Katarzynki: Polish Gingerbread Cookies

Pierniczki Katarzynki

Soft, honey-rich Katarzynki (pron.: cata-zhinky, already plural) cookies – spiced with a fragrant gingerbread spice –  are one of my favourite Polish treats. They’re especially close to my heart, as I share their name (Kasia is a diminutive of Katarzyna). 

They’re shaped into a characteristic six-medallion shape – two rows of three circles.

In their hometown of Toruń, you’ll find them either plain or filled with plum jam. The same goes for the glaze: I love them plain, but a classic sugar glaze – or slightly more scrumptious chocolate glaze – is just as divine.

For the full list of ingredients & detailed instructions, please see the recipe card at the end of this post. But before you scroll, there’s important stuff to know below.

Katarzynki are probably the oldest form of Toruń gingerbread – and one the most popular ones as well.

Back in the day, they were baked on Saint Catherine’s Day (November 25), and the centre of this delicacy was located right in front of the church of Saint Catherine (source 1). Today, Katarzynki are enjoyed all year round, but especially during the festive season.

Chocolate-covered Katarzynki Gingerbread cookies from Kopernik
Chocolate-covered Katarzynki from Kopernik

A popular tale tells us how a well-known Toruń gingerbread maker fell ill, and his only daughter, Katarzyna, had to take his place.

Failing to find the correct cookie mould, she cut out simple circles, which she then placed in the oven (in two lines of three). The circles merged together into a shape we know today. (source 2)

Do you need any special ingredients or equipment to make these Polish-style Gingerbread Cookies?

Ingredients for Katarzynki (Polish Gingerbread Cookies)

Luckily, this is one of those Polish recipes that don’t require any special ingredients.

The only troublesome item might be the gingerbread spice. Feel free to substitute it with pumpkin pie spice, or just add a mix of cinnamon and ground ginger instead.

In terms of equipment, if you don’t own the classic 6-medallion shaped cookie cutter, feel free to use any other shape. You could use a stand mixer, but that’s not required.

What could you serve with these Katarzynki cookies?

These cookies taste best when paired with hot beverages such as tea or coffee.

During the festive season, you could serve them alongside other Christmas desserts such as Makowiec and Keks.

Can you bake these Cookies another way?

There’s no “official” recipe for these cookies. The historical instructions are a bit too vague to follow today.

Some Katarzynki recipes circulating around the Polish web call for a lot of baking powder. Here, we only use a mere teaspoon of baking soda – and that’s really enough.

Katarzynki that are currently sold in stores are manufactured by the Kopernik factory in Toruń. Their methods are – of course – a trade secret. When baked at home, Katarzynki tend to be cut in simpler shapes such as circles, hearts, or stars.

The glaze is up to you. I love them plain, but feel free to cover them with sugar glaze or chocolate glaze that I’ve included in this recipe.

A small tip here – if you bake Katarzynki way in advance, it’s best to wait with the chocolate glaze till the very last minute. They’ll look and taste better.

What diets are these Gingerbread Cookies suitable for?

This recipe is suitable for vegetarians. Sadly, it’s tricky to make them vegan-friendly, because honey is their trademark.

how long can you store these cookies?

Once baked, Katarzynki is initially quite soft, but they harden over time. That’s why it’s best to keep them in an airtight jar or a cookie tin.

To make the cookies even softer, keep them together with a soft bread roll, an apple wedge or a piece of fresh ginger root. The cookies will draw all the moisture from them over time. Just make sure to check the container often, to remove anything that looks suspicious or getting mouldy.

You can keep these Polish-style gingerbread cookies for up to 4-6 months. But honestly, there’s zero chance they’ll last that long (way too tasty for that).

Katarzynki - Polish Gingerbread Cookies
Katarzynka - Gingerbread cookie

Katarzynki: Polish Gingerbread Cookies

Yield: 2 trays
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 13 minutes
Total Time: 33 minutes

Ingredients

  • 12 tablespoons (6 oz, 180 ml, 250 g) honey
  • 5 tablespoons (75 g) butter
  • ½ cup (125 g) sugar; white, brown or demerara
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • 1-1.5 teaspoons gingerbread spice; can be subbed with pumpkin pie spice or cinnamon
  • 1 medium egg, beaten
  • 5 cups+2 tablespoons (630 g) all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 2 tablespoons sour cream, optional

Chocolate glaze (optional)

  • 1.5 cups icing/powdered sugar
  • ⅓ cup cocoa powder
  • 3-4 tablespoons milk
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Instructions

For Katarzynki Cookies

  1. Pour the honey into a small cooking pot and bring it to a near-boil. Add butter, sugar, water and gingerbread spice, stir them in. Take the pot off the heat and let it cool completely.
  2. Once cooled, add in 1 beaten egg, flour and a teaspoon of baking soda. Knead everything together for a bit. If it's too dry to knead, add 2-3 tablespoons of sour cream.
  3. Form a smooth and dense dough ball. It’s worth letting the dough rest for 20 minutes or so, but that’s not crucial.
  4. Roll out the dough, aim for 0.2-0.4” (5-10 mm) in thickness. Thicker cookies tend to be softer. Cut the cookies out with a cookie cutter.
  5. Line the baking tray with parchment paper and carefully transfer the cookies onto it.
  6. Brush the cookies with a tiny bit of water and bake for 11-15 minutes in 360°F (180°C). The thicker the cookies, the longer you’ll need (11 minutes for 0.2’’, closer to 15 minutes for 0.4’’).  Leave the cookies on a cooling rack for at least 15 mins before decorating or serving.
  7. Store in a cookie tin or a jar.

For Chocolate Glaze (optional)

  1. Sift the powdered sugar together with cocoa powder.
  2. Gradually start adding milk and vanilla extract, whisking as you go. Once you’re happy with the consistency, stop adding the liquids. I prefer the glaze on the thicker side, so it sticks better to the cookie.
  3. Spoon the glaze over cookies and set them aside to dry and firm up.

Notes

  1. If your honey is solid, don’t worry. It will liquify with heat.
  2. If the dough seems overly dry as you knead, add 2-3 tablespoons of sour cream to soften it slightly.
  3. If you’re baking Katarzynki weeks in advance (waiting for them to soften a bit more), glaze them with chocolate at the very end, before you intend to enjoy them.
  4. The recipe was adapted from this Katarzynki recipe (in Polish) by Margarete.

Sources:

  1. “Piernikowy Smak Życia” (“Gingerbready Flavour of Life”) by Maciej Wróblewski; published by Wydawnictwo Młotkowski & Wydawnictwo Bernardinum 2015; ISBN 9788378235859
  2. I’ve heard this story during the tour at Żywe Muzeum Piernika (the Living Museum of Gingerbread) in Toruń.
Kasia Kronenberger

Kasia Kronenberger is the founder of Polonist, where she celebrates Poland’s very best food.
She’s a self-taught home cook, who – through her own culinary attempts – wants to show you how to recreate Polish flavours at home, wherever that is.
About KasiaAbout Polonist

Polish name:
Pronunciation:
Cuisine: Polish
Region / Subregion: Pomerania
Other traditional or regional names:
Also known as (including misspellings): Catherine’s Cookies, Thorner Kathrinchen, Little Kates