Medenjak is a sweet type of cookie made with honey (or med in Croatian), which gives it a special flavour and makes it a particularly popular treat. These honey gingerbread cookies were mostly made by craftsmen specialised in products containing honey, called medičari, who, in addition to these treats, also produced honey brandy (medica or medovača) that they sold at fairs. There were many different flavours to choose from; the dough would often contain nutmeg, saffron, lemon zest, or even alcoholic beverages, such as rum, brandy or Prošek wine. Baked medenjaci cookies were often covered with a white glaze made from egg whites and powdered sugar, which would frequently be decorated with different patterns.
The dough for the cookies is made from flour, baking powder, sugar and eggs, with added flavouring in the form of cloves, cinnamon and, of course, honey. Sage honey was normally used for this purpose, although the cookies will be just as tasty if other sweet and thick honey is used. The colour of the chosen honey will influence the colour of the cookie itself. Honey should be nearly boiling hot when it’s mixed in with the dough. The dough is then kneaded, rolled out and cut into various shapes, from simple circles to hearts and stars, which are especially popular during the Christmas season.
Paprenjak is another traditional Croatian candy, a crunchy cookie that contains honey. The name derives from the word papar, which nowadays means “pepper”, but was at one point in the past used as a general term for “spice”, thereby pointing to the fact that the cookie contained grated cloves, nutmeg or cinnamon. Since this is a relatively hard cookie, it was shaped using different moulds. Their wonderful fragrance drew people to the kitchen to try and secretly take at least one for themselves. The island of Hvar produces the famous spicy gingerbread cookies (hvarski paprenjaci) for various occasions, including festivities, but they are also present in many homes as a daily treat.
Although the name is based on the word “pepper”, the Hvar cookies do not contain any. However, inland Croatia and the area of Zagreb include some among the ingredients that give the cookies their distinct aroma. Pepper isn’t the only difference among the various regional varieties of paprenjak cookies. While the main source of grease in the dough on the coast is olive oil, Zagreb and its surrounding areas use the more readily available lard. The honey is boiled before preparing the dough, and the light foam that it produces needs to be removed. Olive oil, Prošek boiled with spices and flour to soak up the liquid are mixed in with the cooled honey, thereby creating a soft dough to roll out and shape into cookies. Much like the medenjak, baked paprenjak cookies are decorated with a mixture of powdered sugar and egg whites, and they were often shaped using moulds in the form of seals to give them an interesting look.