Slovak medovniky bakers are getting ready for Christmas

While working on the Winter Book of  A Taste of Slovakia series, I went to document the art of medovníky baking at a small workshop near Žilina. It is where Andrea from Adina medovníky creates her delectable, exquisitely crafted honey dough pieces.

Med (pronounced the same way as red, bed, fed, etc.) is the Slovak word for honey. Medovníky (pronounced medovnyeeki) are Slovak cookies made with honey and a couple of other ingredients, including spices. For the majority of Slovaks, medovníky have become associated with Christmas, so our medovníky bakers get their hands busy as the holiday season approaches. But it wasn’t always like this.

Andrea at work
Andrea – a medovníky artist from Žilina – at work on her honey cookies.

Back in 1619, when the first guild of medovníky bakers was set up in Bratislava, medovníky baking had already been a respected craft that flourished all through the year. At first, the dough for medovníky was simply made by mixing honey with rye flour. The raw honey had been cooked with some water and left to cool in wooden tubs before adding the flour. Stored in wooden vessels, the dough was left to ferment in a cool, dark place for months or even years. The honey acted as a preserver, so the dough didn’t spoil. Quite the opposite, the slow fermentation process enhanced its sensory qualities. To make cakes of different shapes and sizes, the dough was pressed into hand-carved wooden moulds and baked.

Wooden mould for honey cake
Hand-carved wooden mould for honey dough (from collection of Slovak National Museum Martin, photo M. Pišný)

With the arrival of sugar in Europe at the end of the 19th century, the new ingredient was added to the honey dough which became more pliable, so the heavy wooden moulds could be replaced by lighter tin cutters. White icing made of powdered sugar and egg whites, as well as the introduction of food colourings, brought a whole lot of new decorating techniques.

Christmas medovniky
Christmas honey cookies from Adina medovníky, https://www.adina-medovniky.sk/

The old craft of medovníky baking is experiencing another revival with young people – mainly women – taking up the hobby and turning it into business. Andrea from Žilina is just one of dozens of medovnikári (medovníky artists) operating in Slovakia. Her workshop is filled with warm scents of Christmas right now, and orders from all corners of the country (and abroad) come and are dispatched on a daily basis.

Andrea has developed her own recipe for honey dough and an inimitable style that reflects her finely honed skill. She says she loves simple, elegant patterns, but she is versatile enough to produce more elaborate designs if that is what the customer wants.

medovniky

Andrea’s recipe for medovníky will be featured in the third volume of A Taste of Slovakia together with her tips and ideas for decorating honey cookies. In the meantime, you can browse through Andrea’s website and enjoy the beauty of her work in digital form.

 

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