A French classic, pain d’épices is something of a cross between a cake and a bread, with rye flour, honey and spices as its basic ingredients. Pain d’épices is a speciality of the Burgundy region of France, especially the city of Dijon. Honey cakes or biochet, probably introduced from Asia formed the base for pain d’épices. As spices were introduced during the Middle Ages, cooks experimented with adding various spices to biochet and modern-day pain d’épices was born.  The honey used was the dark buckwheat honey of Brittany and the technique used was to leave the  honeyed rye flour to ferment in a wooden trough for months before being baked.

Pain d’épices makes the most wonderful afternoon snack when you’re looking for something sweet and the following recipe by David Lebovitz has the most interesting aromatic blend I’ve seen so far. The doses of cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, cloves and nutmeg might scare you away at first sight but the melange is surprisingly well-balanced in the amounts used in this recipe. None of the spices stands out too much and the overall effect is a delight to the senses. A essayer absolument!

PAIN D’EPICES

Ingredients:

3 1/2 cups (455g) flour

1/2 cup (60g) dark rye flour

2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg

1/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

1/2 teaspoon anise seeds (whole)

2 ounces (55g) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1 large egg, at room temperature

1 cup (340g) honey

1 tablespoon finely-grated orange zest

1 cup (240ml) water

Method:

  • Preheat the oven to 350º (180ºC). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) loaf pan, dust it with flour, then tap out any excess.

  • Sift together the flour, rye flour, baking soda, the ground spices and salt in a bowl. Sprinkle in the anise seeds.

  • In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, mix together the butter, egg, honey (or honey and jam), and orange zest.

  • Add water, then the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping the sides to make sure everything gets mixed in evenly.

  • Transfer batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

  • The top will bake to a somewhat dark color, which is normal. Cool 10 minutes, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan.

  • Let cool completely before slicing. Makes a one 9-inch (23cm) loaf. Pain d’épices can be wrapped in plastic and stored for at least a week, during which time the flavors will meld and it’ll get denser.
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