Pierniczki: Polish Spiced Christmas Cookies

I know, I know, Christmas is getting earlier and earlier each year, but for some reason, this year there is an extra bit of excitement in the air. I can’t quite put my finger on why the anticipation is building up already.  Perhaps it’s panic setting in early, pretending to be excitement. It could also be something to do with the fact that we’ve all noticed prices creeping up and up and so we’ve all been trying to find ways of cutting back as much as we can. Christmas kind of blows a raspberry in the face of austerity as we all gather together to celebrate, over-eat and gift swap. However, Christmas doesn’t have to be about excess, we can do just fine without blowing the budget and hammering the credit cards. Simple things can give just as much, if not more, pleasure.

One thing that is becoming more and more popular is making your own Christmas gifts and as a foodie, I love nothing more than a culinary-based challenge. This year, Vanessa Kimbell set the ball rolling by making her own Sloe Gin and set her fellow foodies the task of making and entering a gift for her “Let’s Make Christmas” virtual gift swap. Since Vanessa doesn’t do things by halves, she took it one step further by extending an invitation for us to attend a food blogger gift swap at Fortnum and Masons. Whilst the venue may not be frugal, Vanessa has managed to drum up some wonderful support and we will all get the chance to sip tea and eat mince pies, whilst Dan Lepard judges our Christmas creations!

I’ll keep you posted with what I’m making for the actual event, but in the meantime, the deadline for the virtual challenge is looming. Actually, it’s tomorrow so I’d better stop waffling on.

In our house, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without Polish gingerbread cake and Polish gingerbread biscuits and so today I called in the reinforcements, by way of inviting my Polish friend Monika over to help me make Pierniczki. Out came the Christmas cookie cutters and a traditional recipe, which we tweaked only slightly to make our festive creations.

Gingerbread and ginger biscuits are very traditional across the whole of Eastern Europe. In Poland, gingerbread is known as Piernik or Pierniczki whilst in Germany, gingerbread biscuits are called Lebkuchen. I was very intrigued to find out that in Poland, the tradition of making gingerbread dates back to 13th Century, in a town called Toruń. The location meant that there was plenty of wheat or rye flour as well as locally made honey. Spices were brought in from India via Germany or through the Baltic port of Gdańsk.

Pierniczki have always formed a part of my Polish heritage and this is mainly due to the fact that they have always been given traditionally as gifts. They can take many forms, covered in chocolate and made to a slightly cakier recipe, they become known as Katarzynki (try saying that after a few sloe gins) and as well as biscuits, often heart-shaped and ornately decorated by hand. There is also a very traditional gingerbread cake or loaf, layered with damson jam and again, coated in chocolate. Mnn!

So, the Let’s Make Christmas challenge seemed like the perfect opportunity for me to make the Pierniczki of my childhood and give them, as gifts. There are probably as many recipes for Polish gingerbread as there are people in Poland, so I’m not claiming this one as the original or even the ultimate, but it is fairly straightforward and easy to make.

Polish gingerbread biscuits should be quite dark in colour, once baked they are very firm to the touch, almost too difficult to snap, but after a few days they soften and develop more and more flavour and aroma.  They can be decorated with writing icing, or icing that is made to a quite thin consistency. This bit is actually quite hard and more practice is needed by me!

Monika and I also cut out a few snow flakes using ready to roll icing. You can either make them as edible cookies, or make a small hole in the top (I used the tip of a chopstick once they were cooked) and then thread some ribbon through to make Christmas tree decorations.

 

Polish Spiced Christmas Cookies – Pierniczki

Serves 30
Prep time 1 hour
Cook time 8 minutes
Total time 1 hour, 8 minutes
Allergy Egg, Wheat
Source Child Friendly
Occasion Christmas
Region European

Ingredients

  • 110g Unsalted Butter (Plus a little extra for greasing the baking trays)
  • 110g Soft, dark brown sugar
  • 8 tablespoons Runny Honey
  • 1 Free range egg
  • 450g Plain Flour or Rye Flour (Plus a sprinkle extra for the board when rolling out)
  • 2 teaspoons Baking Powder
  • 2 teaspoons Ground Ginger
  • 2 teaspoons Cinnamon Powder
  • 2 tablespoons Mixed Spice
  • 2 tablespoons Cocoa Powder
  • 100g Icing Sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Water (Add more water if it is too thick, the icing needs to be thick, but runny)

Directions

Step 1
Pre heat your oven to 200 degrees celcius and lightly grease 3 baking trays with butter.
Step 2
In a small pan, melt the butter with the soft, dark brown sugar and runny honey. Stir just until the butter has melted in. Put the pan to one side.
Step 3
In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together, mix well and then add the egg. Mix again.
Step 4
Pour the melted butter mixture into the dry ingredients bowl and mix it together until the dough starts to come together.
Step 5
Tip the mixture out onto a board and knead it into a ball of dough. If the mixture is too crumbly, add a tablespoon of water at a time and knead again until it comes together.
Step 6
Sprinkle some flour onto a clean, flat surface and roll out the dough. It needs to be about as thick as a pound coin. Cut out shapes using cookie cutters and carefully lift the cookies onto the baking trays. You should fit ten cookies per tray, they don't spread too much. You can cook them in batches for 7-8 minutes per batch.
Step 7
Whilst the cookies are cooking, make your icing by stirring the water into a bowl of sifted icing sugar. Mix it really well until you have a thick paste that will pour evenly off a spoon. Use a piping bag fitted with a writing nozzle to decorate your cookies. Alternatively, you can buy very good writing icing in the shops, decorate them in any colour you like.
Step 8
When the cookies have baked, they should be golden and will still be a bit soft. Take them out, carefully lift them onto a cooling rack using a pallette knife and leave to cool. I used a chopstick to make small holes in the top of my cookies, but be careful not to break the top off the cookie by pressing too hard.
Step 9
The cookies can be stored in a tin once cooled, they will soften. They will keep for up to two weeks, unless used as Christmas tree decorations, in which case, they can be left on the tree!

I hope you like them and I hope you find the time to have a go at making them too. I’m not going to turn into Kirsty Allsop and make all my Christmas gifts, but we did have lots of fun making these and they are a lovely rainy day project when there are little helpers, or little help-yourselves, around.

Are you into making your own Christmas gifts?  If so, tell me what you’re making and see if you can inspire me to have a go at something else!


Comments

  1. Stephen says

    These cookies are beautiful; I can’t wait to try them. I’m curious however, how you made the intricate snowflake design…

    Thanks!

    Stephen

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  5. Lizzie says

    This year I decided to try and make (most of) my Christmas presents. My grandfather was Polish so my whole family have always loved the Katarzynki that he used to bring back for us after each trip to Poland and I thought these would make lovely gifts. I haven’t yet decorated mine but I’m so pleased with how the biscuits turned out (I had to sample one, of course!), this is a really great recipe, many thanks for posting :)

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  7. says

    Thanks for this Ren – I made these in the end. I used half rye and half white flour. Also used a few different spices, adding my own home made mixed spice as well as some cayenne pepper. Apart from burning the first batch, they worked really well. I was going to try and ice them, but in the end ran out of time and anyway, wouldn’t stand a hope in hell of doing anything as beautifully as your have done.

    • Ren says

      Aah, I just saw your photo on Twitter, they look beautiful! Perfect little things. I love the fact that you added your own mixed spice mix and a few extras. I’m so pleased you made them! Thanks so much for letting me know how they turned out :-)

  8. says

    These are so beautifully done Ren. I remember admiring them on the day, but didn’t know whose they were. I need to get baking some sort of Christmas cookies today and am trying to make up my mind which ones – these are a high contender.

    • Ren says

      Hi Choclette, thank you so much. Helen at Jessiesonline has made them a couple of times and they turned out well, also another lady tweeted me yesterday to say she had made them too. It’s quite an easy recipe to make. Good luck with your cookies. This is a good time to make them as its clopse enough to Christmas to still be able to eat them!

  9. says

    Oh so pretty – I’ve been looking for a good recipe for biscuits I can cut out with cutters and here it is! Thanks so much for sharing.

    I’m doing simple crochet slippers for all the girls this year – I found a great pattern through this blog post:

    http://homespunliving.blogspot.com/2011/11/slipper-pattern.html

    If you can crochet at all they really are easy but I have found I needed to make them longer by adding rows to the main part. Maybe we have big feet in our family! ;o)

  10. says

    These look amazing! I’ve just bought some of that ribbon for this purpose & was browsing for a good recipe & came across this one and I’m definitely going to use it to make some cookies for the tree & gifts.

    • Ren says

      Thank you so much Helen. Great news, hope they turn out well! If the dough is too dry at all, just add a tiny bit of water, so it doesn’t crack. Keep an eye on them in the oven too! The easiest way to make the hole for the ribbon in as soon as they come out of the oven – I used a chopstick!

      • says

        I’ve made a couple of batches now…so easy & so tasty, haven’t done ones with holes in yet..they will be next. I will be sharing on my blog soon & will link here
        x

  11. says

    Am finally catching up with everyone after the event. Wasn’t it great. I love these biscuits. Remind me of the ones my lovely Polish friend gave me at Uni to decorate my room – I couldn’t afford a big tree :-( Thanks for sharing x

    • Ren says

      Thanks Urvashi, it was so lovely to meet you, just annoying that I had to leave early and was a bit busy at the beginning. So pleased they’ve reminded you of your friend :-))

  12. says

    Your cookies are so neat and regular! I’m not much into baking (yet), so I haven’t made any cookies, but I have made some pickled pears and some Sloe Gin, both of which seem pretty Christmassy to me. The trouble is I haven’t made a lot, so I won’t have much to give away, though my family will share them withme, I’m sure.

    • Ren says

      Thanks Mark, I don’t make cookies often but these were fun to make. Ooh pickled pears sound interesting and I’ve never tried homemade sloe gin but would really love to try it some day. Must get someone to show me where to find some sloes…!

    • Ren says

      Thank you Judith for the comment, I’m sure you Polish friends would really be reminded of home! That would make a very thoughtful gift. x

  13. says

    These look fantastic. I’m currently getting ideas together for edible Christmas gifts, and these could be a great one! But I’m looking at also doing some savoury treats like poppy seed crackers and chutney, and little bags of fudge to keep the sweet tooths happy! How long do you expect these to keep for?
    - Laura

    • Ren says

      Thanks Laura. Your savoury treats sounds delicious too, I love using poppy seeds so the crackers and chutney sound wonderful. I’ve never made fudge, but I did see a recipe a few weeks ago so may give it a try. These cookies will keep for up to two weeks in a sealed tin, so i will have to make some more nearer to Christmas!

  14. says

    Amazing cookies, so beautifully decorated and presented. Would definitely make a lovely gift and/or christmas tree decoration. I’m afraid I have not got round to X’mas baking yet but I do like making homemade gifts if I can.

    • Ren says

      Thank you so much. We are more likely to use them as tree decorations, but I’m sure we’ll nibble on a few too. It is early yet for Christmas baking. I’m sure your homemade gifts are beautiful :-)

  15. says

    Your cookies are so cute…I love the way you’ve decorated them, and that picture with the little hand just creeping in to try one :-) I’m definitely going to make some Christmas cookies this year – bookmarking this recipe!

    • Ren says

      Thank you! The little hand enjoyed picking off the icing! I’m not the best cookie baker, but it was fun x

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