Pain d’Épices

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I know most of you associate exotic spices with Christmas and gingerbread cookies, Thanksgiving and pumpkin pie, or Easter and hot cross buns. For me, spices mean pain d’épices, a specialty loaf from Eastern France loaded with honey and spices.

For our after-school goûter, my sister and I used to have one or two buttered slices of pain d’épices with a warm cup of milk – nothing is better than milk and cookies on a rainy day! I remember seeing it at the gourmet food store in Montréal and at the Italian store in Edmonton, with Prosper, the teddy bear, smiling on the label. I had completely forgotten about it until we got to have it toasted and covered with foie gras for New Year’s Eve. How sweet, how decadent!

Back at the Italian store, I resisted getting my childhood treat, but I was determined to find a homemade spice loaf recipe. I chose this great, low-calorie recipe, in French, from the Marmiton, because it uses milk, not butter. Instead of using powders, I opted for bulk or fresh spices and doubled their amounts. I also replaced the ground fennel seeds with grated anis wood from Madagascar and added orange zest instead of using Chinese five spice mixture.

Aniswood is a peculiar spice, which like cinnamon, comes from the bark of the ravitsara, a tree native to Madagascar. Like for nutmeg, the bark is chunky and needs to be grated to release its flavour. I have used the bark to infuse my barbequed mahi-mahi or my short ribs with sweetness and smokiness.

Adapted and translated from the Marmiton.

Ingredients for one loaf:

250 gram cake or all-purpose flour
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon grated aniswood
2 teaspoons ground cloves

2 teaspoons ground nutmeg
2 teaspoons freshly grated cinnamon
2 teaspoons freshly grated ginger
½ teaspoon cracked black peppercorn
½ teaspoon salt

1 orange zest
2/3 cup honey (Still my very special honey I used for the brûlée)
2 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla
2/5 cup milk, preferably homo milk
¼ cup triple sec

1. In a large bowl, mix flour, sugar, baking soda, salt and all the spices but the vanilla using a whisk.

2. Heat the honey until just bubbling.

3. Make a well in the flour mixture.

4. Pour and stir in the warm honey using a wooden spoon.

5. Incorporate the eggs, adding one at a time, then the vanilla.

6. Heat the milk, until warm, and add to form a smooth batter.

7. Preheat the oven to 320 F.

8. Line a loaf pan with parchment or wax paper.

9. Transfer the batter into the pan.

10. Bake for 1hr – 1¼ hr, until a toothpick comes out residue-free when inserted into the cake.

11. Let cool in the pan to room temperature.

12. Unmold, moisten with liqueur and wrap in aluminum foil for at least 2hr before serving.

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