This Christmas season, I became obsessed with making Polish honey gingerbread cookies, called “pierniczki.” These are traditional honey cookies that date back to at least the 14th century. The history behind pierniczki is immense. They are an important fixture not just in Polish culture, but also Russian, German, and Slovakian cultures, to name a few.
So this time around, my obsession led me to make about 5 batches, using 3 different formulas, all different from the one I posted last year: Pierniczki Staropolskie. Why was I searching for another way to make pierniczki? Simply put, I was looking for a quick version of these cookies. The old-style recipe requires the dough to ripen over the course of a few days. Actually, authentic cookies made in Torun, Poland by pierniczki master bakers might be made with dough that was left to ripen for up to a year! What if I don’t have all that time to spare?
So for this version, there is no need to let the dough ripen at all. Yay! Not only can these cookies be made the same day, but they are still deliciously soft and pillow-y, which is the goal for pierniczki. What’s also terrific about these cookies and pierniczki in general is that they keep for several weeks. All you need to do is store them in an airtight container or even a heavy enamel-lined Dutch oven (just like for baking no knead bread) at room temperature.
A Polish Christmas would not be complete without these yummy spice cookies.
Following is the recipe. Meet me after the recipe for step-by-step illustrated instructions.
The first step is to heat the honey, sugar, and butter pieces in a saucepan over medium heat.
Stir occasionally to incorporate the butter as it melts. Heat until the butter has fully melted.
Remove from heat and let the honey mixture cool about 20 minutes. It will be ready to use further when it’s lukewarm to the touch.
Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, cocoa powder, and spices. While sifting isn’t required, it is definitely a step worth taking, especially for the cocoa powder (to get rid of the lumps). The spices I like to use are: cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, pepper, cardamom, coriander, and anise. Use only a dash of pepper. You should have about 3 tablespoons of spices. If you don’t have cardamom, coriander, or anise, that’s not really a problem–just add allspice and more ginger and cinnamon. Personally, I find that cloves provide the most distinctive flavor out of the bunch.
Transfer the cooled honey mixture to the bowl of an electric mixer.
Using the paddle attachment, mix honey on low speed.
Then mix in the egg until fully incorporated.
On low speed, mix in the flour mixture.
Increase the speed a notch for a few seconds, and then turn off the mixer.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured counter top or other smooth surface and knead until smooth.
Shape the dough into a disk.
Then divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Take one piece for rolling and wrap the remaining dough in plastic wrap.
Lightly flour your work surface again and roll out the dough to 5mm or 1/4 inch thick.
Cut out desired shapes.
The star is a traditional shape, but any Christmas cookie cutter shape will do. Stick to cutters that are between 2 inches and 2.5 inches. By the way, you may find that the dough may begin to stick to your work surface if it sits there too long. If this happens, use a spatula to carefully lift the cookies off the counter. If that doesn’t work, you may have to simply gather up your dough, re-flour the work surface, and start the rolling process over again.
Place the cookie cut-outs on cookie sheets that have been greased or lined with parchment paper (or Silpat).
If you want some shine on your cookies, brush them with lightly beaten egg. This step isn’t really necessary if you plan on glazing the cookies after they’ve baked.
Bake the cookies for about 8 minutes. They may be ready even in 6 minutes, depending on your oven and how thin you rolled out the cookies.
Here are the baked cookies without an egg wash.
Here are the baked cookies with an egg wash.
Transfer the cookies to a wire rack to cool completely. After they have completely cooled, they are ready to eat just as they are.
However, I recommend glazing the cookies because they are not very sweet standing on their own, and they look more appetizing when glazed. You can use a quick powdered sugar glaze for these cookies: a mixture of 1 3/4 cups powdered sugar and a tablespoon or so of orange juice (or other liquid, like milk or warm water), a tablespoon of light corn syrup, and a 1/4 teaspoon of almond extract for added flavor. You can omit the corn syrup, as I did for this batch, but the glaze works better on the cookies if you add some corn syrup. (The glaze is shinier after it hardens if you add corn syrup.)
Check the consistency of the glaze. If the glaze is too thin, add a 1/4 cup of powdered sugar at a time to get the right consistency. If the glaze is too thick, add a teaspoon of liquid at a time. Then brush the glaze on each cookie and set on parchment paper or a wire rack for the glaze to harden.
The glaze needs to be completely dry before storing.
You can pipe intricate designs on your cookies. Or not. I opted for not. I needed to do 4 other batches, so time was short!
These spicy, soft, puffy, and historically significant honey spice cookies–pierniczki–spell MERRY CHRISTMAS!