Christmas Honey Spice Cake (Piernik)

This is a traditional Polish holiday cake prepared during Advent. It is rich, moist and just a little sweet with a great depth of warm flavours. Heat up some mulled wine and you have a perfect treat for a cosy night in! The recipe has been perfected over the years by my mum and it is now one of my favourites. The secret to getting it right is using good quality honey as well as fresh and very aromatic spices. 

Ingredients:

  • 250g honey
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 125g butter
  • 500g flour
  • 2 small eggs
  • 1 ½ teaspoon baking soda mixed with ¼ cup cold milk
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Spice mix: equal amount (1 teaspoon) of ground cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice, ginger and coffee. I also add a handful of crushed walnuts and some orange rind (may be candied)
  • 1 jar of plum butter for the filling (250-300g)

Method:

Place honey, sugar and butter in a saucepan over a low heat until the mixture begins to simmer. All ingredients should be thoroughly melted and well combined. Put the saucepan to the side and let it cool down until lukewarm.

Mix all of the remaining dry ingredients as well as eggs and baking soda with milk. Add honey, sugar and butter mixture and knead until combined.

Transfer the dough to a large bowl, cover with foil wrap and a tea towel. Leave in the fridge for 3 weeks (at least 2). The dough will mature and slightly increase in volume.

On the day of baking prepare the tin (I used 13in x 9in x 2in tin) by covering it with parchment paper. To make you life easier, spread some soft butter inside the tin; it will work like glue and keep the paper in one place. Take the dough out of the fridge and let it warm up for about 10 minutes. You want to transfer the dough into the tin while it’s still cold. Since it’s rather tough, I tear off large pieces, flatten them with both hands and place on the bottom of the tin. I also have a cup of warm water on the side to dip my fingers while handling the sticky dough.

Flatten and even out the surface with slightly wet hands. Bake at 350ºF (non-convection oven) for about 40 minutes. You don’t want to burn or dry out the cake, so it’s best to check it after 30 minutes by inserting a wooden skewer in the middle of the cake. It is ready when the skewer comes out dry.

Take the cake out of the oven and leave it to cool for an hour. Then using a knife with a long blade cut it in half horizontally. Spread all of the plum butter on the bottom half and cove with the top part. Carefully wrap first with parchment paper, then aluminum foil and finally a large plastic bag or wrap so that only minimum air gets in. Leave in a cool place (not necessarily fridge) for at least 24 hours (ideally 48 hours) so that the cake absorbs all of the moisture of the plum butter. I additionally put some weight on top of it to speed the process; I removed it after the first 24 hours. You may see the cake grow/lift a little.

Decorate with melted chocolate and crushed almonds. It keeps for at least 2 weeks and does not need to be refrigerated.

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