Piernik or Pierniczki, Poland’s honey-based gingerbread which is popular for St. Nicholas Day and at Christmas time is heavily spiced. The authentic recipe for them is still a closely guarded secret, but they are traditionally made with wheat or rye flour, honey, and a blend of spices, such as cinnamon, nutmeg, pepper, and cloves. To replicate the robust palate of these cookies and get the most flavor from the spices in this recipe, the spices are infused into the honey. This both draws out the spices’ flavors and helps to distribute them more evenly through the dough. A dark, robust honey works best with the intensity of the spices and the nuttiness of the rye flour.
PIERNIKI POLISH GINGERBREAD COOKIES
The name pierniki is derived from the Polish word pieprz, or pierny, meaning packed with peppery flavor. And, these cookies live up to their name as they are packed with lots of delicious peppery flavor!
Makes 40 Cookies
- 260 grams (3/4 cup) buckwheat or clover honey
- 8 tablespoons (1 stick) salted butter
- 1 1/4 teaspoons ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 210 grams (1 1/2 cups) rye flour
- 195 grams (1 1/2 cups) all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 tablespoon finely grated fresh ginger
- 100 grams (1/2 cup) packed light brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 large egg
- 240 grams (1 cup) turbinado sugar or espresso glaze
- In a small saucepan over medium, combine the honey, butter, pepper, cinnamon, ground ginger, and cardamom. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, then transfer to a medium bowl. Let cool until warm, 20 to 30 minutes.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together both flours and the baking soda. Into the honey mixture, stir the fresh ginger, brown sugar, and salt. Add the egg and mix until well combined, then stir in the flour mixture. Shape the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, at least 2 hours or up to 12 hours.
- Heat the oven to 350°F with the racks in the upper- and lower-middle positions. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with kitchen parchment. Put the turbinado sugar, if using, in a small bowl. Pinch off 1-tablespoon bits from the chilled dough disk and roll them between the palms of your hands into 1-inch balls. If using turbinado sugar, roll each ball in the sugar to coat evenly. Divide the dough balls between the prepared baking sheets, spacing them evenly. Lightly press each one with your hand to flatten to ¼ inch thick.
- Bake until light golden brown at the edges and slightly cracked on top, 10 to 12 minutes, switching and rotating the baking sheets halfway through. Let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack and let cool completely. If using espresso glaze, use a spoon to drizzle the glaze over the cooled Pierniki cookies. Let the glaze dry for 30 minutes.
- Chilling the cookie dough for longer than 12 hours will result in cookies that bake up cakey and thick.
- If time allows, bake these Pierniki cookies the day before you plan to serve them, as their flavor improves with resting.
- Buckwheat and clover honey both work well with this recipe, but avoid honey that has a distinct floral note.
- These cookies can be decorated in several ways. For a crackled appearance, roll the dough balls in turbinado sugar before baking. You can also drizzle the baked and cooled cookies with an espresso glaze such as the one below.
- 2 tablespoons instant espresso powder
- 2 tablespoons plus 4 teaspoons whole milk, divided
- 230 grams (2 cups) powdered sugar