Miodownik – Piernik – Honey Spice Cake

Miód is the Polish word for honey and so Miodownik is a Honey Cake which usually contains spices. Pierna is an old Polish word for spices and so Piernik is also a Honey Spice Cake.

Some sources say the name is from pieprz – 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.

Honey was the original sweetener, long before sugar and there are many traditional recipes that use honey not only in cakes, but also in meat dishes.

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 dark and very flavoursome.

Piernik  can vary  from 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 pain d’éspices, the Dutch peperkoek and the German lebkuchen.

Miodownik  and piernik are often translated as  Gingerbread but ginger is a spice rarely used in Polish cookery.

The main spices used are cinnamon and cloves with the addition according to different recipes of cardamon, black pepper, caraway, nutmeg, dried orange and/or lemon peel and then in later recipes allspice which is from the New World.

My older recipe book gives the proportions for mixing spices and there is one with black pepper which I intend to try out in the future.

Whilst looking through some of my more recent cookery books it would appear that it in Poland you can buy ready mixed spices for piernik so I would presume you can get these in Polish shops in England. I will try these out in the future as well.

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I 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. I think it is the dried orange peel which makes it much nicer than other mixtures I have used.

Some recipes make a cake mixture and then leave it in a cool place for up to several weeks before baking it. I have tried one of these out many years ago and it was very good – I intend to try this again for a post in the early winter of next year.

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 MikołajDecember 6thSt 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.

Mama’s Miodownik

This is of my mother’s recipes and it uses sunflower oil which is a more recent addition to recipes in Polish cookery. It is a dense cake which is lovely and moist and improves with keeping.

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Miodownik on Greenway Hostess designed by John Russell 1960 – 1979

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Ingredients

  • 450g Clear honey
  • 250g Icing sugar
  • 4 Eggs separated
  • 250ml Tepid water
  • 4 Teaspoons cocoa
  • 250ml Sunflower oil
  • 450g Plain flour
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 Teaspoon of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 Teaspoon mixed spice (M&S is the best)
  • 100g mixed peel

Method

  • You can use a 25cm square tin or a 31cm x21cm rectangular tray tin.
  • Grease and line the tin.
  • Pre-heat the oven to Gas Mark 3 – 160º C.
  • In a large bowl, mix the honey and the icing sugar.

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  • Add the water, cocoa, egg yolks, oil and then the mixed peel.

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  • In a separate bowl mix the plain flour, salt, bicarbonate of soda and the mixed spice.
  • Add the dry mixture to the honey mixture and mix together to make a batter.

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  • Whisk the egg whites until they are stiff and fold these into the honey batter.
  • Pour the mixture into the prepared tin.

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  • Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for around  1hour 30minutes.
  • Take care as this has a tendency to burn  at the top, you might need to cover it after about 1 hour with a piece of greaseproof paper of aluminium foil.
  • Test to make sure it is cooked through with a fine cake tester.
  • Leave to cool in the tin.

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 Store in an airtight container or cover in aluminium foil

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Miodownik on Greenway Hostess designed by John Russell 1960 – 1979

Addendum

I recently made this for Wigilia (Christmas Eve) around 3 weeks beforehand – it was lovely and moist by then.

 

 

Babeczka – Small Cake – Little Bun

  • Babka is the name of a cake in Polish – or rather it refers to its shape – the name means grandma or little old lady – the shape is round and dumpy.
  • It can be a yeast cake or a sponge type cake. I will go into detail about these later in the year.
  • A small  bun or fairy cake can be called a babeczka (babeczki is the plural).
  • I have also seen the word mufinka now in Poland!
  • Using my various poppy seed recipes I have tried out some variations to make some babeczki.
  • These I made with a yeast pastry & poppy seed filling for Wigilia – Christmas Eve – a couple of years ago – using a different yeast pastry to the one in the traditional poppy seed roll.
Babeczki with Poppy Seed filling. The photo is dark as it was taken in the evening whilst getting ready for the special meal.
  • I used a simple sponge mixture to make 2 other types of poppy seed buns.
  • I have used paper cases – I am not sure if these are available or used in Poland but they are so useful and make the buns very portable and easy to eat.
  • You can use a basic Victoria sponge mixture made using 2 eggs, butter or margarine, caster sugar and self-raising – the recipe method and amounts such as in the Be-Ro  recipe book will work well.
  • This mixture should make about 12 buns.
  • I use a method  which I will write about in more detail later in the year, in this  the eggs are weighed in their shells and each of the other ingredients is then that same weight.
Weighing eggs

Buns – 1 – Using dry roasted poppy seeds To the sponge mixture you add dry roasted poppy seeds. The dry roasting  gives them a more nutty flavour. Note – Lemon zest  is not used in this recipe.

Buns made with Dry Roasted Poppy Seeds
  • To dry roast poppy seeds It is best to make this first before mixing up the sponge cake.  Weigh out the required amount of poppy seeds  – in this case 40 – 50g for a 2 egg cake mixture.
  • In a small dry  frying pan (ie without any oil or butter) fry the seeds for 5 minutes – stirring them with a wooden spoon or spatula – being careful not to burn them.
  • Tip the hot seeds into a bowl containing some cold milk. Once cool, pour the mixture into a fine sieve to separate the seeds from the milk.
  • Leave the sieve over an empty bowl, press down on the seed a few times to  remove as much milk as possible.

Buns -2  – Using the traditional poppy seed filling

Making the filling  is time consuming but only a small amount is needed to make 12 buns. So what I do is to make in the full amount with 200g of poppy seeds as in an earlier post Poppy Seed Cakes and Yeast Cakes  in advance and then portion this up into 2 or 3 portions and freeze them.

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Poppy Seed Mixture

 

Put the bun cases into the bun tray.

Now the next it is a bit fiddly and you have to judge the quantities by eye.

The idea is to:

  • put a spoonful of cake mixture into each bun case
  • followed by a spoonful of poppy seed mixture
  • followed by a covering amount of cake mixture.

I have found it easier to do each step for all 12 buns at a time – that is :

  • cake mixture into all the cases
  • then the poppy seed filling
  • then final cake mixture.

Bake the buns in the usual way  – GM5 – 190°C  – for around 15 to 20 minutes.

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Dust with Icing Sugar once they have cooled and before serving

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These have proved very popular!