Piernik – Polish Spice Cake

Not complaining at all, but I had three different parties to go to last Saturday night, so I needed a recipe that I could mix up once and yet get a lot out of. I wanted to make a desert, so I went back to Poland. They do seem to be masters of sweet treats. I went with Piernik (Polish Spice Cake, also sometimes known as Polish Gingerbread). The recipe below makes two large loaves, or three medium which was perfect for my purposes.

It’s traditionally served with a chocolate glaze on top, so I’m providing a recipe for that as well. A little more crumbly than your average cake, but not too sweet and very tasty.

Polish Gingerbread
(By Marcin Floryan (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons)

Polish Piernik

(Spice Cake or Polish Gingerbread)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dark honey
  • 1 cup strong coffee
  • 8 ounces (2 sticks) unsalted butter
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 3 large eggs
  • 1 cup packed dark brown sugar
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour

Instructions:

  1. In a small saucepan, combine honey, coffee, butter and spices. Cook on medium heat until boiling. Remove from heat and then let cool to warm.
  2. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour 2 large or 3 medium loaf pans.
  3. In a large bowl, mix eggs, brown sugar and baking powder. Slowly add the warm liquid, beating constantly at low speed. Add the flour and mix thoroughly.
  4. Pour into the prepared pans and bake 45 to 55 minutes or until toothpick is pretty much clean. Let cakes cool in pan for 15 minutes and then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
  5. This cake keeps very well and can be dusted with confectioners’ sugar or glazed with chocolate at serving time.

Chocolate Glaze

Ingredients:

  • 12 oz of semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • 1 1/2 cups of heavy cream

Instructions:

In a medium saucepan, gently heat the cream but not to a boil. When warm, take off heat and stir in the chocolate. Stir until melted, then let cool to lukewarm. It will thicken up.

Reading about Poland

For shame, it took me a month and half to get through this. I will NEVER take as long to read a book for this blog again. I am dedicating myself to a quicker pace. Summer got in the way, but the seasons are changing and the couch in front of the fireplace is ready to facilitate many hours of reading…

Anyway. Poland is cool! I’ve learned so much and am walking away very impressed; a visit is now solidly on the to-do list. Previously, most of my knowledge of Poland was within the context of World War II. And hey, I live in a country that came out on top, so we end up owning the narrative. And no matter how you spin it, the Poles were not winners in that conflict. It’s almost incomprehensible how much they suffered, and then when it was over they had the Soviet Union to deal with. But that’s not the whole story of Poland. It’s not fair to see any culture just through the prism of suffering and war, which the Poles have had more than their fair share of.

The book I read was The Polish Way: A Thousand Year History of The Poles and Their Culture by Adam Zamoyski. It’s a bit of a textbook (seriously), and as the title suggests it covers a lot of ground, but Mr. Zamoyski is an engaging writer and the history is much more interesting than what I expected. More than once while reading this book I sat up and said “I DID NOT KNOW THAT”. Your view generally depends on where you’re standing, and as an American…well…very few of us know as much as we think we do. Just how Anglo-American can my consciousness be? Very, apparently. But I stand corrected, and am also now a formidable addition to any trivia night team – call me…

A Polish Landscape
(image by By Irrka2003 at lt.wikipedia [Public domain], from Wikimedia Commons)
But as fascinating as I found it all, I haven’t been able to sit down and summarize what I learned. I’m obviously NOT a disciplined writer yet, am I? So forgive my laziness, and thank a reviewer on Amazon – this is better than I can do right now.

Most US readers will probably be surprised by what a powerhouse of forward thinking Poland was, and in many ways, how it’s systems were prototypes for those which created the USA. This is certainly the case in the way Polish rulers made possible a tolerant multi-racial society when Europe was doing the opposite, in the way freedom to vote was seen as a virtue and in the way it organised itself along its own model rather than allow itself to be influenced. The way the Commonwealth with Lithuania was governed was very advanced for its time, it was far removed from the more typical conquer-and-rule way of expanding borders, bringing advantages to both sides through co-operation.

In the end the country fought for its right to survive and lost when its three larger neighbours conspired to divide and plunder it. The dynamics involved in Poland’s fall, from memory, were also well explained and interesting in the way the it becomes clear that the virtues of the Polish way, were also the source of its weaknesses when confronted with more belligerent neighbours. The events after WWII created an artificially divided Europe commonly referred to East and West. This is being corrected now that the EU is poised to expand its borders to include Central Europe. This book is essential reading for those that want these current day events put into a clear historical context. 1000 years of history can never be adequately covered in one small volume, the main faults are of omission, nevertheless I suspect this book is the nearest to describing the essence of Poland that is available in the English language. “

See, I told you. Pretty cool, huh?

How do you make your husband happy? Bacon.

Quite a few of the recipes I’ve researched are very labor-intensive, and since there’s going to be more than one meal for Poland (due to my very slow pace on the book), I wanted to start off with something simple. The dish I chose is called Chlopski Posilek or Peasant’s Cabbage. Sounds like a perfect Sunday dinner, doesn’t it?

Polish food is a different experience for me. I’m a former vegetarian, and while I do eat some kinds of meat now, I rarely cook it. And never, ever pork products. I’m super fond of pigs as living beings, and eating them is a hurdle I don’t feel the need to jump very often. But I did for this dish…when in Poland do as the Polish do, right? I’m still needled by guilt, but my husband promptly declared this very humble (and rather homely) dish the single best thing I have ever made for him. Yes indeed.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Shopping needed to be done, so it was off to Findlay Market. As bacon and sausage are two of the main components of the dish, I went straight to an excellent source, Kroeger and Sons Meats. They had Belgian-style bacon on offer; I didn’t really know what that meant, but it looked good and had no nitrates. Sold. I HIGHLY recommend it; it had a much more “clean” smell and taste than your standard-issue mass-produced bacon.

Behold the power of Bacon.
(image by The Global Reader)

I also got some fresh kielbasa which was superior quality as well. If you’re going to eat something that weighs on your conscience, at least make sure it’s the best you can buy…

Recipe adapted from PolandPoland.com

Chłopski Posiłek

(Peasants’ Bacon and Cabbage)

Ingredients:

  • 1
  • medium green cabbage, coarsely chopped
  • 6
  • slices fatty bacon, diced
  • 1
  • medium onion, chopped
  • 1
  • large leek, chopped
  • 1/4
  •  cup water
  • 2
  • cloves garlic, chopped
  • 1
  • lb. fresh Kielbasa sausage cut into 1 inch pieces
  • 1/2
  • teaspoons salt and pepper

Instructions:

  1. Cook bacon in a large skillet until crisp; remove bacon, reserving drippings in skillet.
  2. Crumble bacon, and set aside.
  3. Add all other ingredients to drippings; cover and cook 10 minutes over medium heat, turning cabbage once.
  4. Transfer to serving dish and add bacon.

 Makes 4 servings.

Peasant’s Cabbage
(image by The Global Reader)