Decorated Honey Cookies (Medovníky)
This recipe was sent to me by Margarete Minar, the author of Foreigner’s Guide to Slovakia. Margarete moved to Slovakia when she was 25 to teach English. Although at first she found the life there difficult, she quickly fell in love with Slovakia. “Moving to Slovakia turned out to be one of the most rewarding experiences of my life”, says Ms. Minar. “Now that I have married a Slovak (yes, I met him while I was working there) and have a bunch of wonderful Slovak relatives, I constantly find things that demonstrate the ‘foreignness’ that I still experience, even though we are now living in California.” Her book is based on her five year experience in Slovakia. It is a reference book containing information about Slovakia, its people, and the Slovak way of life. The book explains basic things like getting around with public transport, basic cultural differences, traditions and introduces typical Slovak food. The book can be ordered from Amazon or directly from it’s companion website, fgslovakia.com
Medovníky are “honey cookies” and probably one of my all-time favorite Slovak cookies. Why? Because they have some of my favorite ingredients – honey, cinnamon, and cloves. Medovníky are a popular cookie to have on hand at Christmas time, but really you can find them all year round. That’s because in addition to being good to eat, they are often decorated beautifully with white-colored icing. They also look good just with a walnut half on top. Or since they are cut out with cookie cutters, the shape alone can be all the decoration you need.
I’m not a native Slovak but during the five years I lived and worked in Slovakia, I tasted many variations of medovník. In making it myself at home, it was a bit of a challenge to reproduce from Slovak recipes, however, because often times one of the ingredients is a pre-packaged powder called prášok do perníka. This powder is a mix of spices that you’d put into your recipes for gingerbread cake or medovníky, for example.
In trying to reproduce those flavors from the combination of spices, I’ve come up with the following tried and tested recipe. Just one note, however. These are flavorful cookies. If you don’t like one of the spices used, simply put less.
Here’s what you need to make the dough:
- 4 ¼ cups flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 ¼ sticks of unsalted butter
- 3 ½ tablespoons of honey
- a little less than ½ cup of water
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ tablespoons cinnamon
- ½ tablespoon ginger
- ½ tablespoon cloves
- 1 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
Start with heating the sugar, water and honey in a sauce pan until the sugar dissolves. Add the butter and spices. Once the butter has melted, let it cool. In a large bowl, combine the flour and baking soda. Pour the sugar-spice mixture over it and mix with a wooden spoon. Knead lightly to form a smooth dough. Wrap it in cling film and refrigerate for at least an hour (preferably overnight).
The Next Morning
Preheat your oven to 400 F. You are going to roll out a small amount of dough at a time on a floured board. The dough is going to be pretty stiff when it comes out of the refrigerator. You can work it with your hands until it “warms up” a bit or put in the amount you break off into the microwave on defrost for 30 seconds or so. You don’t want it warm really, just malleable. Flour your board lightly and roll out to about 3 to 4 milimeters. It’s up to you how thick you want your cookies to be. Cut out shapes with cookie cutters. Butter your baking sheet or use parchment paper so they don’t stick. Once they are in your baking sheet, you can decorate them with a quarter or a half of a walnut in the center. I’ve left mine as is so that I can decorate them with icing later.
Bake your cookies 5 to 8 minutes in length. These cook fast so keep an eye on them. I like my cookies darker. To me it gives them a richer flavor, so I let them go up to 7 minutes. Every oven is different so be attentive. These cookies can burn easily if you let them go too long. Once they are out, let them slightly cool before moving them.
My Slovak grandma-in-law brushes them with egg whites immediately after they’ve come out of the oven before they cool. This gives them a gloss and becomes something of a sealant to help keep in moisture so they don’t get too hard. I like the way they look without the shine so I skip this step.
To make the icing you need the following:
- 1 egg white
- 1 ½ cup powdered sugar
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Wisk the three ingredients together. I did half the powdered sugar and then the second half. I whisked until I could make stiff peaks with my icing. I had to add a bit more sugar to get the right consistancy.
You don’t need a fancy tool to work with icing. Simply spoon your icing into a sandwich bag, twist the bag tightly until the icing wedges into one corner, and then poke or cut a tiny hole into the corner. It’s not professional quality, but it works.
Make sure your cookies are completely cool before beginning to decorate.
Here’s what my cookies looked like when I finished. My design skills have a lot to be desired, but they turned out all right. And the taste? Just perfect.