As Mother Nature is awakening after a long winter sleep, so is our need for more warmth, sunshine and brighter colours. Not only do they show on the streets, in the parks and more still in the countryside, the spring colours also enter our kitchens, land on our tables and brighten up our food.
I have always wanted to show you the art of traditional honey-cookie decorating in Slovakia, but couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for. Then I came across Alžbeta’s fanpage and I knew she was the right person to tell the story.
Alžbeta is the Slovak name for Elizabeth and her honey cookies are as divine as the name suggests. When I got in touch with her to make an appointment, I didn’t know what a beautiful corner of Slovakia this would take me to. Perhaps that is where Alžbeta finds inspiration for her work?
She and her family live in Kremnické Bane – a village close to the spot that was declared the geographical centre of Europe back in 1815. The ride through the vast, undulating meadows dotted with fir trees and charming chalets leaves me wondering how many more treasures like these I have not seen yet – despite my extensive travels around the country. I make a promise to return, as there is no time to explore the place now. I have come for honey cookies, and I want to make the most of the visit. A batch of freshly baked cookies is already waiting to get a festive coating.
Alžbeta gets her gear ready. The first step is making the white icing. All you need at this stage is:
- 1 egg white
- icing or castor sugar (about 130 g)
- a bowl and a whisk or fork
- plastic zip bags (10 x 15 cm)
The exact amount of sugar will depend on how thick you want your icing to be. The more sugar, the thicker icing you get.
Now that you’re ready to start decorating, follow these tips from Alžbeta to achieve the best results:
- Take the bag with the icing in one hand and twist it slightly with the other one. Press the icing down towards the tip of the bag, and use sharp scissors to cut a hole in it. A small hole is good for criss-cross patterns, ’embroidery’ or ‘painting’, you’ll need a bigger one to cover or fill in larger spaces.
- If you don’t use all the icing, zip it up in the bag and store at room temperature for up to 24 hours. Remember to stir it well, or place the icing in a new bag before you use it again later.
- For colour patterns, use natural food colourings, which come in the form of powder or gel in Slovakia, and stir them into the white icing evenly. Be careful to let the colour pattern on the cookie(s) dry for at least 24 hours before applying another layer or a different colour.
- To create a nice, clean pattern, hold the bag closely above the cookie, move your hand slowly as if drawing, and let the thread of icing fall down while fixing or turning the cookie with the other hand.
I’ll be sharing the recipe for our traditional honey cookies on a different occasion, but the tips & techniques given above can be applied to any cookies, so if you want to channel your creative energy onto your favourite ones, feel free to experiment.