Being in a French baking mood after reading “My Kugelhopf,” (see previous post) I wanted to make a French bread called pain d’epices. This is a French quick bread made with honey and spices. I had made a loaf years ago, but couldn’t locate the recipe. So I pulled out The Taste of France by Robert Freson, one of my favorite French cookbooks, and made its recipe for Pain d’epices au Miel de Sologne. Several things about the recipe gave me pause, including the direction to spoon the batter into a “small pan.” Pan size can make a big difference in how something bakes. And it called for an unspecified amount of a spice mixture called quatre epices, without saying what was in the mixture. And it called for only one cup of flour, and was baked for 45 minutes. It seemed the potential for baking a brick was great. But I was spellbound by the photo of their pain d’epices, a perfectly square loaf of dark, shiny bread being served in a medieval French inn.
An hour later I pulled a pale, lumpy loaf from the oven, and was not surprised, but still, crestfallen. Back to the drawing board. I have many French cookbooks, and found at least a dozen versions of pain d’epices, each totally unlike the other, including yeast-raised versions. Meanwhile, I found myself hacking off little slices of my pale, lumpy bread, and in a perverse way, liking it. It was solid in texture, but in an interesting way. So I went back to the original recipe, found an even smaller pan, upped the spicing and added grated orange rind and anise seeds, which I remembered from my long ago loaf. And I increased the amount of egg from just one egg yolk to an entire egg, and substituted whole wheat pastry flour for the white flour to create a darker loaf. In my research I had found that the commercial pain d’epices is baked in special molds. So I knew my loaf wouldn’t be at all flat or rectangular. The second version was the charm, and in a fit of boldness, I poked holes in the still warm bread and poured over it a mixture of brown sugar and fresh orange juice. C’est deliceuse! And after seeing the many French versions of this bread, I felt no hesitation in changing the name to Pain d’epices au Miel de Fran! Note: Pain d’epices is a dense bread and is not nearly as moist as an American quick bread. It’s made to be slathered with cream cheese or unsalted butter, and then eaten with a cup of tea or coffee. A number of recipes recommended letting it sit for two days before eating to allow the flavors to mellow, and it can be kept in foil in the refrigerator for a long time.
Pain d’epices au Miel de Fran
1/3 cup coarsely chopped almonds, hazelnuts, or walnuts
1 cup whole wheat pastry flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon each of ginger, cloves, and cinnamon
pinch of white pepper
1/2 teaspoon crushed anise seed
1/2 teaspoon finely grated orange rind
1/2 cup thin honey (heat in microwave to thin it out)
Mix the nuts with the flour, baking powder, and spices. Mix the thinned honey with the egg and grated orange peel. Mix the dry and wet mixtures together, and spoon into a greased 3 x 5″ loaf pan. Bake in a 325 degree* oven for 45 minutes. Poke holes in the top of the bread, and pour over it a mixture of one tablespoon brown sugar and one tablespoon fresh orange juice.
Note: A reader baked this at 350 for 20 minutes and then 330 degree for 15 minutes, and said that worked well, too.