Piernik is a traditional Polish gingerbread cake that is often baked as a Christmas dessert. The moist cake gets its deep flavor from a generous amount of honey and spices (there's no molasses at all). It's filled with layers of marzipan paste and Damson plum jam and glazed with a rich chocolate ganache. Finished with chopped pecans and crystallized ginger, this cake makes a spectacular addition to any holiday table.
Many recipes for traditional, old fashioned Polish holiday gingerbread (piernik świąteczny) call for a dough that is mixed and then fermented and ripened for 6 weeks. After a long rest, it is baked, filled and glazed just prior to the festivities. This advance preparation (a la fruitcake) is something I greatly admire, but am personally never likely to achieve.
Instead, I give you this quick, "last minute", easy szybki piernik recipe. In just under an hour of baking, you will have a moist, flavorful spiced honey cake filled with warming flavor from the generous variety of spices.
Piernik is a cake that's delicious enough to be served on its own, but it's often dressed up with layers of plum jam and either marzipan paste, semolina cream or Swedish cream. It's coated with a blanket of chocolate glaze and chopped nuts. This recipe uses jarred plum jam and an easy homemade marzipan recipe you can make in advance.
While the list of ingredients looks long, please don't feel overwhelmed! The majority of them are simply the blend of spices and flavorings added to give the cake a robust taste. It's a straightforward recipe with elements that you can easily make over the span of a few days. Find helpful notes on how to make in advance here.
One of my favorite things about this recipe is how easily the batter comes together. No creaming of butter and sugar; instead, they're combined with honey and spices and melted in a saucepan on the stove. The wet and dry ingredients are then added to and mixed in the saucepan, and the batter goes into the cake pan.
I made this honey spiced loaf cake in a Pullman pan as I really like the look of perfectly straight edges. Feel free to use a standard 9 x 4 loaf pan if you don't have one!
If you like the flavor of marzipan in cake, you might also like this marzipan cake with dark chocolate buttercream. And these chocolate gingerbread cookies are packed with warming spices and gooey chocolate.
CAKE INGREDIENT NOTES
- Unsalted butter - No need to have the butter at room temperature since you will melt it over the stove!
- Olive oil - The addition of olive oil or a neutral vegetable oil helps make the cake more tender. I like the spicy flavor that olive oil adds.
- Brown sugar - Many piernik recipes use granulated sugar, but I prefer the additional caramel notes in brown sugar. Use light, dark or golden brown sugar (a blend of light and dark).
- Honey - Honey is a key ingredient in a piernik recipe. A large quantity of honey helps preserve the cake and keep it nice and tender. I find that the texture and flavor actually improve over the next few days!
- Black pepper - The pepper should be fresh and finely ground. Use an adjustable pepper mill, mortar and pestle, or spice grinder.
- Cocoa powder - I prefer the darker flavor of Dutch cocoa powder, but you can use either Dutch or natural cocoa in this recipe.
- Espresso powder - This is the espresso powder I use (affiliate link). If you don't have any, you can also use instant coffee.
- Large eggs - Eggs should be at room temperature.
- Rye flour - Many piernik recipes use only all purpose flour or a blend of whole wheat and all purpose flour. I chose to add rye flour as it has an earthy, nutty, almost malty flavor that complements the spices. Rye is a very common flour in Poland. The majority of rye is cultivated in eastern Europe.
FILLING INGREDIENT NOTES
- Plum jam - Traditional recipes call for plum jam made from Damson plums, which are also known as Empress or Italian prune plums. This cake works best with a thicker plum jam.
- Almond flour - For smooth marzipan, use finely ground almond flour rather than coarsely ground almond meal.
- Rose water - You can find rose water in international grocery stores or online. Be sure to use food grade rose water.
HONEY CHOCOLATE GANACHE INGREDIENT NOTES
- Dark chocolate - Use good quality dark chocolate for the ganache. I use a 72% dark chocolate bar, which is on the darker end. If possible, avoid using chocolate chips. They often contain fillers intended to prevent them from melting and losing shape, which could impact the texture and consistency of the ganache.
- Heavy whipping cream - Use heavy cream or heavy whipping cream. Do not substitute with milk, half and half, or other similar consistency non-dairy milks as they don't have the fat content required to create a thick ganache.
- Honey - A bit of honey adds sweetness and shine, and echoes the honey flavor in the cake.
CAKE TOPPING INGREDIENT NOTES
- Pecans - Finely chopped pecans add nutty flavor and a textural crunch to the cake. For additional flavor, toast raw pecans in a 350 degree Fahrenheit oven for 5-10 minutes. Stir or shake the pan pan every few minutes so the nuts don't burn.
- Candied ginger - Finely chopped crystallized candied ginger is an optional topping. I like the addition as it adds some visual interest and a further punch of warm, spice, hinting at the flavors in the cake.
* See recipe card for full list of ingredients and quantities.
Learn how to make this quick piernik recipe! These photos provide visual cues. Detailed instructions are included in the recipe card.
Melt butter, olive oil, sugar, honey, spices, cocoa and espresso powder in a saucepan over low heat.
When mixture is lukewarm to the touch, add milk and vanilla. Whisk to incorporate.
Whisk to combine.
Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into pan.
Whisk well to fully incorporate flour.Don't worry about making the batter perfectly smooth; there may be small lumps. Just make sure no flour pockets remain.
Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. Cool on a baking rack in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling.
Once fully cooled, cut off rounded top (optional) and slice loaf horizontally into 3 even layers.
Roll marzipan into a rectangle shape. Use a knife to push into the size that matches the dimensions of the trimmed cake. Place marzipan rectangle on top of first layer of cake. Spread a layer of plum jam onto next cake layer. Stack all 3 layers.
In a microwave safe container or small (1 quart) saucepan, heat cream and honey until almost simmering. Remove from heat and add finely chopped dark chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute.
Slowly whisk ganache mixture until no lumps remain. Let cool until whisk begins to leave trails in chocolate.
Pour the chocolate ganache over the cake. Cover the entire top and sides of the cake with ganache.
Transfer ganache covered cake to a serving platter using a large metal spatula. While glaze is still soft, sprinkle chopped pecans onto the entire top surface. Stud the top with small bits of candied ginger. Set aside until ganache firms up, about 1-2 hours, or refrigerate briefly to set.
Hint: Sift your dry ingredients (flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt) prior to adding them to the batter to help prevent small white lumps of flour in the dark cake.
Espresso powder - If you do not have espresso powder for the cake batter, feel free to substitute instant coffee granules.
Marzipan - Feel free to use store-bought marzipan (affiliate link) if you're looking for time savings. You'll need about 7 grams.
There are many different recipes and variations of Polish honey gingerbread cake. Consider these alternatives:
- Citrus glaze - Instead of using a chocolate ganache, mix ¾ cup powdered sugar with a few drops of lemon or orange juice. Mix until smooth, and pour over the cake.
- Simple - For a simple, easy gingerbread cake, bake the cake as written, but leave the loaf cake whole and omit the fillings. Serve slices with plum jam on the side. If desired, make a half recipe of chocolate ganache and place in a small pitcher to serve with individual slices.
Items below contain affiliate links.
Small Pullman loaf pan - A Pullman loaf pan has straight sides, rather than the commonly angled sides of a standard loaf pan. The dimensions of the small Pullman pan are 9 inches long x 4 inches wide x 4 inches high (23 x 10 x 10 centimeters.) I love all my USA Pan Bakeware equipment. If you don't have a Pullman pan, you can also use a standard loaf pan.
Parchment paper - Parchment is great for lining baking pans. One roll of this 15 inch x 164 foot (38 centimeter x 50 meter) non-stick paper lasts a LONG time! If you have access to a Costco store, the price is often a bit better.
Store: Store this cake at room temperature for up to 2 days. After 2 days, wrap and store leftovers in the refrigerator for up to a week. For best flavor, bring slices of cake to room temperature before serving.
Freeze: Store leftover cake in the freezer for up to a month. Wrap well with plastic wrap, then a layer of aluminum foil. Store in a large freezer bag or airtight container. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator and bring to room temperature before serving.
I know what it's like trying to bake a more involved recipe while life is swirling around you. Whenever possible, I try to provide tips for breaking a recipe up into manageable chunks that you can complete as time allows. Here are some steps that will make this piernik recipe easier for you:
- Measure out the dry spices, cocoa powder and espresso powder in advance. Mix them together and store in an airtight container until needed.
- Measure out the flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt, and sift them together into an airtight container until needed.
- Bake the gingerbread loaf cake a week or two in advance and then freeze it whole with no fillings or glaze. Wrap following the freezer storage instructions above. Once fully defrosted, slice, fill and glaze the cake prior to serving.
- Make the marzipan up to a week in advance and store, tightly wrapped and well sealed, in the refrigerator. If you have a cool and dry location, you may store the marzipan stored out of the refrigerator.
- Chop the dark chocolate, pecans and crystallized ginger for the ganache and toppings and store them in separate airtight containers in a cool, dry location until needed.
Piernik is a Polish word that is pronounced pierre-neek. The r is slightly rolled. It comes from the Old Polish word pierny, which means peppery, a reference to the pepper and spices that are part of the recipe.
You can hear piernik pronounced here.
Piernik (Polish Gingerbread Loaf CakePrint Recipe Pin Recipe
- 113 grams (8 ounces; 1 stick) unsalted butter
- 2 Tablespoons olive oil
- 150 grams (¾ cup) brown sugar
- 226 grams (⅔ cup) honey
- 1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon ground ginger
- 2 Teaspoons ground cinnamon
- ½ Teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ Teaspoon ground cloves
- ¼ Teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ¼ Teaspoon black pepper, finely ground
- 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder
- 2 Teaspoons espresso powder
- 250 mL (1 cup) whole milk
- 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large eggs
- 180 grams (1½ cups) all purpose flour
- 90 grams (¾ cup) rye flour
- 1 Teaspoon baking soda
- 1 Teaspoon baking powder
- ¾ Teaspoon kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
- 160 grams (½ cup) plum jam
- 168 grams (1½ cups) almond flour
- 180 grams (1½ cups) powdered sugar
- 1½ teaspoons almond extract
- 1 teaspoon rose water
- 1 large egg white
Honey Chocolate Ganache
- 250 mL (1 cup) heavy cream
- 63 grams (3 Tablespoons) honey
- 140 grams (5 ounces) dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used a 72% chocolate bar)
- 40 grams (⅓ cup) pecans, finely chopped
- 20 grams (2 Tablespoons) candied ginger, finely chopped (optional)
- Line a 4 x 9 inch Pullman pan (or standard loaf pan) with parchment paper and include an overhang to allow for easy removal after baking. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350° Fahrenheit (177° Celsius, Gas mark 4). Place rack in center of oven.
- To a 3 quart (2.8 liter) saucepan, add butter, olive oil, sugar, honey, spices, cocoa powder and espresso powder Melt over low heat, whisking frequently. Do not boil. Remove from heat once butter is fully melted.113 grams (8 ounces; 1 stick) unsalted butter, 2 Tablespoons olive oil, 150 grams (¾ cup) brown sugar, 226 grams (⅔ cup) honey, 1 Tablespoon + 1 Teaspoon ground ginger, 2 Teaspoons ground cinnamon, ½ Teaspoon ground cardamom, ¼ Teaspoon ground cloves, ¼ Teaspoon ground nutmeg, ¼ Teaspoon black pepper, finely ground, 1 Tablespoon cocoa powder, 2 Teaspoons espresso powder
- When mixture is lukewarm to the touch (not hot), add milk and vanilla. Whisk to incorporate.250 mL (1 cup) whole milk, 1 Teaspoon vanilla extract
- Add eggs and whisk to combine.2 large eggs
- Sift flours, baking soda, baking powder and salt into batter. Whisk well to fully incorporate flour. Don't worry about making the batter perfectly smooth; there may be small lumps. Just make sure there are no flour pockets remaining.180 grams (1½ cups) all purpose flour, 90 grams (¾ cup) rye flour, 1 Teaspoon baking soda, 1 Teaspoon baking powder, ¾ Teaspoon kosher salt (I use Diamond Crystal)
- Pour into prepared pan and bake for 50-55 minutes. Cake is done when it springs back to the touch and a toothpick has just a few crumbs attached, but no gooey batter. Cool on a baking rack in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove from pan to finish cooling.
Cake Filling (Marzipan)
- To the bowl of a food processor, add the almond flour and powdered sugar. Pulse briefly until combined. Add almond extract and rose water. Pulse again about 8-10 times. Add egg white, and process until mixture comes together in a ball. Divide the marzipan into two halves. Seal and refrigerate or freeze one half (you only need half for this recipe). Leave the other portion covered with plastic wrap at room temperature.168 grams (1½ cups) almond flour, 180 grams (1½ cups) powdered sugar, 1½ teaspoons almond extract, 1 teaspoon rose water, 1 large egg white
- Once fully cooled, trim the cake. If desired, cut the rounded top off so that a brick-shaped rectangle remains. (Feel free to keep it in an untrimmed loaf shape without trimming the rounded top. The trimmed rectangular shape is simply for looks. Leaving it whole means more cake and less work!)
- Trim the cake into 3 even layers. I like to score the outside edges with a long serrated knife and then follow the score-marks to cut through the middle of the cake.
- Roll the marzipan into a rectangle shape between two sheets of parchment paper until approximately ½ inch thick. Use a knife to push it into the size that matches the dimensions of the trimmed cake. Place the bottom layer of cake onto a baking rack (if glazing the cake; if not, place on serving platter.) Place the marzipan rectangle on top of the first layer of cake.
- Place the second layer of cake on top of the marzipan layer. Cover the second layer of cake with a generous layer of plum jam, extending it out nearly to the edges. Place the last layer of cake on top. Line up the layers so that the cake is straight. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and place into the fridge to chill briefly.160 grams (½ cup) plum jam
Honey Chocolate Ganache
- In a microwave safe container or small (1 quart) saucepan, heat cream and honey until almost simmering. Remove from heat and add finely chopped dark chocolate. Let sit for 1 minute, and then gently and slowly whisk (to avoid incorporating bubbles) until all chocolate has melted and no lumps remain. Let cool until whisk begins to leave trails in chocolate.250 mL (1 cup) heavy cream, 63 grams (3 Tablespoons) honey, 140 grams (5 ounces) dark chocolate, finely chopped (I used a 72% chocolate bar)
- Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Place the baking rack with the cake on top of the baking sheet. Starting in the middle of the cake, pour the chocolate ganache over the cake. Move the pan as needed to to cover the entire top and sides of the cake with ganache. Use a large metal turner / metal spatula to carefully transfer the cake to a serving platter. Slide the spatula out slowly, without lifting, to avoid marring the glaze.
- While glaze is still soft, sprinkle chopped pecans onto the entire top surface. Stud the top with small bits of candied ginger. If being served more than a few hours later, store in refrigerator. Remove cake from refrigerator 2 hours before serving, and serve at room temperature for best flavor and texture.40 grams (⅓ cup) pecans, finely chopped, 20 grams (2 Tablespoons) candied ginger, finely chopped (optional)
The Floured Table
Recipe Author: Kathleen Culver
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