I-ATE: Pierniki, Lebkuchen and some Christmas Gingerbread to celebrate the festive season

Gingerbread for Christmas time

Christmas is almost here! This is why we cannot miss this opportunity to present a couple of I-ATE‘s sweet proposals today. We want to introduce Pierniki from Poland, Lebkuchen from Germany, and Gingerbread from Great Britain to you. Do you know them all? Which one is your favourite?

If we start our culinary Christmas adventure in Poland, we will find a tasty treat called Pierniki Toruńskie that is a traditional gingerbread that has been produced since the 12th century in Toruń – the city of Mikołaj Kopernik (Nicolaus Copernicus). In the old Polish cuisine, we can find traditional spices such as ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg, frequently mixed with other ingredients like honey, eggs, sugar and so on. The preparation of the old Polish piernik (pierniki in plural) requires a lot of dedication, time and attention. It is a mixture of gingerbread spices, honey, lard, sugar, eggs, and some flour. It needs to be prepared a couple of days before Christmas Eve so it could obtain a particular gingerbread taste. It is a dessert that remains fresh for many days, and it is often eaten with traditional plum preserves called powidła. Small pierniki in different shapes are also used as decorations for the Christmas tree. The pictures below show traditional Pierniki Toruńskie with plum preserves and little decorative ones.


The first mention of Pierniki Toruńskie comes from 1380 and is attributed to a local baker called Niclos Czana. The sweet quickly gained fame across Poland and abroad. Toruń and the German city of Nuremberg, both famous for their special sweets, were determined to hide the secrets of their recipes from each other. Finally, in 1556, they reached an agreement by which each city could bake the specialties of the other.

The German version of pierniki is called Lebkuchen. They can be spicy or sweet and have many different shapes with the round one being the most common. Lebkuchen are made with some of the ingredients from the Polish recipe, to which aniseed, coriander, cloves, almonds, hazelnuts, walnuts or even candied fruit are added. The sweets vary in types, shapes, kinds and proportion of nuts. Lebkuchen is usually soft, but there is also a harder version used to produce Lebkuchenherzen (“Lebkuchen hearts”), which usually has inscriptions made of sugar icing. Lebkuchenherzen are available at many German regional fairs and Christmas markets. The original Lebkuchen from Nuremberg is also known as Elisenlebkuchen. It must contain no less than 25 percent of nuts and less than 10 percent of wheat flour. The pictures below present traditional round Lebkuchen and Lebkuchenherzen.


In Great Britain, there is an interesting variety of gingerbread types, ranging from a soft, moist loaf cake to something close to a ginger biscuit. Gingerbread biscuit commonly takes the form of a gingerbread man. The history of the gingerbread men starts at the court of Queen Elizabeth I, who served the figurines to foreign dignitaries. Today, however, they are generally served during the Christmas period. The picture below shows English gingerbread men and women.


In Belgium and the Netherlands, we can find peperkoek, kruidkoek or ontbijtkoek eaten with butter and served for breakfast during the Christmas period. In France, they prepare pain d’épices which is somewhat similar, though generally slightly drier, and contains honey rather than treacle. The original French pain d’épices did not contain any ginger.

In the Nordic countries, we can find pepperkaker in Norway and pepparkakor in Sweden. The Danes eat brunkager, in Iceland we can find some piparkökur, and in Finland they call it piparkakut. The Baltic countries also have their own variants such as piparkūkas in Latvia and piparkoogid in Estonia.

The Russians prepare pryanikiin Romania we will eat turtă dulce with some sugar glazing, and in Bulgaria we can find some меденка (“made of honey”). In Czech Republic they eat perníčky.

How about your country? Do you also prepare gingerbread for Christmas? Is it similar to the one eaten in Poland, Germany or maybe Great Britain? We are waiting for your comments on Facebook. Happy Holidays!

Written by Olga Jeczmyk: Translator-Interpreter, Social Media and Content Manager as well as Communication and Terminology Trainee. Terminology Coordination Unit of the European Parliament in Luxembourg.


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