Christmas is not complete without gingerbread, be it houses, cookies, cake, or any dessert flavored with those warm spices of ground ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg. The dense spicy cake traces its roots to 11th century Europe. There are so many versions from eastern Europe all the way to Scandinavia, but I'm focusing on the cookie. In Germany there is Lebkuchen and Pfeffernüsse. In Hungary, gingerbread cookies are called Puszedli. They look just like Lebkuchen, but are smaller. Polish Pierniki are also quite special cookies. The town of Toruń is famous for their heart-shaped cookies, filled with jam and covered in chocolate. These cookies all share similar ingredients and flavors.
Puszedli and Lebkuchen are made with honey and have a lighter color than the gingerbread cookies Americans are familiar with. The traditional decoration is a whole almond pressed into each cookie. Then the cookies are brushed with a sugary glaze that gives them a wintry look. But since neither cookie has almonds in the dough, I forgo the nut decoration and keep them simple. I make the classic round cookies and heart cookies to mimic the Polish treats. But if you're so inclined to decorate the cookies with nuts, walnut halves are traditional with Puszedli. Pecan halves, for an American twist, would do the trick just as well.
These cookies, as with all gingerbread, are best made ahead of the holiday. They get better and softer with age. Keep them in a sealed container. They are also great for gift-giving when packaged in candy tins. The flavor of the cookie is up to your taste, but I like a combination of exotic spices with ginger being the foremost important. Ground black pepper would also make a unique addition. I love adding ground cardamom to the mix as it adds a very aromatic scent. For this Christmas I'm baking batches of cookies in advance so when the time comes I can give out packages of them to friends and neighbors.
Honey Gingerbread Cookies
2-1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 large egg
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup confectioners' sugar, for glaze
In a large bowl, combine the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and spices. Whisk to aerate.
In a medium bowl, beat together egg and sugar until pale and frothy. Beat in melted butter and honey. Pour wet ingredients into dry and fold until just combined. Form dough into a disk and wrap in plastic. Chill for 30 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees F. Line two rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper or Silpats.
Roll dough between two sheets of plastic wrap or parchment paper to 1/4-inch thick. Using a 2-inch cookie cookie cutter or small heart cookie cutter, cut out shapes and transfer to rimmed baking sheets, spacing 1-inch apart. Bake until pale golden, about 15 to 17 minutes. Let cool completely.
In a small bowl combine confectioners' sugar with 2 tablespoons water and mix until smooth and free of lumps. Brush each cookie with glaze and place on a wire rack to dry completely. Store cookies in a sealed container up to 1 month. Yield: 45 cookies.