As Christmas drew close I started thinking about making bread for the two of us. With snow closing airports in Europe and Norabelle unable to get a flight home, all plans for entertaining evaporated. I didn’t want to commit to a big peasant loaf. I suddenly thought of a long forgotten baking tradition – the pain d’epices. It started with 7th grade, in my French 1 class, we were permitted a holiday party based on foods of France. Already fond of baking, I managed to find a small paperback cookbook , The Art of French Cooking by Fernande Garvin (1958, Bantam, my copy is a 17th printing). The Pain d’epices was more exotic than my teenage palate was usually attracted to but the multiple ingredients and stages for a “quick bread” outcome appealed to me. The original recipe required a number of ingredients we didn’t keep in the house. In subsequent years my mother would buy a mini bottle of anisette for my Christmas breads. The thin batter was left to sit overnight, bubbling up a little by morning, and then poured to half fill two loaf pans. The resulting low, dense loaves were wrapped in plastic wrap then aluminum foil. Lebovitz mentions serving the thinly sliced pain d’epice with a schmear of cream cheese or jam, or a slice of foie gras. My favorite presentation is slivers spread with cold sweet butter. A couple days later it’s still great toasted.
Yield: One 9-inch loaf
This recipe can be doubled (for 2 loaves)
2 c AP flour
1.5 c light whole wheat flour
1/2 c ground flax seeds
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
3/4 teaspoon freshly ground anise seeds
6T unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 cup honey
1 tablespoon finely grated orange zest
1 cup water
1/3- ½ c sliced or slivered almonds (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350º . Butter a 9-inch loaf pan; dust it with flour, tap out any excess flour.
2. Sift together the flours, baking soda, ground spices and salt in a bowl.
3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, mix together the butter, egg, honey and orange zest.
4. Add the water, then add the dry ingredients in three equal portions, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure everything gets mixed in evenly. Stir in slivered or sliced almonds.
5. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 50 to 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. (I use a convection oven set to 325 for 50 minutes)
6. Cool 10 minutes, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan. Let cool completely before thinly slicing.
Storage: Pain d’épices can be wrapped in plastic and a ziplocked bag and stored for at least a week, during which time the flavors will meld and it will get denser. Bread can also be frozen for a few months.
Substitutions: If you can find dark rye flour, swap it for the ground flax seeds. You can always eliminate either option and replace with ½ c AP flour.
From memory, with help from David Lebovitz
Lebovitz adapted his recipe from Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker