Rye flour, a good amount of honey and a unique spice blend are the key components of a great Classic French Spiced Bread – also known as Pain d’Épices. This cross between a cake and a bread is a holiday staple in France. It can be found on most Christmas market stalls, sold in big slabs. It is also a favorite to make amongst home bakers as it is a really simple recipe that makes the house smell wonderful. This is a perfect crowd pleaser for the Holidays.
So what is a French “Pain d’Épices”?
Despite appearances, a Classic French Spiced Bread (Pain d’Épices) shouldn’t be mistranslated as a “gingerbread”. Less sweet than its American cousin, a Pain d’épices doesn’t include egg nor butter – it is indeed a “pain” (bread). It is also made with rye flour for more earthiness, and honey – while gingerbreads often include molasses – making for a lighter sweetness that lets the spices shine a bit more. The spice blend of a Pain d’Épices is also more complex, including cinnamon and ginger, but also nutmeg, cloves, black pepper, anise seeds and star anise.
How to enjoy a “Pain d’Épices”?
Being a cross between a bread and a cake, a Pain d’Épices makes for an equally delicious sweet or savory treat.
- As a starter or on a cheese board – Over the Holidays, Pain d’Épice is often served as a starter, cut in thin slices with foie gras or just before dessert with soft cow’s-milk cheeses like Brie or Camembert.
- For Breakfast – Because it isn’t too sweet, a Pain d’Épices is a great breakfast staple and the perfect canvas for butter, jams and marmalades. I personally love it with a little slab of butter and a drizzle of honey.
- As a snack – It is also a wonderful pick-me-up in the afternoon as it is satisfying and full of flavor – and again, not too sweet.
- Using freshly ground spices, instead of pre-ground /store-bought, will make all the difference here. Freshly ground spices are so much more fragrant and keep their flavor better even after baked. For this recipe, we will need freshly ground cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and black pepper – so using a spice grinder is highly recommended.
- Traditionally, a Classic French Spiced Bread calls for dark rye flour. But from my experience, light rye flour works well too. The difference is almost unnoticeable in taste.
Just like many staples French recipes, there are countless variations of a Pain d’Épices. Some prefer it lighter and drier (closer to a bread), some prefer it moist and more intense in flavor (closer to a cake). This recipe, in my opinion, strikes a happy medium. This Pain d’Épices is soft, moist and perfectly spiced; yet it isn’t too sweet.
You may also like:
- Spiced Cookies with Candied Citrus Peels and Almonds (Leckerli)
- Raspberry Jam Swiss Roll
- Almond Chocolate Twice-Baked Cookies from Provence (Croquants)
- Raspberry Jam-Filled Sablé Sandwiches (Lunettes de Romans)
- Classic Chocolate Bûche de Noël
I hope you’ll love this Classic French Spiced Bread (Pain d’Épices) recipe as much as I do! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment.
1 1/4 cup (125g) dark rye flour
1 cup (125g) all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tbsp (30g) brown sugar (light or dark)
1 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon anise seeds, whole
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper
¼ tsp salt
1 ½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp finely-grated orange zest (or clementine)
1 cup (250ml) milk (2%)
2/3 cup + 1 tbsp (250ml) honey
1 or 2 star anise, whole
Step 1 – Pre-heat your oven to 305F (150C) with a rack in the middle. Grease a 8.5-9 inch loaf pan with butter, dust with flour and set aside.
Step 2 – In a saucepan over medium heat, warm together the milk and honey, along with the star anise. When the milk is hot and the honey has dissolved, remove from the heat and set aside to infuse.
Step 3 – In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the two flours, brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove, anise seeds, pepper, salt, baking soda and orange zest.
Step 4 – Slowly pour in the milk and honey into the dry ingredients (discard of star anise), mixing with a wooden spoon. Stop mixing when just combined.
Step 5 – Pour the batter into prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, until a knife inserted in the middle comes out clean. Transfer to a cooling rack for 30 minutes before removing from the pan and let cool completely.
Enjoy immediately or wrap in foil and wait 24 hours before enjoying, to allow the flavors to develop further.
This Classic French Spiced Bread (Pain d’épices) can keep well wrapped for up to 1 week. It can keep for up to 3 months in the freezer (in an airtight container or freezer bag). Make sure the bread is completely cooled before freezing it. Thaw it in the refrigerator or at room temperature.
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