Toruń Gingerbread Fullproof (Piernik toruński niezawodny)
Fullproof is only once by me but the Polish name sounds like that: niezawodny – foolproof or reliable. And I cannot complain at all.
Toruń is the Polish city where Mikołaj Kopernik was born, used to live and worked and which is famous for the Toruń Gingerbread (Toruńskie Pierniki). Toruń at the moment has even the Gingerbread Museum (Muzeum Piernika), which is worth visiting. The most famous producer of Gingerbread in Poland is the confectionery factory “Kopernik” S.A. that continues the gingerbread baking tradition, reaching 1751 year, of the company established by Gustaw Weese.
Gingerbread in Poland has a very long tradition originating in the Middle Ages or maybe even earlier. The ancient Slavic cuisine already knew the honey cake that was used for ceremonial purposes, too. However, bringing to Poland (and other European cities) the spices and discovering the raising agents made the cake known as a Piernik (Gingerbread). The famous gingerbreads in Europe were Toruńskie Pierniki and Nürnberger Lebkuchen that were baked in the beautifully carved wooden molds.
The first mention of piernik took place in XIV century, although some historians claim it to be in XIII. The oldest known recipes for gingerbread (pierniki) come from the 1725 year from the “Compendium medicum auctum to iest krótkie zebranie y opisanie chorób, ich różności, przyczyn, znaków, sposobów do leczenia” book.
In Poland preparing the gingerbread dough was an art. The raw dough was maturing a long time before being baked. It happened very often that the gingerbread dough was Polish nobility and bourgeois ladies dowry. This sort of gingerbread, nowadays, is known as maturing Traditional Polish Christmas Gingerbread (Staropolski piernik świąteczny according to Maria Lemnis and Henryk Vitry) and is to be prepared at least 3 weeks before Christmas (minimum 2 weeks maturing of a dough, better 5-6 weeks, and 3-4 days before Xmas baking for allowing softening).
However, this time I want to share with you the recipe for the Toruń Gingerbread that comes from the XIX century Polish cookbook by Lucyna Ćwierczakiewiczowa with my small modifications or interpretation. XIX century old recipes could be troublesome for the native speaker, too, especially with the system of weighs and measures that was not unified in those times. The gingerbread with the rye flour has a distinctive taste; probably unusual from this or those you are accustomed too. It is not too sweet, and no fat is added. You can have it with vodka (although I doubt there are people in Poland still doing it), plum jam (powidła śliwkowe), butter or just plain with milk or tea. It is worth trying.
Toruń Gingerbread Fullproof
1,2 kg honey
125ml water (I gave a mixture of rose water and vodka since I saw this in the XVI century recipes)
1 teaspoon of dried orange peel (I gave the orange peel from one medium, fresh orange)
1 teaspoon of ground cloves
2 small teaspoons of half-ground anise stars (I gave 1 teaspoon)
* 1 teaspoon of nutmeg
* 2 teaspoons of cinnamon
* 1 teaspoon of cardamom
*1/2 teaspoon of black pepper
*1 teaspoon of ginger
2 litres of rye flour (warmed and sieved; I used integral one for in São Paulo I couldn’t find any other, but it seems to be better to use finer flour)
1 egg yolk
50 g sodium bicarbonate dissolved in the
1 glass ca. 50-100ml of spirit (96% rectified alcohol), but you can use vodka instead, or even milk or water
1 handful of candied orange peel (I omitted it, since I haven’t had)
1 handful of almonds, chopped
* 1 handful of walnuts, chopped
* 1 handful of dried plums, chopped
* 1 handful of dried apricots, chopped
* ½ handful of cranberries, chopped
*My addition, not in the original recipe of Ćwierczakiewiczowa, but in other recipes for pierniki.
- Ground the spices when necessary. Freshly ground taste stronger and better.
- Cook the honey with the ground spices quite a long time on a small heat until golden brown or when you observed the change in the colour.
- Meanwhile dry and heat the flour (I did it in the big pan) and sieve it. If you have integral flour it can be difficult but don’t give up. Sieve at least ¾ of it.
- Add the sieved flour in the big pot, which you can hold firmly while stirring later on.
- Add the hot honey to the flour. Stir well with some strong spoon, I used the stiff, wooden one, that no lumps of flour are there anymore. It is difficult for the dough is firm and gluey.
- Add 4 eggs to the hot dough and mix well.
- Let it cool down in the cold place.
- Add 1 egg yolk and sodium bicarbonate dissolved in alcohol (or milk or water). Stir and knead well. At this moment the dough is already cold, so you can knead it with hands.
- Add the dried, chopped fruits and nuts. Mix well.
- Put the dough on the baking tray a 2,5cm thick, buttered and sprinkled with flour or lined with parchment paper. I used the parchment paper and it was a bit difficult to put the dough because it is rather firm and gluey.
- Coat with the egg or beer (I used beer since I don’t like the smell of egg on the dough).
- You can dress the dough with nuts or dried fruits (I omitted it, it was enough in my opinion and they could get burnt).
- Bake in the preheated oven as hot as for the rolls about 30-45 minutes, depending on the amount you prepared. I used 180 degrees of Celsius. I got two trays of ca. 22x30cm.
- When cold, wrap in the parchment paper, not very tight, and linen cloth and store in the cool place. It can be in the room temperature, too, depending on temperature.
With over 30 Celsius, after two days from baking I have decided to put it into the fridge. However, I think it is not necessary. This cake needs to catch the humidity from air. You can put it into the airtight container but then it is good to add a peeled apple into it. It should last quite some time, I think even few weeks or even months but I do not think I will get this opportunity because with each day it becomes somehow smaller and smaller. Hopefully, we still have something left for Christmas.
Oh, in Poland, before Christmas there is always a question in the air: Will my piernik be soft on time?