To those of you who might be wondering what this is, let me tell you it’s nothing more than a fancy French version of gingerbread. Thanks to my researches online I found out that, much in the same way as for gingerbread, there seems to be countless recipes, all resulting in a slightly moister or harder cake. The recipe below is copied from La Tarte Maison, where Marina wholeheartedly confesses having been given the recipe for pain d’épices while she was in Paris by a very friendly market stall owner, who also sold her the mixture of spices to make this cake.
According to this French website, pain d’épices has long been eaten in throughout history, although in the past it was known as honey bread – the Greek “melitounta” or “melilates”, the Roman “panis mellitus” and so forth. “Lebkuchen”, or German gingerbread, is first mentioned at the end of the 13th century. A later source specifies this food was consumed at Christmas by monks. During the Renaissance, Alsace (a French region with deeply rooted ties with Germany) boasted so many gingerbread makers that they joined forces in a dedicated corporation whose symbol was a bear holding a pretzel. After spices were introduced in the Western world, the recipe was adapted from a simple honey flavoured cake to a spicy one, which the end result we eat nowadays.
- 200g plain flour
- 130g wholemeal plain flour
- 180g honey
- 50g light brown sugar
- 80ml olive oil
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 2 large eggs
- 50ml whole milk
- 1/2 tsp each of ground clove, ground cinnamon, ground ginger and ground nutmeg (or allspice)
- Pre-heat the oven to 160C and grease and line a loaf tin.
- Combine all of the dry ingredients in a bowl and all of the wet ones in a jug.
- Slowly whisk in the wet ingredients into the dry ones either by hand, using a balloon whisk or a freestanding mixer on the lowest speed. The resulting mixture will be a bit gluey, but that’s fine.
- Transfer the mixture to the tin and bake on the middle shelf of the oven for one hour. Check if the cake is done with a skewer, then remove from the oven and let it cool completely.
This cake lasts for up to 4 days wrapped in clingfilm and kept in a cool place. I used it to make my blue cheese canapés, but I used the leftovers for a very tasty bread and butter pudding with fresh cranberries.