Toruń, Poland, home of Nicholas Copernicus, is one of many European cities that claims to have invented gingerbread. One story goes that woman had consumed a little too much mead and made the happy mistake of adding honey and spices to bread she was making. The city, which is one of the few in Poland not damaged during World War II, even hosts a Gingerbread Museum. When we spent the night in Toruń on a Thanksgiving road trip, the hotel left individually wrapped gingerbread cookies on our pillows.
After seeing the beautiful gingerbread figures available at most festivals in the Stary Rynek (Old Market Square) in Poznan, I wanted to buy some wooden gingerbread molds to bring home with me. They’re not easy to find. I found my first at a gingerbread shop in Gdansk (they only had two and my friend bought the other for her daughter), subsequent wooden molds were purchased at a wonderful souvenir shop in Toruń (I wish I had the address), and finally, I bought a large reversible mold (man on one side, woman on the other) in an antique store in Amsterdam, so I guess technically this one would be a speculaas mold.
I’ve made gingerbread in the past. I used to make three gingerbread houses every Christmas for our daughters to decorate. My American recipe uses molasses. The Polish recipe I used for inspiration, from Moje Wypieki, uses honey and is a little softer than what I’ve worked with in the past. The finished texture is light and lovely. One change that I will make next time is to reduce the baking soda. I hope with less leavening, the details from the mold will be more distinct after baking.
This is the first time I’ve used the gingerbread molds, which I have seasoned previously with mineral oil. It was fun to try them out. After rolling the dough, I patted and pressed it into the molds, which I lightly dusted with powdered sugar to be sure the gingerbread would release. It worked like a charm. I trimmed the pattern before baking, using a combination of a pizza cutter, a little pasta cutter, and the corner of my metal spatula. My royal icing piping isn’t precise enough to accent the lines in the molds, so Ed had the good idea of speading icing on the relief and then wiping it off, almost as if I were antiquing furniture. It highlights the pattern better. I may also leave them plain in the future.
In addition to my wooden molds, I tried out two large Christmas cookie cutters and made a bunch of little hearts. I piped a little royal icing on the larger cookies and the molded gingerbread, but I left my little hearts plain, but you could certainly sprinkle them with coarse sugar or sprinkles before baking, or coat with a thin glaze after baking. Traditional pierniczki should look rustic, not too perect. It would be a great baking project for kids.
A light, crisp, spice cookie
- 1/4 cup honey (spray the measuring cup with oil and the honey will pour out easily)
- 1/3 cup butter
- 1/2 cup brown sugar
- 1 egg
- 2 1/4 cups flour (you might like to try rye flour)
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon cocoa
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- Preheat oven to 350
- In a saucepan, heat the honey, butter, and brown sugar over medium heat until the butter melts and sugar dissolves
- Remove from heat
- Stir in egg
- Add flour, baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, cocoa, and salt
- Roll out dough on a lightly floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick
- Cut into sharpes or press into prepared molds
- Bake on a parchment lined cookie sheet, about 8 minutes