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
- 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 162g
- ½ cup sugar 100g
- ¼ cup unsalted butter 60g
- ½ orange zest ie zest from ½ orange
- 2 tbsp marmalade or fruit jam eg apricot, plum
- 1 ½ cups all purpose flour 210g plain flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp baking soda (bicarbonate of soda)
- ¼ tsp salt
- 1 ½ tsp cinnamon
- ½ tsp nutmeg
- ½ tsp allspice
- ½ tsp cloves
- ⅛ tsp cardamom
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup milk 120ml
For the glaze
- ½ cup confectioner's sugar 55g icing sugar
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 tbsp unsalted butter 15g
- 1 tbsp 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