One of the best things about this season is the blessing and celebration of new honey! Not only do we collect it in its raw form for use against seasonal allergies, we make it into jam for use against a sore throat, and stir it into a salve for skin irritations. Now we will make use of its ability to keep food fresh by making a traditional honey cookie famous throughout eastern Europe, known as a Medovnik.
History has shown that ancient people used honey as a natural preservative. Pieces of honey cookies were even said to have been found among the artifacts of an ancient Egyptian burial site! It is said that whole families in medieval Europe were dedicated to the baking of honey bread because it was such a popular and useful way to carry food on long journeys without modern refrigeration techniques. The recipes were guarded family secrets and when daughters of these honey bread bakers were married, large barrels of the dough would be given to the couple as a wedding gift, expected to last them for decades!
Every year, after returning from pilgrimage at Mount Macrina, which is hosted by the Byzantine Sisters of St. Basil the Great, the twins' Godmother, my good friend Paula, would bring us back some of the exquisitely decorated, (too pretty to eat, really) medovnicky made by the Sisters to offer for sale to those who came to visit their monastery on pilgrimage. Traditionally, according to the Sisters, pilgrims in Eastern Europe began taking these honey cookies as sustenance for pilgrimages as early as the 1600's. Often, they would be available at holy sites so that the pilgrims could have them for the long journey home. They have continued this wonderful tradition to this day and have them available for sale at Otpust every year.
Here is a recipe that our family has used to make these delicious cookies anytime we want. There are several versions of it available, but this seems to be the most traditional, and the kids like it too!
to make the dough:
3 cups rye flour ( you can use white or whole wheat if you like)
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup of honey
(or use a flax egg; 1 Tbsp ground flax meal mixed with 3 Tbsp water, if made during the fast)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ginger
½ teaspoon cloves
1 teaspoon cardamom (optional)
zest of 1 lemon ( orange zest is great too!)
Knead, roll out, make cutouts and bake at 375 degrees about 6- 7 minutes.
Decorating these gingerbread-like cookies is sometimes more fun than baking them...or even eating them!
To make icing:
1 egg white (optional)
1 ½ cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice ( or water, if you prefer)
Wisk the ingredients together, then spoon into a sturdy plastic bag (freezer bags work just fine) and cut off one corner to pipe the icing onto your completely cooled medovniky.
Once, when my girls did a unit study on bees, we cut the cookies using a hexagonal cookie cutter to resemble a honey comb. We iced them using the icing recipe above, then piped some melted chocolate to glue on a yellow candy to look like a bee. With the chocolate, using the same plastic bag piping technique, we drew on stripes, a head and some wings for our bees and the look was complete!
If you don't happen to have a hexagonal cookie cutter, just cut a hexagon from some sturdy cardboard ( a paper plate?). The result is so cute when they're all liked up on a platter!