Piernik: Polish Ginger Cake With Sourdough

Just back from a short but intense work trip to Warsaw, Poland, where I fell in love with the local cuisine. In Polish cuisine, one can find a wonderful use of natural healthy ferments, like sourdough, which was common to most agricultural societies centuries (and even millennia) ago. I was actually considering changing the name of this blog into “Moj Italski Smorgaborsky”. Well, more or less.

After having tasted the amazingly tasty, earthy, and luscious Polish food, could not help but running to the first bookstore at Warsaw airport and luckily get a tiny lovely introduction to Polish cuisine. There, in the section about traditional Christmas dishes, I bumped into a chocolate glazed ginger cake with… sourdough! I want the honorary Polish citizenship for sourdough merits. Anyway, as Susan invited us to join the special issue on Christmas breads coming out this week on YeastSpotting, I run to my pantry and, wow, I had all the ingredients already at hand. And here comes the recipe.

You need: 750 g all-purpose flour, 200 g caster sugar, 300 g honey, 150 g butter, 5 eggs, 2 tea-spoon baking soda, 3 table-spoon active sourdough (or 3 table-spoon 3% fat yoghurt), 2 tea-spoons gingerbread spice mix (I made my own with 1 part ground cinnamon, 1 part ground ginger, 1/2 part ground nutmeg, and 1/2 part ground cloves), 1 table-spoon raisins, 1 table-spoon chopped hazelnuts, 1 table-spoon chopped walnuts, 1 table-spoon grated orange peel, butter and breadcrumbs for the baking pan. My addition: 150 g 3% fat yoghurt (even more if the dough looks too dry). For the chocolate glaze: 400 g dark chocolate, 150 g double cream, 75 g raisins. Conversions into American measures coming soon.

How to: Pre-heat the oven at 160 degrees (Celsius). Butter 2 oven pans and sprinkle with breadcrumbs. Heat the honey, sugar and butter in a saucepan until the sugar has dissolved. Let it cool off. Sift the flour into a bowl, adding the honey mixture gradually, then add also the eggs and the spices and the orange peel and mix well. Add the sourdough and the yoghurt (or just yoghurt if you don’t have sourdough). Finish incorporating gently the chopped nuts. Fill the pans up to 1/3 and bake for 50 minutes. Check for doneness with a wooden stick. When cooled off, melt the chocolate with the cream and then add the raisins to glaze the cake.

CONSIDERATIONS: I totally loved the taste of this Christmas cake. The sourdough created beautiful holes in the crumb and the addition of raisins to the chocolate glaze was really a great idea (that I will use for other preparations). Can’t wait to have another slice for breakfast with a cup of hot tea. Had no idea this work trip would have ended up in a boost of culinary inspiration. Totally loved the country, the people, and the food. Many thanks to Izabella Byszewska for her lovely collection of traditional Polish recipes.

This is going to YeastSpotting. Thank you Susan for the lovely initiative.

Leave a comment


  1. Monika

     /  December 9, 2011

    Mmmmm, being Polish I’ve been addicted to all kinds of ginger cakes ;) Yours looks fabulous. I haven’t tasted a sourdough piernik yet… you’ve got me. Ok, here’a a challenge. Lifetime Polish citizenship for making a traditional Christmas poppy seed cake! It’s difficult, infernally difficult, but it’s worth any pain sweat and blood, simply divine :)

    • well, Monika, I can never turn down challenges, especially if they have to do with baking. I guess you are talking of Makowiec… is on my book but I guess I will need to adjust a little bit the recipe… at some point it says to “place the rolls in a pyramid and bake that way”. hum… I will have to work hard for my honorary Polish citizenship :)

  2. Anja

     /  December 8, 2011

    Beautiful PIERNIK !

    Nice idea, but I don’t think that addition of sourdough had any important impact on the dough. Sourdough can’t work with such amount of sugar and fat in dough, especially with no time for fermentation.
    Merry Christmas!

    • hi Anja, Merry Christmas to you! so is it Piernik the proper name? on the book the cake was called “Polish ginger cake” which I was told is “Imbir” in Polish. the sourdough is not my addition, was already in the book. I guess it just improves the flavor (and not the rise) although it may have made the dough more bubbly, creating extra holes.

  3. oh Wow, how nice to see this cake here. I know it well, it’d accompany every aspiring Polish Christmas table, though I’ve never tried it made with sourdough. I absolutely think, this is a brilliant addition and will definitely be making it for Christmas. Thank you for the recipe.
    P.S. The appeal of the Polish food, for many, is not only the fact that it’s tasty and made naturally, but also the fact that wherever you go, whosoever house you’ll visit, they will insist on sharing their food with you within the first 5 minutes of your visit. It’s a big social thing, and I think it’s really endearing. I’m happy you liked this approach to food as sometimes the directness of our custom to share what we cook may appear a tad intimidating. Merry Christmas!

    • hi Gosia! I am happy to hear that I got the cake and the occasion right. I am actually totally in love with this Polish version of gingerbread. unfortunately I did not make it to a Polish home, as I was traveling for work. but I can easily imagine what you describe to me as Polish people are so warm and welcoming even outside their households. I hope I will have the chance to go back and stay longer. really intrigued by your country. Merry Christmas! :)

  4. What a great recipe! I have never made gingerbread with sourdough and would love to try (I have to create a new sourdough “baby” before).



  5. A luscious and unique chocolate cake with sourdough.

  6. Chef Pamela

     /  December 7, 2011

    Yum! How nice to see a recipe for a sweet cake using sourdough. Thanks!

  7. Those are such LOVELY pictures! I know almost nothing about Polish cuisine but am wanting to try some more after making golabki (polish cabbage rolls). Great job with the cake–the glaze looks so pretty!

  1. YeastSpotting 2011 Holiday Edition | Wild Yeast

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