cookies · sweet · traditional Russian recipe

Pryaniki for Cosy Winter Home-Staying and Soviet New Year

Happy New Year (forgot to say that before!)! wish you all the best, without worries and stupidities! Tonight let’s continue with the celebrations of New Year coming à la Soviétique! Tssss, they say USSR collapsed some 10 years ago! =D ok, ok, I’m not living in Goodbye Lenin kind of reality, it’s just that this time of year always reminds me of that era, with all these Soviet movies and nostalgic songs on TV. Let’s recapitalize what New Year meant to the Soviets and what the ‘procedure’ involved, adding more details to what I already told you before.

It’s a strange set of circumstances but we have our own Santa Claus, or St. Nikolas, though completely secular, called Ded Moroz (Father Frost, but more precisely – Grandfather Frost) – not that much connected with X-mas, but with New Year and this old grandfather has his granddaughter Snegurochka (Snow Maiden) who helps him with the presents, cares for the animals and is perfectly wonderful=) Ded Moroz does not come in through the chimney, nor does he ride flying deer, he has horses instead. He’s rather large, wears blue and white (red colours appeared via Coca-Cola), as well as his granddaughter. He has a beard, mittens and snow-resistant boots.  He meets children, gives them presents from his large bag and sometimes comes for a bottle of vodka with his sometimes not that young Snegurochka to a child’s home and scares the child completely=) sometimes it’s just your grandfather with a fake beard or a neighbour. Sometimes he’s made from cheap chocolate and is eaten during the holidays. Every kindergarten ‘party’ before New Year or an event organised for schoolchildren (these are called Yolka parties, which means Fir-Tree) gets some one to disguise and perform as a Ded Moroz, so that ready children can shout One-Two-Three, Let There Be Lights on the Fir Tree! And then the tree gets all bright and full of electric garland lights=) Well, this is the part for children, after which all the so-called Ded Moroz people get drunk and leave their fake beards somewhere.

As for more realistic personages of the New Year celebration, refer to the TV, the number 1 friend and companion all through the holidays. Morning of the 31st starts with good ol’ movies on various channels (well, it’s only NOW that there are VARIOUS channels, but before there were hardly 3, of course if your TV set was good enough to capture three), while the housewives are energetically boiling, chopping and grating vegetables, seasoning them with loads of mayonnaise and marinated cucumbers. The day continues on with the last washing and cleaning as it’s not considered proper to enter the new year in an… improper condition =) though completely drunk is not considered improper O_o Ok, so the dinner on the 31st is usually already festive, although the main meal comes with the supper (or late dinner), sometimes with friends or at friends’ and most commonly involves already generous helpings of vodka. Champagne (Soviet) comes with the clocks striking 12, when the TV is obligatory switched on with the Head of the State delivering his dull pre-taped speech. The clocks strike 12 on one of the Kremlin towers and the hymn begins. Then everybody chin-chins and drink their champagne and gobble down all the starters, salads and sweets.

But that will be our story next time, now let’s head for some real Russian gingerbread! (also similar to German Lebkuchen)

I’ve been meaning to bake some pryaniki as we call them (comes from pryanij which means spicy) for quite a lot of time. I I had this recipe from a non-Russian blog, cindystarblog.blogspot.com, actually, (see there recipe for traditional Russian Sbiten – a honey-based drink), which however seems plausible enough. My favourite kind of pryanik is a traditional square Tula pryanik with jam inside, mmmmm! It’s also quite attractive with its ‘carvings’ on top, and is a good present or a souvenir, as it keeps long time. So this time I made pryaniki filled with thick blackberry jam made by my Granny.

The original recipe has a whole story about our traditional gingerbread, about the sugar-substitute, honey, which was an essential part of Russian meals. I had very plain pryaniki, with no carvings, but they were very delicious!

Pryaniki (Пряники, Gingerbread) adapted from cindystarblog.blogspot.com – will make a dozen of chewy spicy filled cookies for winter tea!

Ingredients
  • 3 cups plain flour – I first though to boost them with some traditional rye flour or even whole wheat but didn’t do that
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup honey – I used runny honey
  •  1/4 cup water
  • 50g soft butter
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 tsp spices (cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, all spice) – as cardamom was and is really rare in Russia, I used cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and cayenne pepper, although I do understand that INITIALLY there was not even salt in the Russian cuisine, I mean, in the veeeeeeeeeeeeeeery old days, before the Crusades
    2 Tbsp caramel or cocoa powder – I used cocoa, and you certainly should, as the pryaniki have to be brown
  • 1 beaten yolk

For frosting: – I made a half of it and even then it was more than enough!

  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup water

Method (copied from the original site):

Pour water, sugar and honey in a pan, and melt but not boil on low heat . If you decided for caramel add it in the pan, cocoa powder has to be added to flour.
Add in hot mixture half sieved flour and spices, mix strongly to avoid lumps. Then add butter, mix and let it cool a while. Add eggs, remaining sieved flour and baking powder and work till soft dough easy to roll out comes out.
For small pryaniki: cut off dough in small pieces of about 20g each, shape in balls.
For large double pryaniki: cut off a piece of dough of about 70/80g, divide it in two, roll out each in a rectangle (I just made some circles), put some thick jam on a rectangle (put quite a lot, but not too much), cover with the other, close tight with fingers first and then sealed with a kitchen roll (I didn’t do that, just sealed and patted them a bit).
Brush with beaten egg yolk (add just a little bit of water in it) and bake at 200 ‘C for 10/15 minutes (mine were rather large and took 15 min). Cool on a rack.
Frosting: boil water and sugar until syrup is thick (be careful not to caramelize!), brush on pryaniki while warm and let them cool on a rack. (Even with the halved recipe for the syrup, it was enough for my quantity, although the constituency of the syrup was too runny to make a glaze, so I had to wait a bit till it thickens and to repeat glzing several times).

The result is… simple spicy amazing! Sorry for just two photos – the lighting today was really poor!

These go to Dasha, my sestryonka, have a good flight back and wish you receive my letter after it’s been some 2 months on its way to you!

Will be back soon!

G.

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