Pain d’épices (French for “Spice bread”) is an iconic French bread made with rye flour, honey and spice. It is very often mistaken for a gingerbread cake, but it is indeed a bread loaf – far less sweet and sticky than its counterparts, and therefore more versatile. It is just as delicious served with a dollop of crème fraiche and berries as it is with a smoky piece of cheese. Even better, it has today become very popular enjoyed with the traditional new year’s eve foie gras on a slice of toasted “pain d’epices”, sometimes festooned with a sweet fig chutney or a just crack of pepper.
According to Maguelonne Toussaint-Samat, the commercial production of pain d’épices was a specialty of the city of Reims, based on a recipe of a pastry cook from Bourges and made popular when Charles VII and his mistress Agnes Sorel expressed their love for it. In 1571, the Corporation of Spice Bread Makers of Reims were chartered separately from the pastry cooks, and in 1596 the Parisian makers of pain d’épices were given their own charter. The Reims pain d’épices industry was decimated by World War I. The pain d’épices of Dijon outpaced its older competitors in the Napoleonic era, and the bread is now considered one of the specialties of that city.
Pain d’épices was originally a sourdough bread without added leavening; it was left in a wooden trough to rest in a cool place for months, during which the honeyed rye flour experienced fermentation. The modern spice bread simply relies on baking powder for rising.
“La Collective des Biscuits et Gâteaux de France” reserves the name pain d’épices pur miel (French for “pure honey spice bread”) for pain d’épices sweetened only with honey.
This recipe is simple and authentic, and choosing quality ingredients will truly go a long way for this one. Especially, your choice of honey and flour – tradition calls for a dark buckwheat honey and for rye flour.
Note: I opted for a round loaf pan this time; but I wanted to serve it like a cake for a dessert. But to keep it traditional, I prefer a rectangular loaf pan.
- 1 cup dark buck-wheat honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- ½ cup milk (2%)
- 2 cups rye flour
- ¾ teaspoon baking powder
- 2 eggs
- 1 pinch of salt
- 1 and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 and ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground allspice
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- Preheat your oven to 350C.
- In a sauce pan, warm up and dilute the honey and vanilla extract.
- In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, sugar and spices. Form a well and pour the warm honey in it. Mix with a wooden spoon.
- Add in the eggs, one after another, and finally the milk. Mix until the milk is incorporated and the batter is smooth and shiny.
- Scrape the batter into a loaf bread pan, previously greased and floured.
- Bake for 1 hour, or until a knife comes out clean.
- Take the bread out of the oven, keep it into the pan and let it cool off completely.
- Once the bread is at room temperature, wrap it with a cloth (or with foil) and keep aside for 24h, minimum, before savoring it.
- For a more decadent spice bread, you can add ½ cup of your choice of dark chocolate chips, pecans, walnuts, candied oranges or even coconut.