Mezeskalacs is such a tradition that I can't imagine the holidays without it. The nice thing is that after baking the cookies, you can decorate with very simple designs--let the children try and they will learn--or you can go all out with the most beautiful, detailed designs. You can easily find these designs on the internet. It does, however, take a bit of practice, and right moon phase--just kidding--but, it is not difficult to learn some basic design techniques. After struggling with the metal tips and cloth icing bags, parchment paper icing bags, etc., I turned to my cousin's daughter who has been doing beautiful designs for years. Her methods are amazingl simpler--and cheaper so I finally gained the courage to post some of mine and share the recipe and techniques. In the photo gallery you can see various Christmas shapes, including the manger scene, Valentine and Easter cookies. One more thing--these cookies are delicious! And they last a long time if you keep them in a metal tin.
Here is the basic recipe:
4 cups flour (use 3 1/2 cups to start and use the rest when rolling out dough)
1 stick butter
1 tsp baking soda1 tsp lemon zest
2 Tablespoons pumpkin pie spice
(1 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg)
1/4 teaspoon salt
9 0z container of honey (3/4 cup)
1 egg white for icing
powdered sugar for icing
1 egg yolk for egg wash on cookies before baking
Melt butter in microwave safe dish and add honey. Stir together well and cook for 1/ minute.
Combine dry ingredients well, then add add eggs. Mix well with a fork. Add cooled butter/ honey mixture. Mix and knead by hand. I use my kitchena aid with the dough hook. When the dough comes together nicely into a ball put it out on the floured pastry board and cover with a dish cloth for about 30 minutes or more. About 1 hour is usually just right. You can refrigerate the dough at this point and do the rest another day. The dough should feel" good", not sticky and come out of the mixing bowl easily. If it is dry and crumbly add some sour cream! Start with 1 tablespoon at a time until it is a nice dough. I have never had to add sour cream, but my source told me this is a good fix if necessary.
Prehead oven to 350. When you are ready to cut your cookies, roll out the dough on a well-floured board. They will rise slightly so you can roll to about about 3/8" thick. Place the cookies on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the cookies with beaten egg yolk. I sometimes leave some cookies without the egg wash just to see the difference. If you are going to coveer the cookies completely with icing, you can skip the egg wash.
Bake for about 10 minutes. They will still be a bit soft, but will harden later. Let cookies cool and dry completely before decorating--as in the next day.
Here is my cousin's daughter's technique:
1 egg white
powdered sugar--difficult to measure. This will become apparent as you mix it.
Place the egg white in a wide bowl, like a soup bowl. Beat the egg white with a fork until fluffly and covers the bottom of the bowl. Add powdered suger in heaping tablespoons full, continuing to beat with fork after each addition, until there are no lumps. If the powdered sugar has hardened lumps, you should sift it first because hard lumps are difficult to work out and could clog the icing tube. Keep adding sugar and beating until it is very stiff, like toothpaste or very good housepaint. I also add a few drops of lemon juice which gives the icing a nice shine when dry. To test it, lift the fork and let a little drizzle from the fork to the edge of the dish. If a thin drizzle stays and does not flow down, it is ready for outlining the cookies.
Use a 1 quart or larger zip lock bag. Fold the top half down to make a cuff. Use a spatula and push the icing into the bag and close the bag. Squeeze the icing into one of the bottom corners of the bag. Look closely at the corners. Usually, one of the corners has smoother sides. One corner often has a rougher edge than the other. Go for the smooth one. Using a very sharp manicure scissors, cut a tiny hole in the corner of the bag. Push all the icing toward the hole and twist the cuff of the bag tightly to keep the icing from going back up. This keeps things much less messy.
One a work surface, test the flow of the icing. If should flow evenly and easily with slight pressure. If the hole is too small, make it only slightly larger until you get the right size. Practice on the work surface until you feel you have control over the flow. Start with your simpler shaped cookies and outline them with the icing and let icing dry throughly, again for several hours or even a day or so. If you have to take a break, put the icing bag into another zip lock and close tightly and the icing will be just fine the next day.
Floating the icing to cover the cookies: This makes a very nice coating on the cookie onto which you can add designs. For this, the icing needs to be muchthinner so it will flow around on the cookie. You can make up a new batch of icing but using less sugar, or you can thin any leftover icing by adding lemon juice until it is much thinner. The lemon juice gives it a nice shiney quality too. With a small mocha size spoon, drop the icing on the cookie and let it flow around to cover the cookie but not go over the outlining. Use the spoon to nudge and smooth the icing into all corners, etc. If you see any bubbles, use a toothpick to poke them out. Otherwise, they wll still show when the icing dries. Now, let this dry for at least a day.
Once the floated icing is hard, you can then start to do designs. One simple treatment is dots. Using the stiffer icing, practice making dots until you get a consistent size and no little pointed peaks. Outlining a cookie in dots is simple and looks very nice. Dots in groups of threes are also a nice touch. You can experiment with your own designs. You can also use the stiffer icing to write names or make little flowers, stems and leaves.
To color the icing, use food colorings (not the gel type). I used Wilton's food colorings and they are very strong in color! A tiny bit on the tip of a toothpick gave a very nice color.