Tula, a half day's drive from Moscow, became the pryaniki-making capital of Russia. The Tulsky Pryanik museum still stands in Tula today. Russian spice cookies or honey bread have been made since the 9th century, originally with rye flour, honey and berry juice. Over time, other natural ingredients were added to the mix, but it wasn't until trade began with the Middle East and India in the 12th and 13th centuries that spices were added. Typically they were laden with cloves, ginger, citrus fruits, pepper, nutmeg, badian, mint, anise, ginger and many others, giving them the name pryanosti or well spiced.
Formerly, pryaniki held special significance and were baked for births, funerals, weddings, holidays and any festive occasion. Newly married couples took a pryanik to the bride's parents several days after their wedding. Pryanik-making became such an art form and were in such demand that special craftsmen -- pryanishniki -- passed their closely guarded family recipes down from one generation to the next.
As you might imagine, recipes, flavors, shapes and styles abound. Most often they are seen as cookies pressed into a mold or rolled and cut or dolloped into rounds. They are drizzled with tin flat white, pink or chocolate icing and sometimes decorated with berries, nuts or candied citrus peel, and some are filled with jam. Here is a recipe for pryaniki that I particularly like.
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Cook Time: 20 minutes
Refrigeration time: 1 hour
Total Time: 2 hours
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 1 cup honey
- 1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg, allspice and salt.
- In a separate large bowl, beat with an electric mixer at high speed the egg yolks and sugar until they are pale yellow and thick.
- Heat the honey in a small saucepan over low heat until it liquifies. Cool slightly so the heat doesn't scramble the eggs. Stir the melted honey and the vanilla into the beaten egg mixture.
- Mix in the dry ingredients to form a stiff dough. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Heat oven to 350 degrees. Place parchment paper the size of your cookie sheets on a clean surface. Using a cookie scoop, portion out mounds of dough on the prepared cookie sheets leaving 1 inch between cookie. They will flatten out somewhat but still retain a domed shape. Alternatively, roll out a portion of the dough directly onto the pachment paper. Use your favorite cookie cutter shape or, more traditionally, a round 1 1/2-inch cutter. Cut rounds of dough spacing 1 inch between. Pick up scraps of dough and repeat with remainder of dough on another lined cookie sheet. Lightly brush the tops of each cookie with honey.
- Bake for 10-20 minutes, or until just golden, rotating the sheets halfway through for even baking. Cool on the sheets until the cookies firm slightly. Transfer to racks to finish cooling.
- In a bowl, add the confectioners’ sugar and enough water (1 to 2 tablespoons) and whisk together to form a thin icing. Spread on cooled cookies with a pastry brush.