Piernik – Honey Spice Cake-2

Two months to Christmas and I am posting this recipe so you have time to prepare for then.

I have tried out several piernik – honey spice cake  recipes  & many of them have been dreadful!

But at last I have found one that I am happy to share – I would describe it as a sort of soft biscuit.

This is piernik staropolski (in the old Polish style) and is a recipe which takes time to make, as the mixture is left for several weeks before it is baked – (10 days is the absolute minimum). This maturing enhances the flavour of the spices.

I have been reading that some people make their dough even earlier say in September before they bake it

This piernik is baked for Święty Mikołaj – St Nicholas Day – December 6th and for  Wigilia – Christmas Eve – December 24th.

The science for this will be really interesting – I presume it is a slow fermentation that is taking place & the high honey/sugar content, low temperature & access to air prevents the dough from spoiling.

Ingredients

  • 250ml runny honey
  • 125g Trex™ **
  • 230g granulated sugar
  • 2 eggs – lightly beaten
  • 550g plain flour (may need more)
  • 2 teaspoons of mixed spices or piernik mix (ground cinnamon, cloves, cardamom in equal parts)
  • large pinch of salt
  • 1 & 1/2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 70 ml of warm milk
  • 250g mixed dried fruit (raisins, peel, chopped dates and figs)

** The original recipe uses lard (pork fat) – I used Trex™ – a white solid vegetable fat.

Method

  • Put the honey, sugar and Trex in a saucepan and heat gently, stirring the mixture till all the Trex is melted and the sugar dissolved.
  • Remove the pan from the heat and allow to cool.
  • Mix the flour, salt & spices together.
  • Add this to the honey mixture and mix together first with a wooden spoon.
  • Add the beaten eggs to the mixture.
  • Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and add this to the dough and mix till you have a thick dough.
  • Knead this dough lightly for around 5 minutes (add more flour if the mixture is too wet).
  • Add in the dried fruits and knead them in lightly.
  • Form the dough into a ball.
  • Place the dough in a glass or ceramic bowl – not a metal one.
  • Cover with a linen or cotton cloth – tie the string around it to keep it covered.
  • Do not use cling film – as air needs to circulate.
  • You could use foil but you would need to prick in some air holes.
  • Place in a cool place (mine was put into my cool cellar) for a minimum of 10 days and up to 4 weeks.
  • I left mine for 2 weeks.
  • Ensure that the dough will not pick up any unwanted flavours such as onions or garlic by carefully choosing the place you store it.

After resting

  • Pre-heat the oven to GM2 – 150°C
  • Grease and line a 2 baking tins – 22 x 33 cm.
  • Take the ball of dough out of the bowl and cut it into two.
  • Flatten each piece lightly and make into a rough rectangular shape – can use a rolling pin.
  • Place this into the tim and with fingers push and press it into all the sides of the tin.
  • You can use the blunt end of a rolling pin.
  • Repeat for the other
  • Bake for around  55 -65 minutes – checking after 40 minutes and covering with greaseproof paper if it is starting to burn.
  • Leave the piernik to cool in the tin.
  • When it is cold, wrap it loosely in greaseproof paper and then a clean linen tea towel and leave in a cool place for 2 -3 days.

To serve

  • Cut each cake into two or three rectangles.
  • Remove the crusts – optional.
  • Dust with icing sugar or coat in chocolate melted with butter (40g butter : 100g dark chocolate).
  • You can use a thin white icing semi glaze instead of the chocolate.
  • You can store the piernik in an airtight tin – I think the chocolate coating helps to keep it longer.

Slices served on Queen Anne china tea plates.

 

 

 

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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.