Pain d’épices Recipe

pain d'epice

It’s tough call, but I’d have to say that Flo Braker is my favorite baker in the world. Having known her for a few decades, I can’t think of another baker that I like more. And I won’t apologize to any other bakers out there, because I think they’d pretty much agree with me. When I was writing my first book, I remember leafing through her book, The Simple Art of Perfect Baking, amazed how this gorgeous, elegant woman had made cake-making such a seemingly simple affair. I was in awe.

Eventually I was lucky to meet Flo in person when we were wrapping boxes of chocolates and candies for a big benefit that Chez Panisse was organizing and we hit it off immediately.

So much so, that when my mother passed away, Flo called and said just two words to me: “You’re adopted.”

(Although she way rather coy when pressed for a move-in date….)

pain d'epices

Her latest book, Baking for All Occasions arrived right before the holidays and I bookmarked a bunch of recipes, including the gleaming Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake, a giant spin of pastry dough glazed in deep-dark butterscotch. But once I came back to my senses, my gaze landed on her recipe for pain d’épices.

A French classic, pain d’épices is sold in loaves, but sometimes sold in squares, cut from giant slabs. And because they’ve got a good dose of honey in them, honey merchants usually sell them. Kind of a cross between a cake and a bread clever French hosts (and hostesses…and probably everyone in between) will cut them in thin slices to serve under slabs of foie gras. Others toast cubes to make the Belgian classic, Carbonnade.

One of the things that French people often find vexing about American sweets is that we like an overload of spices. But pain d’épices is a French classic and no one seems to mind the aromatic mélange of spices. I love pain d’épices and Flo’s version will drive you wild if you have to share an apartment with it. Days and days after I made it, my flat was deeply-infused with the smell of cinnamon, pepper, cloves, and honey. I’d put it outside, but I don’t want to share it with the pigeons lurking out there.

flour & jam

Because the recipe calls for dark rye flour, I took a walk to visit José over at La Grainerie du Marché (8, place d’Aligre) in the Marche d’Aligre.

(For some reason, their site shows the trash that piles up at the market at the end of the day, which is a pretty odd thing to put on your site. But that’s why we love the French. Right?)

dried beans

In contrast to the mess that piles up after the market closes, his shop is well-organized and whenever I need any specialty grains or flour, you can find me there hovering over the bins. It’s one of my favorite places to shop in Paris, and although I don’t have a garden, half of his shop is devoted to seeds, gardening supplies, and various mixtures of seeds, in case you have any birds to feed. But I’m not worried about any of the birds outside of my apartment not getting enough to eat. The flock of pigeons out there seem to lie in wait for me to dump cookie or cake crumbs out there when cleaning the pantry.

Unfortunately for them, pain d’épices is meant to be kept a while so they’re going to have to wait for any crumbs from this beauty. But I can assure them, it’ll be worth the wait. Except I can’t tell them that because I don’t speak pigeon-French.

Although there’s probably more than a few French people around here that wouldn’t exactly agree with that…

pain d'epice

Pain d’Epices

One 9-inch (23cm) loaf

Adapted from Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker

Pain d’épices makes the most wonderful afternoon snack when you’re foraging around for something slightly sweet, as I often find myself doing, but don’t want something rich or creamy. That said, you could dress it up with a swipe of cream cheese or jam, or use slices of pain d’épices to make an impromptu strawberry shortcake, piling on the berries and cream between a few moist slices.

  • 3 1/2 cups (455g) flour
  • 1/2 cup (60g) dark rye flour
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon anise seeds (whole)
  • 2 ounces (55g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 large egg, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (340g) honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely-grated orange zest
  • 1 cup (240ml) water

1. Preheat the oven to 350º (180ºC). Butter a 9-inch (23cm) loaf pan, dust it with flour, then tap out any excess.

2. Sift together the flour, rye flour, baking soda, the ground spices and salt in a bowl. Sprinkle in the anise seeds.

3. In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, mix together the butter, egg, honey (or honey and jam), and orange zest.

4. Add the water, then add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure everything gets mixed in evenly.

5. Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. The top will bake to a somewhat dark color, which is normal.

6. Cool 10 minutes, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan. Let cool completely before slicing.

Storage: Pain d’épices can be wrapped in plastic and stored for at least a week, during which time the flavors will meld and it’ll get denser. It can also be frozen for a few months.

bakingforalloccasions.jpg

67 comments

  • Thanks for this recipe David!
    Is this pretty similar to the classic French pain d’epices? I have looked and looked for a good pain d’epices recipe and it always seems to be missing the je ne sais quoi!
    Looking forward to trying this!

  • I always wanted to be adopted by Maida Heatter but I, too, love Flo. Many years ago the food network, when they were young and interested in food, had a baking series on called the Bakers’ Dozen. From watching her then I tracked her down to the SF Chronicle and to baking classes at Macys in NYC. Always with a smile comes the best hints, recipes, and techniques. Can’t wait to try this recipe and the others I have bookmarked in her new book.

  • If you knew someone who lived in, say, a small brooklyn apartment and had very limited cookbook space and so she had to be viciously choosy about which ones to keep, which Flo Braker book would you recommend to her? This hypothetical ‘she’, by the way, is a pretty decent baker but doesn’t really own any baking-specific books.

  • David thank you for this recipe. I definitely need to give this a try. I usually have to order Rye flour via the internet (I can’t find it of reasonable quality in a regular grocery here). Do you think it would make too much of a difference if I tried it with whole wheat instead?

  • I just went to see Flo’s presentation of her new book at the Omnivore bookstore in SF. She is the sweetest person and I wanted to adopt her as my mother. I got the book too before the Holidays and so far I have tried two things and I wasn’t disappointed.

    CIAO!

  • sounds really lovely. I think I’ll add this to my list of things to do to procrastinate those other things that I should be doing.

  • I can almost smell the combination of spices and honey through my screen. This is going in the ‘must make very soon’ file. Thank you for sharing! If I were a pigeon living in Paris I would definitely hang out on your balcony- though I may split my time between your place and Pierre Hermes!

  • Oh lovely! I make Suzanne Goin’s version of this all of the time, and introduced my parents to the home smell-enhancing properties of the loaf the last time I was in the Bay Area. I love it toasted with butter…nothing better! I have to say you’ve intrigued me with the addition of the rye flour…

  • That website is a little odd, with the photos of trash and the poem to the cleaning crew. So French! The pain d’épices looks yummy; I love the combination of rye and orange flavors.

  • Strangely enough, two of my uncles are beekeepers, which is to say that I have more honey than I know what to do with. This ought to put a dent in the supply…

  • I love the spices in this, I bet it smells really good baking. I’m not familiar with the finished product.. This sounds like it’s in the Boston Brown Bread class; Slightly sweet but more bread than cake (bi-textural?), though not steamed, of course. That’s alot of flour for a single loaf and little fat and moisture too. Interesting. Thanks for presenting this.

  • Laura: Then we’d be brother and sister!

    Vivian: I didn’t have rye flour either and was going to try it with buckwheat, but thought for the site, I should stick close to the recipe. So I got rye. Whole wheat would likely work, but I think the rye makes it taste more traditional.

    amq: Sweet Miniatures, Flo’s second book, is full of cookies, candies and cakes, and is available in paperback, if that’s your interest. But this book, Baking for All Occasions, is the most all-encompassing of her books and there’s a huge variety of desserts in it.

  • Seeing all of that trash makes me weep. Here in the Bay Area, lots of places have separate recycling bins for the greens. And restaurants are also recycling food waste. I would think the French would be more concerned about the environment than your typical American (or are they more likely to point to American waste?).

  • I need to try Flo’s version soon – this looks fantastic. I just made pain d’epices for the first time last week after it was posted on Wild Yeast’s blog. It was the Nick Malgieri version and had mustard powder along with the anise and cinnamon. Wonderful dipped in the morning coffee.

  • Love this stuff. Thanks for another great French recipe.

  • I took the Almond-Rhubarb Snack Cake to a rhubarb presentation last night and it was a big hit! I loved the delicate texture and almond flavor. The recipe doesn’t account for the almonds in the cake batter though- I just folded them in with the rhubarb

    The Chocolate Chip Cookie Cake and All-Occasion Snack Cake recipes are also good.

  • This looks lovely, and I have to try it. I was at the same presentation as Laura (hi Laura!) and we were lucky enough to get the goods from Flo’s own oven. She made several of the recipes in bite-size portions, enough to fill a large tray, and my favorite of the bunch was the Congo Brownie (a bar with a blondie on the bottom and a brownie on top). The day after getting the book, I baked the Dark Chocolate Cake recipe and it was a deep, dark, tangy devil’s food cake that I will make over and over. The Butterscotch Spiral Coffee Cake caught my stomach’s eye…OMG.
    And Baking for All Occassions is up for a James Beard award!
    http://www.jbfawards.com/nominees.html

  • Love the snaps of the after market sweep. My family and I saw this in action at the Place Monge market a couple weeks ago.

    I stumbled on your blog from the White on Rice blog as you all were setting off on the Club Med trip. I was very glad I did. I brought back several little containers of Fleur de Sel to use as hostess gifts. And I loved reading the travel tips. We’re saving most of them for another trip since this one was with our not-suitable-for-restaurants-or-cafes 3 yr. daughter.

    I have an observation question though . . . we rented a place in the 5th and of the four neighborhood groceries I popped into looking for the Guerande salt, three had Camargue, one had Ile de Re. But on our last day (after purchasing Camargue salts earlier in the week), we stopped in a grocery in the Marais and voila! Fleur de Sel de Guerande. Which I also purchased. Is that typical for a neighborhood to favor a particular salt/regional item?

    Can’t wait for the book release next month!

  • All of the combinations suggested above sound delicious, but never underestimate the simple combination of a slice of pain d’épices with a generous smear of (unsalted) butter. My French colleague tells me this was a standard after-school snack when she was growing up. The buttery embrace changed my take on pain d’épices from merely good to sublime. Thanks for the recipe David, I hope to try this one this weekend though first I’ll have to get some rye flour.

  • This looks lovely–dark and moist and mysterious and perfumy:)

  • “Prosper youp la boum, c’est le roi du pain d’epices!”…That’s all I have kept from the commercial. I grew up on my grandma’s version and I remember pestering my mom to finally get us some store bought one “to see”. The best ones I have had were indeed artisan made by bee keepers in the Alps but being a huge fan of Flo Braker (Sweet Miniature is my catering bible) I know I am already going to like this one!
    Maybe she’s be ok with another god-daughter ?!

  • Beautiful. I’ll be veganizing this for the sake of allergies and I’m sure it’ll still be delicious. I’ll have it on hand for Sunday’s easter egg hunt!

  • Thanks for the recipe. I have been meaning to bake pain d’epices for a while now and was looking for the right recipe… What kind of honey would work best? Something mild in flavour like acacia or something a little stronger?

    Thanks again

  • Tartlette: Well, if you’re going to get adopted too, we’re going to have to get bunk beds.

    Françoise: Flo used lavender honey in her original recipe, but I used toutes fleurs since the only other honey I keep on hand is buckwheat, which is too strong.

    Elaine: Hi and welcome from Diane’s site. I love her! The past 2 years were very wet in the Guérande and consequently there was not a lot of fleur de sel harvested, hence the scarcity of it. I really do like the salt from that region the best, when you can find it. (I stock up!)

  • Great recipe! I’ll make it tomorrow.

    I don’t have aniseeds, though. Do you think I could use crushed up star anise instead?

  • OMG! Not another beauty….my waistline is beyond ex-pand-o-matic proportions already. I’m the mother-of-the-bride and need to fit into something six months from now.
    Sinful, absolutely sinful!
    SHAME ON YOU!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Hi David! I love reading your site – full of choice comments and great recipes! I’m in a baking class this quarter in culinary school and we get to make all sorts of bread next week. Wonder if we’ll make this one? If not, I’ll make it and post a blog entry about it. Sounds lovely :)

  • Mmm, I can just smell the cloves! Maybe we can all just become siblings and bake these delicacies together…

  • So glad you wrote about Jose–his is also one of my favourite places to shop. In fact, I’ll be heading there in the morning to pick up some herbes des provence and haricots blanc for dinner.

  • Hi David, thanks for the lovely recipe. I’m allergic to rye, is it acceptable to just use 4c of regular flour, or might it change the texture?

    Thanks again, love your recipes and your prose.

  • I just had a class with Flo at Dreager’s. It (and she) was fabulous. And we had the Butterscotch Spiral Yeast Cake. Yummy! I’ve made several of her recipes since the class. Much to my boyfriend’s delight. :) Looks like pain d’epices is next.

  • Can’t wait to look up Flo’s books! Gorgeous photos too, I’m so envious that you are in Paris!

  • David, I can’t get over the color of this bread! I always knew I had a thing for redheads…but redbreads? Dear heavens! This is just one more thing to add my “Easily Seduce By:” list!

    This recipe looks so interesting. I’m curious about (and seduced by) the black pepper bit!

  • Lisa T: I wish you could see how jealous I am of you getting that Butterscotch Spiral Cake! I may have to make it, once I finish off this pain d’épice.

    Carrie: I didn’t make it without the rye, but as mentioned above, I was thinking of using buckwheat since I had that on hand. Since rye has less-gluten, you might want to try something like buckwheat, which is similar. I think the rye is there for the taste, but too much flour might make the loaf too dense. If you do try it either way, let us know how it comes out!

    Semine: Poor Flo. Little did she realize she’s going to have to open an orphanage! At least we know we’ll be eating well : )

  • In Australia too, we’re not so indulgent in our use of spices. But after having lived in the States for two years, I became an all-time fan, particularly of your fall mix. Mmmm, dreaming of those sweet smells now…

  • This sounds delightful!

  • Your Pigeon French comment made me laugh out loud. Thanks.

  • Hi David – first, longtime reader, love your site. In my imaginary parallel universe, I live down the street from you in Paris.

    Anyway, this recipe looks delicious – reminds me of a cake/bread my grandmother made when I was little. Since it seems to keep well (all those spices, no doubt,) I think I might double it and send one loaf to my (actual) son at college for fortification, as he begins the onslaught of final exams, papers, etc. One question though: I like honey, in small doses; however, not a big fan of baked things where it’s a strong flavor, and a cup sounds like it could be pretty pronounced. Would it be okay to substitute dark or light brown sugar (for at least a part of) the honey? If so, any idea what proportion to use? Thanks!

  • Looks delicious :-)!

  • Hi Amy: Lucky son! I tried making this substituting some smooth apricot jam for one-quarter of the honey, and it wasn’t sweet enough. Some French recipes add a bit of jam.

    You could use another liquid sweetener, like rice or cane syrup, or Lyle’s Golden syrup in place of some of the honey (or perhaps all) but I’m not sure about brown sugar as the syrupy sweetener really preserves it and gives it that texture. Your local natural food store likely has a good selection of alternative liquid sweeteners. You could use a very mild-flavored honey, such as as the kind sold in the supermarket.

  • “share an apartment…with the smell of cinnamon, pepper, cloves and honey”
    I think I want to be adopted… again.

  • Hello David.
    I love your site! Your humour and recipes are fantastic. I am a Chef from Vancouver and will be in Paris in May. I am leading a group to St. Remy to teach for one week of cooking. I have a line of gourmet sauces and my latest flavour is with Grand Marnier, whom I have entered into a licensing agreement. I would love to give you a sample if you are interested.

    Thank you,
    Chef Ann Kirsebom
    Member of IACP
    Member of Les dames d’Escoffier

  • Hi David, if one actually had quatre epice, could I substitute for the other spices? How much would you recommend? Btw, we just got back from Paris and loved L’As du Fallafel. If you go at 2pm, there’s no line, which I’m sure you know. Also, if you haven’t already, you should check out Restaurant Carte Blanche. It was one of our faves on the trip. Amazing serving and just as amazing food.

  • This sounds like the Dutch honey/spice cake (wheat and egg free) which can be bought in some shops in the UK. I love mine spread with butter.

  • Well the recipe sounds phenomenal and I certainly don’t take your recommendations lightly, David. But it was really lovely to hear about your relationship with Flo and your enthusiastic review of her book! I’ve been oh-so-tempted but kept wondering if I was just letting the aesthetic lure of the book draw me in and that I may end up disappointed. But alas, NO! Will be picking up, me thinks, a few of her publications now! Thanks, David! :)

  • Oh, this does look yummy…but if I lived in Paris I’m not sure I’d feel the need to be baking bread: I dream about Poillan.

  • David, the thought of being your sister didn’t enter my mind, how fun!

    In the subject of sweets, I made the basil ice cream from your book, delizioso! Can’t wait to try something else.

    A la prochaine!

  • Hey David, I have been referred to you by a mentor of mine.

    and following your site here has taught me a lot.

    I am interested in your books, but too bad I cannot find them anywhere in Indonesia.

    I visited several bookstore in Singapore, but they don’t have your books also.

    Where can I get your books except from Amazon?

    Since I don’t have credit card and post offices in Indonesia isn’t safe for online trading?

  • i think i need this in my life.

  • I couldn’t agree more about Flo — she’s one of a kind, and quite modest to boot.

    I highly recommend her Cinnamon Bubble Buns from BFAO.

  • This your recipe brings me back to when I was 6 and watching my dear Granny cooking in the kitchen all the while enjoying all the wonderful sweet spicy smells. Well you can never go back, but kicking back on a lawn chair outside enjoying the bread with tea is nice enough. Thanks for the post David.

  • Oh yes. I will be making this, definitely. I just saw a bag of rye flour I have that I forgot about and was wondering what I was going to do with it. What perfect timing!

    can’t wait to see what this tastes like!

  • This sounds absolutely delicious. I too am often foraging for the perfect, slightly-sweet-yet-light afternoon snack. I love the photos from the grain store … it looks divine. Glowing, jewel-like preserves shining out of glass jars always catch my attention.

  • what kind of honey do you recommend for this? Should I just use regular honey or a special one, like buckwheat honey?

    Check the comments above, where I chimed in on this.. -dl

  • This is a fantastic recipe. My grandmother makes this every Christmas for some reason and we all love it very much.

    Thank you for posting this!

  • I’m getting ready to make this and notice there is no baking powder. All my other quick breads have baking powder. Just want to be sure it works – not that I’m questioning you, or anything…

    The baking soda in this recipe provides the leavening. Enjoy the cake! -dl

  • I am so happy to have found your blog. Easter was a bit sweeter this year with the panna cotta on Saturday and the pain with breakfast Sunday morning. Our postman
    said he could smell something wonderful coming up the drive!
    So far, it’s been toasted with hand churned Amish butter, topped with berries, given the Elvis treatment (bananas & peanut butter) and just nibbled on and on. I was lucky enough to read the post on a day I was to visit the Amish market where I knew I would find the rye flour. Another source would be health food/natural stores. They always seem to have bins of lovely beans/lentils/flours on hand. Can’t wait to try the next recipe – They are so easy to follow and have given me the confidence
    to trust in the results the first time around.

  • I made this pain d’epices today. It came out very good.
    I’d say, just try it, even if you don’t have all the spices or rye flour. Even orange extract if no orange. Most important i think is the honey for texture.
    My french husband remembers pain d’epices in his northeast village as a Christmas gift together with an orange :)
    I very much like spice cake so i tried it. Even though it was sticky and didn’t want to fit easily in the mold, as cakes do (well this is a bread!); it gives me a warm feeling eating it with a little butter and coffee. I’m giving some slices to my neighbors. Thanks David. Thanks for your blog too. Humbly yours….Nati

  • Hey David,
    I haven’t looked in your ice cream book yet, since I don’t own it, yet…(Christmas) but how about a pain d’epices ice cream like the one from Narbonne in Lyon, (my absolute FAVORITE) which is si bon que Berthillon. I think one would ust make the pain d’epice recipe, then dice it into a vanilla ice cream…or a creme fraiche ice cream….you are awesome and so are your recipes!

  • Hey David,
    I made two loaves about a month ago, and it is truly divine! I wish I could wear the scent of pain d’epices; it reminds me of winter time in Paris.

    I froze individual slices of the second loaf, and I toast it to have with morning tea; buttered, with applesauce, with Greek yogurt and honey… Beautiful. Thanks for posting the recipe.

  • I had some slices of pain d’espices at a cafe here in Melbourne. They were served warm with a perfect quenelle of whipped ricotta and a poached peach. I am still dreaming of it two weeks later.

  • When I was last in Normandy at a friend’s family’s country house we were at a market in Lyons du Fôret and I bought the most amazing pain d’espices there. One of the things that made it so amazing was that the woman had baked a couple of 1/4 inch thick slices of oranges directly into the bread, giving it the nicest orange tones ever. Just thought I would share.

  • Hi David,

    Thank you for the recipe! I’ve had it bookmarked for awhile, and finally got around to making it today. I threw in some dried figs and cranberries; lovely.

  • I just returned from Paris and I’m eager to try the Pain d’ Epice recipe above. I purchased a tin of pain d’ epice spices (melange) from BHV, and wondered if I used an amount from this tin which would be equal to the measurements above to make the bread?
    For those not able to find the dark rye flour, Bob’s Red Mill makes it in small bags.
    Thanks.

  • I also just returned from a trip that included the South of France. Our favorite meal? Fresh berries, cheese, and Pain d’epice from the market in Antibes. Mmmm.
    I came across this recipe as I was looking for a rememberence of our trip to make for a family holiday. The first batch was very very dry. perhaps I overbaked it. The second batch I increased the butter by 1 oz, added 1 more egg, 1/4 cup orange marmalade( instead of rind), and aprox 1/4 tsp. of rubbed lavendar. Decreased the baking time 10-15 minutes. Much softer texture, not as bitter, and the lavendar brings me right back to the streets of southern France. Food as nostalgia. The best.

  • This recipe was fantastic. I was trolling the internet for spiced cake recipes (or bread..or anything spiced for that matter) and this caught my eye. What I like about this bread is that it’s neither overwhelmingly spiced or nor sweetened. It’s just nice and balanced….everything melts together. I think one more thing has gone on my Christmas baking gift list! :) Thank you! Have a lovely holiday!

  • Hi David: loved this recipe, your wonderful blog and Flo’s book.. Just wanted to alert you of a very special pain d’epice that we stumbled on in Paris last October, at Boulangerie Alain Clerardin in Neuilly-sur-Seine (off of Ave. du Roule). We were staying nearby and enjoyed all his baking, but the pain d’epice really stood out. I haven’t found a recipe yet that approximates it. Perhaps more citrus than usual? I’ll be back there in April and plan to beg for the recipe…The other stellar discovery we made was Boulangerie Monge’s caramel millefeuille with pralines – unbelievable in case you haven’t tried it! (we had it at the rue Montorgueil location)…