Russian Spice Cookies (Pryaniki)

Pryanik

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  • Total: 30 mins
  • Prep: 10 mins
  • Cook: 20 mins
  • Refrigeration time: 60 mins
  • Yield: 3 dozen (12 servings)
Nutritional Guidelines (per serving)
279 Calories
17g Fat
15g Carbs
17g Protein
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Nutrition Facts
Servings: 3 dozen (12 servings)
Amount per serving
Calories 279
% Daily Value*
Total Fat 17g 22%
Saturated Fat 7g 37%
Cholesterol 204mg 68%
Sodium 339mg 15%
Total Carbohydrate 15g 5%
Dietary Fiber 1g 3%
Protein 17g
Calcium 118mg 9%
*The % Daily Value (DV) tells you how much a nutrient in a food serving contributes to a daily diet. 2,000 calories a day is used for general nutrition advice.
(Nutrition information is calculated using an ingredient database and should be considered an estimate.)

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.

Ingredients

  • For the Cookie Dough:
  • 3 cups/450 g 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/40 g butter (unsalted, melted)
  • 3/4 cup/265 g honey or ​agave syrup
  • For the Glaze:
  • 1/2 cup/110 g confectioners' sugar
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons water

Steps to Make It

Note: this pryaniki recipe is broken down into two steps—making the dough and making the glaze—to help you better plan for preparation and cooking.

Make the Cookie Dough

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. 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), optional nutmeg, optional allspice, and salt. Set aside.

  3. 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.

  4. Mix in the dry ingredients until well incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour.

  5. 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.

  6. 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.

Make the Glaze

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a small bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and enough water (1 to 2 tablespoons) to form a thin icing.

  3. Spread on cooled cookies with a pastry brush. Allow icing to harden before storing cookies in an airtight container.

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 special 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, rolled and cut, or dolloped into mounds.

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.