If you replace molasses with honey and add rye flour to your old-fashioned gingerbread recipe, you’ll end up with a basic pain d’épices, the French take on gingerbread. As its name implies, “bread of spices” is all about the fragrance and warmth of ground aromatics. There are endless spice mix variations and each recipe seems to have its own distinctive blend.
This fruit and spice loaf cake from Pierre Hermé and Dorie Greenspan has the most interesting spice blend of all the pain d’épices recipes I’ve seen. Water is infused with star anise to start off, so immediately we’re given a preview of the arometherapy to come.
Hefty amounts of cinnamon, ginger, black pepper, coriander, cardamom, and nutmeg may seem like overkill, but the combination is surprisingly well-balanced in the suggested amounts. None of the spices stands out too much and as a whole, the effect is quite intoxicating.
The following pain d’epices recipe makes a dense and hearty loaf meant to be sliced very thinly. The bread itself is light on the honey but there is plenty of sweetness from the prunes and apricots. Walnuts and almonds are added for crunch and citrus zest brightens the deep flavors of the spices, rounding out the texture and aroma of the finished loaf.
Pierre Hermé’s Pain d’épices
Fruit and Spice Loaf Cake
makes one 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch cake
Ingredients Volume Ounces Grams water 3/4 cup + 2 tbsp 7.0 198 star anise 10 honey 1/3 cup 4.0 113 unsalted butter, melted 5 1/2 tbsp 2.8 78 all-purpose flour 2 1/4 cups 10.1 287 rye flour 1/4 cup 1.1 32 baking powder 2 1/2 tsp cinnamon, ground 1 tbsp ginger, ground 1 tsp black pepper, ground 1 tsp coriander, ground 1/2 tsp cardamom, ground 1/2 tsp nutmeg, ground 1/2 tsp walnuts, coarsely chopped 2/3 cup 2.8 80 sliced almonds, toasted 1/3 cup 1.4 40 pitted prunes, 1/4-inch dice 13 5.3 149 dried apricots, 1/4-inch dice 13 4.3 120 lemon zest from 1 lemon orange zest from 1 orange
Infuse the water with star anise Bring the water and star anise to a boil in a small saucepan over high heat. Cover and infuse for about one hour. Preheat Oven 300ºF / 150ºC Prepare an 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan Use nonstick spray or softened butter to grease the bottom and sides of the loaf pan. Line with parchment paper. Place the loaf pan on two stacked sheet pans or an insulated baking sheet. Mix Dry Ingredients Place the flours, baking powder, and ground spices in a container with a tight lid. Cover and shake until thoroughly mixed. Mix Wet Ingredients In another bowl, stir the honey and melted butter. Strain the star anise-infused water into the bowl and stir until well-blended. Mix Fruits, Nuts, and Zests In a separate bowl, stir together the walnuts, almonds, prunes, apricots, and citrus zests. Toss the fruits, nuts, and zests in a tablespoon of the mixed dry ingredients. Mix (Muffin Method) Sift the dry ingredients into a large bowl. Add the wet ingredients and stir with a rubber spatula or wooden spoon and stir briefly. Add the fruits, nuts, and zests and continue mixing only until the dry ingredients are moistened. The batter should be thick and lumpy. Pan Deposit the batter into the greased loaf pan. Place the loaf pan on two stacked sheet pans or on an insulated baking sheet. Bake 300ºF / 150ºC for 65 to 75 minutes, until a wooden skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean. Cool Let the cake cool for about 10 minutes before removing from the loaf pan. Cool completely at room temperature, at least 2 hours.
Pain d’épices Storage:
Once the cake is thoroughly cooled, wrap tightly in plastic wrap. Wrapped airtight in plastic, pain d’épices will keep at room temperature for up to four days or frozen for up to a month.
To Serve Pain d’épices:
Let the loaf “ripen” for at least one day for a deeper flavor. Serve in thin slices with hot tea or cider.