[A special thank you to Monika for her contributions to this article and her lovely work on the mézeskalács!]
These traditional Mézeskalács (Hungarian honey cakes) are not designed for eating and can last indefinitely with care given to storage. The phrase “Szeretlek” means “I Love You” in Hungarian.
The decorations have very important meanings. The flowers are grouped in threes, to create eyes and mouth and with these the piece comes alive. The mirror in the center represents a true feeling (love), clean spirit and truthfulness. It also add to the beauty of the girl and helps her to keep herself beautiful (similar to a modern day compact mirror). The red heart shaped gingerbread with mirror was used as a “love gift” to show love from a boy to girl. If the gift was accepted that meant the two were a couple.
Mézeskalács is the Hungarian version of gingerbread cookies, even though they have more cinnamon than ginger. They are also known as honey cookies or honey cakes. They are delicious, can be decorated beautifully, and are often seen at the holiday markets in Hungary.
The tradition of gingerbread goes back hundreds of years. Once man came up with the idea of mixing flour and wild honey together, the delicious result, a sweet bun baked in clay molds, was just the beginning. The shape, quality and taste has improved greatly through the years.
Initially, gingerbread was baked in monasteries (for sacred purposes), on estates and in homes. At that time, “mass” production was a domain of artisans called gingerbread makers. According to surviving written evidence, this craft existed on the territory of present day Hungary as early as in the 14th century.
There are many more ideas in the book listed here: Gingerbread Christmas Wonderland by Tunde Dugantsi has step-by-step instructions for gingerbread art for gifts and decorations and is available for purchase at The Hungarian Store.