Pain d'épices (French for "spice bread") is a classic moist French cake or quick bread, a kind of cross between a cake and a bread, or as I like to refer to it a „breakfast cake“. There is no butter in this recipe, just milk to bind the ingredients and there is some rye flour in there. Which means that it’s actually rather well-suited to being spread with fresh butter and topped with jam or honey (my favorite).
This cake is something that people tend to buy rather than make these days. However, given how simple the recipe is, there is no reason not to give it a try.
The only prep involved here is scalding of the milk and then letting it cool before mixing the batter. And maybe whipping the egg whites but other than that, this recipe only requires you to just mix everything together until you have a smooth – but still thick – batter, scrape it into your baking pan and bake. Then you will be rewarded by a rich, spicy aroma during baking, and that aroma will linger in your kitchen for a while.
While this cake can be eaten the same day it was made, if you have the time and patience to store it for a day or two, the texture of the loaf will be denser, the loaf will be slightly sticky on top, but it will also cut more easily, making it perfectly suited as something to nibble on during the week for breakfast, but it’s also tasty enough on its own to enjoy with a cup of tea or coffee as an afternoon snack. Or do as the French do and cut thin slices to serve under slabs of foie gras. Or do as the Belgians do and add toasted cubes to a wintry Carbonnade flamande (A Flemish Beef and Beer Stew).
In this recipe I use a rather traditional French spice mixture „Quatre épices“. However, you can tweak the recipe and use a gingerbread spice mix or perhaps a Belgian spice mixture like speculooskruiden used in traditional biscuits (the Dutch call it speculaaskruiden). You can also add nuts, dried fruit such as golden raisins or chopped apricots or even preserved ginger. I like it more on the plain side and sometimes add some coarse sugar (from Belgian) as a topping.
Pain d‘épices – Spice Bread
- 125g plain (AP) flour
- 125g rye flour (I used rye flour "Type 1150" as it is called around here, which is not the whole grain kind. Pls note that rye flour has to be mixed with regular flour for this recipe)
- 8g baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 50g light brown sugar
- 250g runny (liquid) honey PLUS some honey for brushing the warm cake (optional) NOTE: if you are looking for a more pronounced honey taste, you can opt for buckwheat honey for example OR go with your favorite local honey, if possible
- 100 ml milk (I use 3.5%)
- 2 eggs (M) organic or free range
- a pinch of fine sea salt
- 1 ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1 ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/4 tsp spice mix „Quatre épices“ (a spice mix used mainly in French cuisine, the name means "four spices" in French and it contains ground pepper, cloves, nutmeg and anise) OR (1/4 tsp each grated nutmeg, ground cloves, freshly-ground black pepper and 1/2 teaspoon anise)
- chopped nuts, dried fruits or candied ginger, orange or citrus peel (entirely optional)
- Grease a loaf pan (23 cm or 9 inch) with butter and line with baking parchment.
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F).
- Put the flours, baking powder, baking soda, sugar, spices and salt in a bowl. Mix well.
- In a small saucepan bring the milk to a boil, then let it cool and add the honey to it, stir until dissolved. Cool completely.
- Whisk the flours, baking powder, baking soda, brown sugar, spices and salt in a bowl.
- Add the flour mixture to the milk mixture, add the egg yolks and stir well until you have a smooth batter.
- In another bowl whip the egg whites with a pinch of salt until firm. If using: add any dried fruit, nuts, ginger etc.
- Fold the egg whites into the batter – do this carefully.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.
- Cool 10 minutes, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan OR let cool for a few minutes, brush the warm cake with honey (optional), wait another few minutes until the honey has been absorbed a bit into the cakem, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan and transfer to a cooling rack.
- Let cool completely and when cool, wrap in food wrap OR enjoy on the same day.
- Personally, I prefer to let the cake rest for a day. To serve cut into slices and eat as is OR toast and slather with fresh butter and jam, marmelade, cream cheese or whatever strikes your fancy. NOTE: The Pain d’épices can be wrapped in plastic and stored for at least a week, during which time the flavors will meld and the texture will become denser.
This is a nice, easy recipe that gives you a lovely spicy cake. This is also a good one to make with kids, as the recipe is quite easy. And a rather nice way to start my seasonal baking frenzy...