Lithuanians have long kept bees, and usually used honey to make their pastries sweet. Bakers started making gingerbread biscuits in Lithuania in the 16th century, when fragrant spices brought from abroad reached the nobles and dukes. Fragments of gingerbread biscuit cutters have survived to this day and are on display at the Palace of the Grand Dukes. Albeit, gingerbread biscuits were usually baked at monasteries, manors, or bakeries, but not at home.
Although gingerbread is now associated with the winter holidays, it used to be baked year-round, especially for church festivals and fairs. They were expensive to make, so gingerbread biscuits were considered a desirable gift, even for Christmas. And even today, it’s impossible to imagine Kaziukas Fair without Kaziukas’ Heart, the traditional heart-shaped gingerbread biscuit. This is probably the most famous gingerbread biscuit in Vilnius since days of old.
You will need:
- 500 ml honey
- 100 g various spices (to taste, e.g. cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, ginger and so on.)
- 50 g sugar (optional)
- 500 g flour (preferably rye)
- 5 g baking soda or baking powder
- 50 g butter (for greasing the baking sheet)
- In a small bowl, heat the honey and then stir in the spices (use whichever spices you like, keeping in mind that traditionally, a lot are added). Cool the honey a bit.
- To make the gingerbread biscuits fluffier, neutralise the baking soda (by adding some lemon juice) and add it to the flour. If you prefer, you can use baking powder instead. Put the flour in a bowl, add the spiced honey and sugar (optional), and knead the dough until it no longer sticks to your hands. If you see that the dough is too sticky, add another handful of flour.
- Roll the dough into a ball, wrap it in cling film, and refrigerate overnight.
- Take the dough out of the refrigerator and divide it into several smaller parts. Sprinkle flour on a table or other smooth and clean surface and roll out the dough. Roll the dough thinly (the thinner the dough is, the crispier the gingerbread biscuits will be).
- Use biscuit cutters to form the biscuits.
- Transfer the prepared biscuits to a baking sheet that is either greased or lined with baking paper. Bake the gingerbread biscuits in a preheated oven at 180°C for about 10 minutes, until nicely browned. Keep your eye on the biscuits – gingerbread bakes very quickly, so you may not need the full 10 minutes. Do not overbake.
- Leave to cool.