A pryanik (pryaniki is plural) is a Russian spice cookie (also known as honey bread) that is indispensable anytime tea is served, which is all the time, but especially at Christmas.
The simpler ones look like round mounds slathered with a flat icing, while more elaborate varieties, like the famous Tula pryaniky, often were made in loaf form (thus, the term "honey bread") and stamped with a wooden press to produce an embossed decoration.
Today, these fancier cookies are round with a stamped decoration and often filled with jam.
Don't forget to serve pryaniki with tea from a samovar for a traditional experience or that traditional Russian wintertime beverage known as sbiten.
See more about Russian pryaniki, below, after the directions to this recipe.
- For the Cookie Dough:
- 3 cups/450g flour (all-purpose)
- 3 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cardamom
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ginger
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cloves (or to taste)
- Optional: 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
- Optional: 1/2 teaspoon allspice
- 1/8 teaspoon salt
- 2 large egg yolks (Use leftover egg whites in this recipe)
- 1 large egg
- 3 ounces/40g butter (unsalted, melted)
- 3/4 cup/265g honey or agave syrup
- For the Glaze:
- 1/2 cup/110g sugar (confectioners')
- 1 to 2 tablespoons water
- In a medium bowl, sift together flour, baking powder, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, cloves (be careful with the cloves -- too much can produce a bitter taste), nutmeg and allspice, if using, and salt. Set aside.
- In a separate large bowl, beat together 2 egg yolks, 1 whole egg, melted butter, and honey or agave syrup. If using agave, bake 25 degrees lower because products brown faster. In this case, bake at 325 F instead of 350 F when using honey.
- Mix in the dry ingredients until well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.
- Heat oven to 350 F. Place parchment paper the size of your cookie sheets on a clean surface. Using a cookie scoop, portion out mounds of dough and roll them in your hands until they are a completely smooth ball. Place on the prepared cookie sheets leaving 2 inches between each cookie. They will flatten out somewhat but still retain a domed shape.
- Bake for 10 to 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.
- To make the glaze, in a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and enough water (1 to 2 tablespoons) to form a thin icing. Spread on cooled cookies with a pastry brush.
More About Pryaniki
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.
Tula, a half day's drive from Moscow, became the pryaniki-making capital of Russia (much like Toruń in Poland). The Tulsky Pryanik museum still stands in Tula today.
Typically, the cookies were laced with cloves, ginger, citrus fruits, pepper, nutmeg, mint, anise, ginger and many other flavorings, 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.
Pryaniki Elevated to an Art Form
Pryanik-making became such an art form and were in such demand that special craftsmen -- pryanishniki -- closely guarded their family recipes and passed them 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 thin flat white, pink or chocolate icing and sometimes decorated with berries, nuts or candied citrus peel, and some are filled with jam.