Pierniczki are cookies made with honey and spices and decorated with icing sugar. They are the Polish version of gingerbread and are traditionally eaten during Christmas.
Pierniczki can be made in many different shapes: stars, trees, angels, houses, St. Nicholas, etc. The most popular ones, especially to buy at Christmas Markets around Poland, are heart-shaped.
They are easy to make at home and a fun activity for parents to have with their kids, especially to keep them entertained during the holidays. To make them, I used a recipe from Ren Behan’s Wild Honey & Rye, which is my go to cookbook when it comes to Polish cuisine.
I asked my husband to help me with the cookie cutting and sugar icing decorating, which mixed results… ;) We had fun and it was lovely to do something creative together!
You don’t have to glaze them if you don’t want to, but I personally like a simple decoration of sugar icing and love the contrast of white against the dark brown cookie. You can also coat the cookies in melted chocolate or fill them with jam.
Toruń, a medieval city on the banks of the Vistula River in Poland, is known to be the place where the tradition of gingerbread cookies and cakes started, all the way back to the 14th century. You will even find a Gingerbread Museum in the city!
Originally, these cookies were in intricately carved wooden molds, as opposed to today’s modern metal cookie cutters. You can still find the beautiful old-style molds in Poland today from antique shops and of course in tourist shops in Toruń.
The name pierniki is said to come from the Polish word pieprz, which means pepper. This is because the main ingredients of these cookies are the spices! Cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cloves and nutmeg are a must, but you can also add aniseed and cardamom. In UK, a spice mix commonly sold in supermarkets is known as “all spice”; it works perfectly for these cookies (and other kinds of Christmas bakes).
These gingerbread cookies are quite sturdy (but also be soft to the bite) and will keep very well for a couple of weeks after you have baked them. For this reason, they can be used as Christmas tree decorations.
Just remember to pinch a small hole in the cookie as soon as it comes out of the oven and is still soft. Thread your twine through the hole and knot it, then hang the cookies on the tree branches.
Pierniczki are a lovely and sustainable gift idea to make for your family and friends!
Makes about 30 cookies (depending on mould size)
For the cookies
- 115g unsalted butter
- 115g soft dark brown sugar
- 6 tbsp runny honey
- 450g plain flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 2 tsp ground all spice mix
- 2 tbsp cocoa powder
- 1 medium free range egg
For the royal icing
- 150g icing sugar
- 1 egg white
- 1 tbsp water
Pre heat your oven to 200°C. Line two baking sheets with baking paper.
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.
In a large bowl, sift the dry ingredients together, mix well and then add the egg. Mix again. Pour the melted butter mixture into the dry ingredients bowl and mix it together until the dough starts to come together.
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. Sprinkle some flour onto the kitchen counter and roll out the dough to around 3mm using a rolling pin.
Cut out shapes using cookie cutters and carefully lift the cookies onto the baking trays. Bake for 7-8 minutes, until they are golden in colour and still a bit soft in the centre.
Remove the cookies from the oven and let them cool down on a wire rack.
To make the royal icing, combine sugar, egg white, and water. Mix the ingredients together with a wooden spoon or a food processor, until the icing is thickened and smooth, about 2 minutes.
When the cookies have cooled down completely, decorate them with royal icing using a piping bag fitted with a writing nozzle. Alternatively, you can use a ziplock plastic back, cutting a very tiny hole in one corner to use it as a piping bag.
Have fun decorating, there is no right or wrong here!
The cookies can be stored in a tin once cooled. They will keep for up to two weeks.