Since I posted a collection of gingerbread spice blends I figured that I might as well complete the gingerbread theme this week by sharing one of my favorite recipes with you. To experiment with my dry perfume blends, I tried quite a few recipes for gingerbread, from medieval renditions to modern versions. Yet, when I baked these crisp Ukrainian cookies, even my gingerbread wary family was curious. Unlike most other gingerbread recipes, these cookies are not particularly sweet, which makes them equally appropriate for either evening tea with jam or a glass of red wine with cheese. Moreover, the relatively simple dough makes the flavor of the spices stand out clearly and provides a good foil for experimenting with different dry perfume blends.
Literally, medivnychky means little honey cakes in Ukrainian, and it is exactly what they are—crisp cookies with a heady fragrance of honey and spices. Mixing flour into hot honey is a common technique in Russian and Ukrainian gingerbread recipes. It makes cookies rise well in the oven and prolongs their shelf life. The nuts in the recipe can be varied depending on what you have on hand. This time, I used pecans, but almonds, cashews, walnuts, and hazelnuts are equally delicious. You can even try flavoring this gingerbread with pistachios and cardamom (1/2 tsp) for a Middle Eastern flavor.
Ukrainian Gingerbread Cookies (Medivnychky)
Makes about 2 dozen
300g (2c) all-purpose flour
150g (1/2c) honey
100g (1/2c) sugar
150g (1 1/2c) finely chopped or ground nuts
1/2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp cinnamon or any other gingerbread spices
Note on measurement and flour: I weigh the ingredients when baking, but for this recipe, I converted the measures into the volume equivalents. Since flour tends to vary dramatically depending on its strength and absorbency, it is best to start with a smaller amount (1 ½ cups, in this case.) This recipe is quite forgiving, and you can always add more flour to achieve soft, easy-to-roll out dough.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
Mix honey with gingerbread spices and heat it on low flame till it becomes liquid and little bubbles start appearing near the edges. This takes about 5-7min. Remove from the heat.
Sift flour into a large bowl. Pour in the hot spiced honey. Mix well with a wooden spoon or a mixer. Not all of the flour will be mixed in with the honey, but it is ok. Immediately add sugar, baking soda, eggs and mix thoroughly (5-7min by mixer). The better the dough is mixed, the higher the gingerbread will rise. Add nuts and mix them in. Add more flour if needed. The dough should be soft, easy to mold, not very sticky. Sprinkle it with flour and turn out onto a floured surface.
Roll out to ¼” thick, sprinkling with flour to prevent the dough from sticking to the table. Cut into shapes, dipping the cutter into flour as you go, and place the cookies a little apart on parchment or silpat lined baking sheets. Brush with beaten egg to give them a pretty glaze.
Bake for 7-15min (depending on the shape and your oven) until richly colored. Gingerbread burns easily, so it is best to watch it very attentively. They will be soft when hot, but they will turn crisp once they cool down. Stored in an airtight container, they will last for several weeks. Or so the recipe says. Mine stick around for a week at most before I find the cookie jar to be completely empty.
Source: this recipe comes from a marvelous book by a Ukrainian cookbook writer Daria Tsvek called Sweet Baking (Solodke Pechivo) published in 1986. It is a collection of modern and traditional Ukrainian baking recipes. It seems to be out of print, so I cherish my old copy.
Photography © Bois de Jasmin, all rights reserved.