“Life is the flower for which love is the honey.” Victor Hugo
Gingerbread is an ancient tradition that is still flourishing in many European countries. The oldest gingerbread molds found in Hungary were made more than two thousand years ago, and today’s tradition of gingerbread goes back all those years. In the beginning, the original mix of flour and wild honey together resulted in a delicious, sweet bun baked in clay molds – the shape, quality and taste has improved greatly through the years.
Initially, gingerbread was baked in monasteries for sacred purposes. At that time the production was a domain of artisan gingerbread makers. According to surviving written evidence, this craft existed on the territory of present day Hungary as early as the 14th century.
Mezeskalacs is the Hungarian version of gingerbread cookies, even though they have more of other spices than ginger. Mezeskalacs is also known as honey cookies, honey puppets, honey scone or honey cakes. They are delicious, can be decorated beautifully, and are often seen at the holiday markets in Hungary. The traditional decoration had very important meanings and messages. One of the most traditional designs, the red heart shaped gingerbread with mirror (similarly to a modern day compact mirror, its mirror was aimed to aid a girl in keeping herself pretty) was used as a “love gift” to show interest from a boy to girl. If the gift was accepted that meant they were a couple. Decorating flowers were grouped in threes, to represent eyes and mouth, should the piece come alive. The mirror in the center represents a true feeling, clean spirit and truthfulness.
Mezeskalacs has many variations in terms of recipes and decorations, however, depending on its intended uses, some are more shape-keeping, whilst others are more delicious. The recipe I use originates from a traditional artist, who has built years of tradition and practice into the final secret.
1000 g flour, plus extra for kneading
500 g icing sugar
200 g honey
125 g lard
18 g bicarbonate of soda
18 g mixed spice
Zest of one orange
Sift the dry ingredients. Combine all of the ingredients then mix until a smooth, sticky dough is achieved. Let it rest in an airtight container for at least 24 hours, but rather 3 days. Once rested, put it on floured surface and, adding more flour gradually, knead until smooth and not sticky. Roll into 2-4 mm thickness and bake in 190 degrees C oven for about 8 minutes. Let it cool and decorate with royal icing as desired.
“Be like honey bee, anything it eats is clean, anything it drops is sweet, and the branch it sits upon does not break.” Imam Ali