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If you’re looking for Christmas cookie ideas, why not make some pryaniki? These soft gingerbread cookies are easy to make, and taste similar to German lebkuchen or Slovenian medenjaki.
What is pryanik?
Although it’s often referred to as gingerbread, or Russian gingerbread, pryanik is more accurately described as Russian honey bread. Even though it’s not bread as we know it today (much like banana bread, I suppose)!
A staple in Russia since around the 4th century, these gingerbread cookies were originally made with just rye flour, berry juice, and honey. Hence, honey bread (medovy khleb)!
By around the 12th century, thanks to trade routes with India and the Middle East, using spices in these soft gingerbread cookies had become de rigeur. For the true pryanik aficionado, however, ginger is still not used! I actually like ginger in mine.
The most commonly-used pryaniki spices are:
- black pepper
- star anise
By the 17th century, making honey bread with spices had become the norm, and the name was changed to pryanik, which comes from the Russian word for spices, pryanost.
Pryanik, BTW, refers to a single gingerbread loaf, while the plural, pryaniki, is used for the cookies.
Different types of pryanik
While the combination and quantities of spice vary from person to person, pryanik generally falls into three categories. Ones that are pressed into moulds, ones with designs imprinted upon them, and ones that are cut or rolled into shape. These may all be plain or filled with varenye or jam. I prefer plain hand-rolled pryanik. Glazed of course!
Perhaps the most famous imprinted pryanik is from the city of Tula, to the south of Moscow. In fact, the city is so renowned for its gingerbread, it even has a monument to it. And a museum!
Tula pryanik comes in a variety of designs, from simple ones with just the name of the city, to state buildings and heraldic imagery, to scenes of bucolic idyll from an romanticised rural history.
And if you ever thought that Russians don’t have a sense of humour (spoiler, they do!), one of the most popular designs is ‘razgonnyy‘ pryanik, which is allegedly given to guests when they’ve hung around too long, and you want them to go home. Loosely translated, it means, ‘goodbye‘!
Why not try these other Christmas recipes while you’re here!
Stuffed seitan roast
Maple roast roots
Soft gingerbread cookie recipe
- spices (ginger, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander, nutmeg, cloves)
- vanilla extract
- plus baking soda, vinegar, and salt
How to make gingerbread cookies
- Start by melting the honey, butter, and sugar together.
- Mix the ground spices and the salt with the flour.
- Whisk some vanilla extract and an egg into the honey mixture, and then add some baking soda mixed with vinegar.
- Mix in the flour until you have a very stiff dough, then cover and set aside overnight for all the flavours to develop.
- Place walnut-sized balls of dough onto a cookie sheet, then bake at 325°F (170°C / gas mark 3) for 15 minutes.
- Set aside to cool completely, then glaze with a thin icing sugar and milk mixture.
- Leave the glaze to harden before storing in an airtight container at room temperature for a few weeks. You can also freeze pryaniki for up to three months.
Tips and notes
- This recipe is not suitable for making with a stand mixer, unless it’s very heavy-duty. The dough is very stiff, and you could end up burning out the motor of your mixer.
- Instead of using several different spices, you could use the equivalent amount of mixed spice. Or even better, use my chai masala. It works really well!
- You can actually leave the dough for up to three days, as long as it’s in a cool place.
- Some people say it’s traditional to glaze the bottom of the pryaniki, and some say it isn’t. As a rule, I don’t. I like having the contrast between glazed and unglazed cookies!
To make vegan gingerbread cookies
- Use maple or agave syrup instead of honey.
- Use vegan butter or margarine instead of butter. I haven’t tried with oil but if you want to go this route, you’ll only want to use 88g (which is 80% of the 110g because butter is only 80% percent fat, whereas oil is 100%).
- Use a flax or chia egg instead of a hen’s egg. To make, mix together 1 tablespoon ground flax or chia with 3 tablespoon warm water. Set aside to become gelatinous before using.
- For the glaze, use your favourite plant milk instead of dairy.
Eat all the cookies!
Although pryaniki are often given as birthday and wedding gifts, they are perhaps most popular at Christmas time.
Not only are these the best Christmas cookies ever (in my not at all humble opinion!), you’ll find these festive treats adorning Christmas trees too. Especially in Northern Russia, where apparently, old traditions die harder.
(See what I did there? Die Hard… traditional Christmas movie! Ha ha!)
To be perfectly honest with you though, these are such easy Christmas cookies to make, that you may well find that like me, you’ll be making them on a whim at other times of the year, too!
(That’s the Russian equivalent of bon appétit! Pronounced priyat-nuh-vuh ap-pee-tee-tuh!)