get a dough which is not wet.
Rest for about 10 minutes.
Pre-heat the oven to GM6 – 200°C
You need to grease the tins well in order to get the pies out successfully.
I often use the pastry in two halves.
2 sizes of cutters are needed – 1 – 7cm diameter, plain, for the base, 1 – 6cm diameter, crinkle edge for the top.
Cut out the bases and place them in the tins
Place around a tablespoonful of mincemeat on the pastry.
Place the smaller tops on.
Lightly beat the egg white and brush this on the tops
Sprinkle caster sugar over the egg white.
Bake for around 15 minutes – keeping an eye on them – so they do not burn.
Leave to cool slightly in the tins & carefully remove them onto a rack to fully cool.
Tea-plate is Stardust by Colclough from the 1960s.
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.
Kawa is the Polish for coffee & the word comes from the Turkish kahveh and earlier the Arabic qahwah.
The Coffea plant grows as a bush with fragrant white flowers and the fruits are red berries (related to cherries and plums) – the botanical name for these are drupes – fruits contain a single seed known often as a stone – so they are not beans in the botanical sense at all.
Short History of Coffee
Legend has it that in the 9th century a goat-herder noticed that his goats were more lively after eating the leaves and berries of the Coffea bush
Coffee was known in Ethiopia in the 11th century and then it was the leaves that were boiled and drunk and they were thought to have medicinal powers.
Coffee is recorded in the Yemen in the mid -14th century.
By 1555 coffee is known in Istanbul and it is now the beans which are roasted and ground and heated with water – hence Turkish coffee.
Coffee came to Europe first through Venice with the first recorded coffee shop being in 1645.
In 1683 after the victory by the Polish King Jan Sobieski III(1629 – 1696) against the Turks in Vienna, many sacks of coffee were left behind. One of his Polish officers, Jerzy Franciszek Kulczycki, received these sacks of coffee beans. He opened one of the first coffee houses in Vienna serving small cups of Turkish coffee.
Coffee arrived in America not long after this in the late 17th century.
Coffee became popular in Poland in the 18th Century. The first coffee café (kawiarnia) was opened in Warsaw in 1724.
Coffee in Poland
Coffee in Poland is served as strong black coffee – coffee without milk or cream.
It is known as Kawa parzona which means coffee scalded!
The tradition way is to make coffee in a tall glass with a large tablespoon of ground coffee put in the bottom of the glass and hot boiled water poured onto this and this is left for about 3-4 minutes and then the top is stirred.
When you drink the coffee you do not drink down to the bottom, the sediment – the grounds or the lees & in Polish – fusy – are left.
I often make myself a coffee this way – it is quick and you only need 1 tablespoonful.
I collect the used coffee ground from this and other methods and use them as top dressing around my strawberry plants & Hostas- many think this is a deterrent to snails.
I have an uncle in Białystok who loves coffee and when I was there he showed me various different ways of making coffee; as he used to work in the Middle East we made Turkish coffee several times.
There are many methods of making coffee often with electrical equipment.
The method I use the most is with a Cafetière or French Press. I think it is the nearest to the old Polish method but the grounds are separated from the coffee in an easy way.
Both the French & the Italians lay claim to inventing the Cafetière. A method of making coffee using a plunger was known in France from the 1850s but a patent was issued in the 1920s to an Italian from Milan.
Coffee making equipment
Including: a coffee grinder (a present from my friend in The Netherlands), a Hornsea pottery coffee container, an old and a new cezve or ibrik (Turkish coffee maker) and a pyroflam coffee maker jug from The Netherlands.
Assorted Coffee makers including stove top espresso makers
An assortment of coffee pots including:
Royal Doulton – Regalia – 1988 – 1997
Royal Tuscan – Samoa – 1960 – 1967
Myott – China Lyke – Majorca
Studio Meakin – Topic – 1967
Empire Porcelain Minou
Rörstrand (Sweden) – Amanda by Christina Campbell 1968 – 1977
and some coffee cups – Royal Adderley – Masquerade – 1960s & Portmeirion – Tivoli designed by Susan Williams Ellis
Coffee Cups & Saucers
Elizabethan – Greensleeves &
Royal Doulton – Sonnet – 1971 – 1998
Greenway Hostess – Design by John Russell – 1960 – 1979 &
Elizabethan – Lace – 1960 – 1979
Wedgwood – Susie Cooper design – 1950s – Flower motif series B &
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.