French pain d’épices often gets mistranslated into English as “gingerbread,” but beyond being heavily spiced, sweet quick breads, the two cakes bear little resemblance to one another. While the flavor of American gingerbread is dominated by molasses and the eponymous ginger, pain d’épices features whole-grain flour, anise seed and luscious French honey.
Delicious on its own or with a touch of butter, pain d’épices also makes a wonderful accompaniment to foie gras, whether in terrine, pâté or pan-seared form. The heady spices and sweet honey enhance the rich duck or goose liver perfectly. If foie gras isn’t your cup of tea, or if it’s too difficult to find in your area, pain d’épices is just as good alongside a cheese platter. Strong blues, such as Roquefort or bleu d’Auvergne, are marvelous with the honeyed notes, and fresh goat cheeses provide a refreshing foil to the warm spices. Wash it all down with a glass of lightly sweet white wine for a sophisticated aperitif or predessert course.
Makes one loaf.
1½ cups (350 ml) milk
1 cup (300 grams) honey, preferably one with some character
zest of 1 clementine, tangerine or other small orange
1 cup (125 grams) all-purpose flour
1 cup (125 grams) whole-wheat, rye or buckwheat flour
½ teaspoon baking soda
1½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon whole anise seeds
¼ teaspoon ground coriander seed (optional)
1/3 cup (30 grams) chopped dried apricot
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (180 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9-inch (23-centimeter) loaf pan.
2. Pour the milk and honey into a small saucepan and stir over gentle heat until the honey has dissolved. Add the zest and set aside.
3. Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices in a bowl. Mix in the honey, milk and zest. The batter will be quite liquid and a little foamy. Fold in about a third of the apricots.
4. Fill the loaf pan about half full and sprinkle half of the remaining apricots over the batter. Repeat with the rest of the batter and apricots. Bake until the top of the cake is deeply golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 45 minutes.
5. Cool completely before slicing and serving. Well wrapped, the cake will keep for up to a week.
Camille Malmquist is an American pastry chef living and working in Paris. In her spare time, she cooks and bakes at home (believe it or not), as well as tackles the difficult task of trying out as many restaurants and bakeries as possible, then she blogs about her food and travel adventures at Croque-Camille.