Christmas is all around and the festive atmosphere in Prague is really magical. Not just because the capital city of the Czech Republic features one of the best Christmas markets in the world according to CNN, but because it becomes especially magical when exploring its hidden places. You can see the local houses prepared for the festive season – illuminations, wreaths hanging from doors, snowmen in the gardens etc. There’s also a particularly noticeable fragrance (a mixture of cinnamon, lemon, honey…) wafting throughout the walk …
Did you know that Czechs traditionally bake Christmas cookies? It becomes a huge competition between households over how many different types they can bake at Christmas. Preparation usually starts in early November and nobody knows how many types of Czech Christmas cookies really exist. Examples include Linzer cookies, nut cookies, and coconut bowls. However, the masterpiece is “pernicek”, a special traditional Czech decorated gingerbread.
Pernicek (sometimes called just pernik) has been considered a delicacy since its beginnings and is only prepared for special occasions. In the Czech Republic, pernik was first registered in the town of Trutnov in the fourteenth century where at that time it was more like bread sweetened with honey than a cookie. More than 90 different types of spices were needed to make this bread. The most expensive was known as “white pernik” and was made with honey. There were four types of pernik made by bakers in the fourteenth century: marzipan, pernik, cerne sisky (black pine cones) that were sweet and Druberka, which was not meant for eating and was used as a cheap substitute for children’s toys in poor times, especially during the festive season.
Today’s “capital” of Czech pernik is Pardubice, a town lying south of Prague. Pernik from Pardubice was awarded a “protected geographical indication” by the EU in February 2008. Make sure you taste it when you are in the Czech Republic!
How to make the small version — pernicek — at home by yourself.
Here’s our recipe:
- 70g confectioner’s sugar (approx. 1 cup)
- 350g flour (approx. 5 cups)
- 50g butter
- 2 eggs
- 50g honey
- 1 tablespoon pernik spice (if you cannot find that in the store you can add half tea spoon of cinnamon, vanilla, cloves, anise and star anise instead)
- 1 tablespoon baking soda
- Combine all ingredients, adding enough flour to make a dough firm enough to roll out. (It is better to wait 2 – 3 days and store the dough to the fridge. If you do not have enough time, just skip this step).
- Then turn out on a floured board and roll out to 5 mm thickness. Cut with various cutters–a heart, star, animals, gingerbread men etc.
- Place on cookie sheet and bake in a 180 degree oven until firm to the touch, about 15 minutes. (Respect the experience with your oven)
- When cooled, you may decorate “pernicek” using the cake decorator with a butter frosting in various colors.