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Karol and Karolina: A Historical Fantasy and Recipe

– Judith Pfeffer

Long before ever we were born, there lived a lively young man in a small town in Poland. He was as bright as he was kind, and he loved progressive social causes, books, and theater. Although he was Roman Catholic, as are most Poles, his heart was big enough to care for all kinds of people. The name of this thoughtful young man was Karol.


His best friend—and, eventually much more than a friend—had a similar name, Karolina. She came from the nearby Jewish village and was as bright and kind as he. Her family owned a delightful bakery whose products were enjoyed equally by Catholics and Jews. Most popular, perhaps surprisingly, was the gingerbread, a favorite Hanukkah treat.


Few people know that Jews bake gingerbread, but bake it Karolina’s family did. In fact, Karol and Karolina often dreamed of a gigantic gingerbread wedding cake for a Hanukkah-time wedding, although its creation seemed an easier project than telling their respective families about a mixed marriage.


Alas, they never were able to attempt either goal. For all too soon in those very dark days in the coldest winter in memory, the evil soldiers came to take away Karolina, her family, and all the Jewish villagers. Take them away forever, despite Karol’s valiant efforts to prevent it.


Before they were torn apart, Karolina begged her secret love to keep alive her family’s most famous recipe and to return it to them, someday, somehow. And of course, he promised to do so.


Broken-hearted at this tragic turn of events, Karol swore that he would never love another and that he was done altogether and forever with the realm of romance.


He then chose another path to try to help the world, slowly, steadily, and eventually rising to the very top of the hierarchy and becoming known to all the world by a name that I hardly need mention. He continued his activism, public speaking, and writing, inspiring all nations to their souls’ best effort.


Throughout his career he kept a special place in his heart for the Jewish people and did much to make peace between his faith and theirs. And he never forgot his promise to Karolina. For years—nay, decades­—he tried to locate her descendants, if any there might still be, but to no avail.


Finally, as an old man, realizing his strength was failing him and his days on this plane were numbered, he bade his assistants use the latest computer technology to make good on his promise.


And so it was that they created a website intended to attract one person and one person only, just before Hanukkah this year. Only Karolina’s true heir would be able to enter and read the recipe, by employing as username that of Karolina’s village and as password the name of the bakery.


It is only now that I am ready to assume the solemn honor of presenting the gingerbread baked from that recipe. For Karolina was my mother’s mother’s mother. It can now be told that the family and the recipe have miraculously survived to the twenty-first century. It is my humble pleasure to share the pope’s Jewish gingerbread.


Important note: this recipe makes a cake-like gingerbread (not gingerbread people or gingerbread buildings).


In addition to the ingredients themselves, you will need a flour sifter, 1 small bowl, 2 large bowls, measuring cups, measuring spoons, fork, spoon, spatula, and several toothpicks.


2 1/3 cups sifted all-purpose white flour

1 tsp. ground ginger

3/4 tsp. baking soda

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. ground cinnamon

2 eggs

1/2 cup butter, softened

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup molasses

1/2 cup honey

2/3 cup boiling water

1. Preheat oven to 350°F (177°C).


2. Sift dry ingredients together 3 times and set aside in a large bowl.


3. Beat eggs in a small bowl.


4. In the other large bowl, cream butter and sugar thoroughly, then add the beaten eggs, molasses, honey, and water. Add this mixture gradually to dry ingredients and mix thoroughly.


5. Pour into well-greased 9-inch baking pan, or any size muffin cups, and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center of each cake comes out clean (about 1 hour for a cake and 30 minutes for muffins).

Note: this recipe is adapted from “High-Altitude Gingerbread” in The Joy of Cooking, 1964 edition.

This piece was previously published in Emerson College's Atlas Magazine (2012).


Judith Pfeffer is a former professor of journalism and marketing who still works part-time in those fields. Over the years, she has won about two dozen awards for her work. She won an honorable mention in the inspirational category from Writers Digest in 2004 for the short fiction story "Wings," which was published shortly beforehand in Bereavement Magazine in spring 2003.

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