Karpatka – Carpathian Mountain Cake – gets its name as the top looks like the rugged mountains and the icing sugar dusting looks like a fine covering of snow.
The Carpathian Mountains – Karpaty in Polish – are a mountain range in an arc roughly 1,500 kilometres in central and eastern Europe; part of the range is in Southern Poland and can be described as Alpine.
It is made with 2 layers of choux pastry with vanilla pastry cream in between the layers and the top dusted with icing sugar.
This was invented by an Italian chef in the mid 16th century and soon became popular in France. It gets its name from the French for cabbage as the little buns made from this pastry looked like little cabbages.
It is made without any raising agent. It is the large water content in the dough which turns to steam in the high oven temperature which causes the pastry to rise.
I read loads of conflicting advice on how to make choux pastry.
My first attempt came out more like a Yorkshire pudding.
After several attempts I now have a recipe that works.
300ml of water
2 teaspoon of granulated sugar
200 g of plain flour or strong plain flour *
pinch of salt
*Using strong flour gives a drier pastry whilst using plain flour gives a softer pastry.
Pre-heat the oven to GM6 200°C
Grease 2 equal sized rectangular baking trays with sides or a large rectangular tin.
Put the water, pinch of salt, sugar and the butter into a saucepan.
Heat gently so the butter melts and then slowly bring this to the boil.
Sift the flour.
Taking the pan off the heat add the flour, all in one go.
Return the pan to a gentle heat.
Using a wooden spoon blend this all together until the dough forms a ball in the middle of the pan.
Take the pan off the heat and put the dough into a bowl and leave till it is completely cold.
Add the eggs one by one, continually blending the mixture. You can use a wooden spoon to do this – I have found it easier to start with an electric whisk to begin with and then cahnge to a wooden spoon at the end. You get a thick paste type mixture.
Divide the mixture between the two trays and spread it out to fill the tray – do not smooth down the top – you want to have rough peaks.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Increase the heat up GM7 and bake for another 10 minutes
Using a cake tester make holes in the top of the pastry to remove some of the steam.
Bake for another 5 – 10 minutes.
The pastry should be ready now, test to see if it feels dry – if not return for a few more minutes.
Vanilla Pastry Cream
Budyń made with 500ml of milk. (see previous post)
3 tablespoons of granulated sugar
2-3 drops of vanilla essence
1 egg yolk
Cream together the butter, sugar and egg yolk till pale and fluffy.
Add the vanilla essence and mix this in well.
Add the budyń, spoonful by spoonful, mixing it well in.
Assembling the Cake
Whilst testing this recipe, I used half quantities of the choux pastry – ie just 1 tray – and cut this in half – the photographs – reflect this.
Place one piece of the baked pastry onto a serving board.
Cover the pastry with all the pastry cream spreading it evenly to the edges.
Place the second piece of pastry on top.
Dust the top lightly with icing sugar.
Cut into squares to serve.
Served on Las Palmas by Aynsley from the 1960s.
Though not as authentic but easier you can just use the chilled budyń on its own as the filling.
Served here on Greenaway by John Russell from the 1960s.
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.
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.