Piernik is a Polish gingerbread or honey spice cake that is packed with delicious flavor. It's traditional for the festive season, but being both easy and tasty, it's worth making any excuse to make it.
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I've found it fully since our move that I've become all the more aware of which spices I use a lot and which hardly use. I've had to start from scratch again, so some things I had lurking at home haven't made the cut. Then others, I've already found myself re-stocking already.
Cinnamon is in the list of ones I use a lot, which wasn't really a surprise. It sneaks its way into a few things, particularly when I start baking. Warm spices in general are definitely some favorite flavors, so when I discover dishes using them, I'm always tempted to try.
This piernik immediately spoke to me with the combination of warm spices and honey. It didn't disappoint, both in flavor and being so easy.
What is piernik?
The name comes from "pierna" meaning spices in old Polish. It typically refers to a Polish spiced cake, but just as gingerbread can refer to both a cake and gingerbread cookies, piernik can as well.
The town of Toruń is very famous for their gingerbread, made there since Medieval times. Traditionally they are made in moulds, so more of a cookie.
Piernik has been made since the 12th century, with the original being simply flour, honey and spices. In many cases, pierniczki is the name for the gingerbread cookies while, but not strictly so, as in the case of the Toruń version.
Even as a cake, there are a few variations in how it's made. Some ferment the mixture for a few days or longer before baking while others make more of a quick bread. Also worth noting, the cake is not to be confused with a Polish honey cake, which is "miodownik" that doesn't have the spices.
How does Polish gingerbread differ from others?
As with gingerbread in other countries, both the cake and the cookie versions use a range of different spices to form the flavor. However one thing that's interesting about the Polish version is is that ginger isn't actually included in most blends.
Most will include cinnamon, cloves, allspice and cardamom, though the amounts and the exact combination does vary. As a result it's often less "peppery" than some other gingerbreads.
I've drawn on a number of recipes that I found in making this, particularly these ones from Polish your Kitchen and from Holly Trail. After a few of my own tweaks, the result is a cake that's quick to make using a standard loaf tin, but has plenty of tasty flavor.
See how it comes together in the short video!
You first warm the honey, sugar, butter, jam or marmalade and orange zest so that they dissolve. Then add this to the dry ingredients along with the milk and eggs. Pour into a lined loaf tin and bake.
I've topped it with a simple chocolate glaze, enriched with some butter, as is pretty typical. Many add a layer of plum jam in the middle as well, which would also be great.
This loaf keeps pretty well for a few days, though it will become slightly drier after a day or two. While I haven't tried freezing, I am pretty sure it would work if you wrapped it in foil then put in a freezer bag.
Piernik is a deliciously flavored gingerbread cake, or better described as honey spice cake. It's sweet but not overly so, warmly spiced without being sharp. In other words, perfect to snack on with a cup of coffee, or any excuse.
Try these other easy cakes:
- French lemon yogurt cake
- Apple snack cake
- Sour cream mocha cake
- French pear cake
- Plus get more snack recipes, both sweet and savory, in the archives.
Tools to make this
(affiliate link) The loaf pan I use here is older and I don't know the brand, but this loaf pan looks like a good option (and I have used, and really like, other Wilton pans).
See some of my favorite cooking tools and ingredients in the Caroline's Cooking Amazon store.
Piernik (Polish gingerbread cake)
- ½ cup honey
- ½ cup sugar
- ¼ cup unsalted butter
- ½ orange zest ie zest from ½ orange
- 2 tablespoon marmalade or fruit jam eg apricot, plum
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda bicarbonate of soda
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon allspice
- ½ teaspoon cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon cardamom
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup milk
For the glaze
- ½ cup confectioner's sugar icing sugar
- 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon boiling water
- Preheat the oven to 355F/180C. Lightly butter a 9x5in (23x13cm) loaf tin (8 ½ x 4 ½in/ 21x11cm also works) then line it with parchment, at least through the bottom and up longer sides.
- Put the honey, sugar, butter, orange zest and marmalade or jam in a small pan. Warm them together over a medium-low heat until the butter and sugar dissolve. Remove from heat and set aside.
- Mix together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices in a large bowl. Lightly beat the eggs. Add the honey-butter mixture, milk and eggs to the flour mixture and mix so they are well combined but try not to over-mix.
- Pour the mixture into the lined loaf pan and transfer to the oven (lower middle shelf). Bake for around 50 minutes until the top is golden and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean.
- Allow the loaf to cool slightly, then mix together the frosting. Sift the powdered sugar into a small bowl and add the cocoa powder. Melt the butter then add this and the boiling water to the sugar and mix well. Spread over the top of the loaf evenly, but try not to over-work it. Ideally leave it to harden before taking the loaf from the pan and slicing, but it will be fine if you do while still slightly warm.
Try these other Polish recipes:
- Baba Kartoflana - Polish Potato Pie from Food Lust People Love
- Babki Śmietankowe (Cream Tarts) from Sid's Sea Palm Cooking
- Kapusta Casserole – Polish Cabbage, Potato, and Bacon Bake from Making Miracles
- Karpatka (Polish Carpathian Cream Cake) from Tara's Multicultural Table
- Kolaczki - Jam-Filled Polish Cookies from Karen's Kitchen Stories
- Kotlety Ziemniaczane from Culinary Adventures with Camilla
- Mom Klik's Breaded Pork Chops from A Day in the Life on the Farm
- Oven Braised Pork with Sour Cream (Karkówka w śmietanie) from Palatable Pastime
- Polish Stuffed Cabbage Rolls from Cookaholic Wife
- Veg Pierogi Casserole from Sneha's Recipe
Both my husband and I enjoyed this cake. I was looking for a Polish recipe. Love all the spices. Did not frost it as it is fine plain. My husband will probably add a bit of whipped cream to his warmed up piece later this evening.
Glad to hear you enjoyed!
Can i bake this in a round tin? What size tin should I use, and how should I adjust the time?
Yes you could, you'd want an 8 or 9in round (I'd say 8in would be better to be a bit deeper, at least 2in deep tin). Since the cake will be thinner it will cook a bit quicker, so I'd keep a close eye after say 30minutes and test the middle for doneness every few minutes.
Such a beautiful cake! I love all those spices and the chocolate glaze.
Thanks, the flavors all work so well.
This looks like a WONDERFUL cake - love all those beautiful spices!!
Thanks, it's very popular here!
I do love a good spice cake and this is hitting all the buttons. Even though it doesn't have ginger in it. I'm with you on all the spices. I'm really not fond of cinnamon, but I must use a lot of it, cause it makes a regular appearance on my shopping list.
It's funny, you think you should need ginger but really this combination just doesn't miss it at all.
So many spices! This cake looks delicious.
They all add something to it, and so tasty!
So many flavors are in this cake! It totally sounds amazing. Thanks for sharing the story behind the cake.
Thanks, yes the flavors are wonderful and work so well together.
I've never had piernik as a cake. Thanks for sharing.
It's such a tasty treat.
Camilla M Mann
No ginger? Can't wait to try this. Gingerbread is always my sweet of choice heading into Fall and Winter. Thanks for a new recipe to try.
I know, it does feel funny to have gingerbread without ginger as such but this is really so tasty you'll more than forgive it 🙂
What an extraordinarily vibrant orange it is inside! So inviting!
All those spices definitely make it a lovely color (and flavor)!
This looks delicious! I love gingerbread so can't wait to make this. Love all the spices in this too!
Thanks, the spices and honey in this are so tasty!