I went to Wrocław recently with some good friends and we picked up a bag of minty Uszatki (“eared”) pierniczki from Kopernik at the airport with our few remaining złoty. Pierniczki, or pierniki, are Polish gingerbread biscuits, slightly soft and heavily spiced. They come in a lot of shapes and sizes and are sometimes filled. Traditionally the dough is allowed to rest for a long time, possibly a year. This is a quicker recipe, though it does still call for at least a few hours’ rest.
Makes about 20 40×40×10mm cookies, maybe two or three bites each. Takes 15 minutes to make the dough, between 3 hours and a month to rest the dough, and 10 minutes to bake. Consider making a double or triple batch since the dough can rest for such a long time.
In a small pot, melt together 50 g (¼ c) butter and 50 g (2½ T) honey and then let cool. In a large bowl, combine 150 g (1¼ c) all purpose flour, 50 g (½ c) rye flour, 65 g (½ c) sifted icing sugar, 2 T gingerbread spice*, the zest of two lemons, ½ t baking soda, and a pinch of salt. Beat 1 egg in to the butter and honey mixture, then pour the wet ingredients in to the dry and mix thoroughly to combine.
At this point, the sticky dough should be shaped in to a rough square about 10mm thick, wrapped in parchment, and then should rest in the refrigerator for at least a few hours. Ideally, according to the experts in Torún, it should rest in the fridge for around 2–4 weeks.
When ready to bake, preheat the oven to 180C (350F) then line a baking sheet with parchment paper and remove the dough from the fridge. If you have cookie cutters, sprinkle some flour on the surface and roll the dough out to 5–10mm in depth before cutting out your shapes. If you don’t have a cookie cutter (I don’t), use a pizza cutter or a knife to cut the dough in to 40×40mm squares. Place your cookies on the lined baking sheet with a little space between them. They will rise slightly but should not spread more than a few millimetres. Bake at 180C (350F) for 8–10 minutes.
While baking, in a small bowl mix together 8 T powdered sugar with enough fresh lemon juice (about one lemon) to make a thin glaze. Set up a cooling rack with parchment paper beneath it to catch glaze drips. When the cookies are done, remove them from the oven and let them cool on the baking sheet for 2–3 minutes. While they are still quite warm, dip the sides and top of the cookies in the glaze mixture and then allow them to firm up and cool completely on the rack.
Store the gingerbread in an airtight container. They can be stored for quite a long time, at least two weeks and possibly for a month or two. If they go firm or a bit stale, add an orange or apple peel to the container temporarily to rehydrate the cookies.
* Store-bought gingerbread spice can be a little boring. Consider the following mixture which makes about 3½ T of gingerbread spice in total: 2½ t ground cinnamon, 2 t ground ginger, 1 t ground cloves, 1 t ground nutmeg, 1 t ground allspice, 1 t ground cardamom, 1 t ground coriander seed, 1 t ground anise seed, dash of ground pepper. If you’re missing any of these or are unsure you’ll like the combo, try mixing something together with what you’ve got and then put it on some toast with butter and sugar to test it out.
This recipe came together by referring to a bunch of excellent recipes online including:
- Same-Day Polish Honey Gingerbread Cookies
- Miękkie pierniczki glazurowane (Soft glazed gingerbread)
- Miękkie Pierniczki Świąteczne (Soft Christmas Gingerbread)
- “Szybkie” Pierniczki (“Quick” Gingerbread)
- Pierniczki świąteczne z ciasta dojrzewającego (Christmas gingerbread with ripening dough)
A lot of recipes call for cocoa but that seems to be simply for colour. If you use fresh spices and a decent spice mixture such as the one listed above, you shouldn’t need cocoa. For a different flavour, consider omitting the lemon zest and juice and instead use a few drops of mint extract and water to create the glaze.