Pain d'épices by Cati Molnar
The recipe below uses both wheat flour and rye flour, and is courtesy of Cati Molnar, pastry chef at Robert et Fils, a neighborhood restaurant in Chicago. Scroll down for some of the fascinating history of this ancient honey-spice bread.
- 75 g Janie’s Mill Whole Kernel Bread Flour or Turkey Red Flour (1/2 c.)
- 75 g Janie’s Mill Dark Rye Flour (1/2 c.)
- 3 g Cocoa powder, optional (2 tsp.)
- .75 g Cinnamon (1/2 tsp.)
- .75 g Ginger, ground (1/2 tsp.)
- .25 g Clove, ground (1/4 tsp.)
- .25 g Nutmeg, grated or ground (1/4 tsp.)
- 6 g Baking powder (1 1/2 tsp.)
- 60 g Eggs (about 1 large egg)
- 210 g Honey (2/3 c.)
- 24 g Brown sugar (1/8 c.)
- 2 g Salt (1/2 tsp.)
- 60 g Milk (1/4 c.)
- 30 g Butter, melted (2 T.)
- Optional: citrus zest, fresh grated ginger, or diced candied citrus peel
- 75 g Powdered sugar (1/2 c.)
- 20 g Water (4 tsp.)
- 5 g Lemon or orange juice (1 tsp.)
- Citrus zest, optional
- Preheat oven to 350F.
- Butter and flour a 8.5 x 4.5” loaf pan and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- Melt butter and keep warm, but not hot to the touch (it should be around 110 F).
- In a medium bowl, sift flours with cocoa (optional), spices, and baking powder.
- In a large bowl, whip eggs with sugar, honey, and salt until it holds a ribbon.
- On low speed, stream in the milk.
- Add the flour mixture on low speed.
- Last, stream in the melted butter and mix just until combined.
- If you’d like to add citrus zest, fresh grated ginger, or diced candied citrus peel, stir those into the batter now.
- Pour batter into the prepared pan. Bake 45-50 minutes, or until deep brown. A tester inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean. Turn it out of the pan as soon as it is cool enough to handle.
- Stir together the icing and brush it onto the top of the cake while the cake is still warm.
Pain d'épices can be found in patisseries or at traditional markets in France, where it is usually sold by honey merchants. It is often served with savory dishes such as foie gras, salmon, or cheese. It may also be eaten with a cup of coffee, tea, or hot chocolate, or toasted and eaten with butter. Or simply have a slice on its own as a snack any time of day!
Pain d'épices straddles the line between bread and cake, and has a long and intriguing history.
Of course breads sweetened with honey and spiced with whatever spices were available have been made by people across the globe for millennia. It is believed, however, that the French pain d’épices is derived from Mi-Kong, a Chinese honey bread made with wheat flour. This bread was eaten by soldiers during Genghis Khan’s invasions during the 13th century, and so it spread far and wide — from China, through Asia, to the Middle East. The Crusaders, who were launching their own invasions of the Middle East around the same time, brought the spicy honey bread back to Europe with them.
The very first recipe for pain d'épices is from Reims in 1420. A bakery there made it with rye flour, dark buckwheat honey, and spices. The cake became very popular after Charles VII and his mistress Agnès Sorel took a liking to it. But then in the 16th century Italians in Catherine de Medicis’s entourage were rumored to be using the bread’s sweet and spicy flavors to mask the taste of poison and it fell out of favor. To regain consumer confidence, the bakers of French pains d’épices launched their own guild in 1571, which was officially recognized by Henry IV in 1596.
In 1694, the Academie Francaise published Le Dictionnaire, confirming that the three main ingredients for Pain d'épices were rye flour, spices, and honey. While Reims bakers used rye flour, Dijon, a city in the Burgundy region, developed its own version using wheat flour. The first mention of this variation was in 1711, when M. Brottier, a member of the pain d’épices guild in Champagne, moved to Dijon.
Pain d'épices was originally made without leavening, but this changed in the 19th century, when baking soda and baking powder were introduced, and this more modern recipe was popularized in the United States by Julia Child.
Posted on January 15 2021