The wealthy and powerful Dukes of Burgundy controlled the spice trade in the Middle Ages. The windows of the shops and bakeries of Dijon are still filed with tightly wrapped loaves of pain d’épice, the traditional honey spice bread of the region. It’s similar to American-style gingerbread only in that they both contain a variety of spices. The texture of the French bread, however, is denser, as it’s traditionally baked at a low temperature for several hours, and the spice combination is slightly different. I’ve adapted this version to cook in less time. The texture isn’t as traditional, but the flavor is still incredible. While at La Varenne, we served this bread for breakfast for special guests. It’s also wonderful with a hot cup of tea on a chilly fall afternoon.–Virginia Willis
LC Comment Dit-On En Français Note
How does one say pain d’épice, that is, spice bread, in French? Easy peasy. Pan day piece. Say it with us. Pan day piece. Ready to travel to Paris yet?
Burgundian Honey Spice Bread Recipe
Hands-On Time: 15 minutes | Total Time: 1 hour, not including cooling | Makes two 9-by-5-3-inch loaves
- 3 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/4 cups milk
- 1 cup firmly packed light brown sugar
- 1 1/2 cups honey (preferably tupelo, orange blossom, or sweet clover)
- 4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground fennel seed (it’s not widely available, but it can be ordered online or simply grind your own in a spice grinder)
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
- 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 2 tablespoons very finely chopped candied ginger
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons baking soda
- 1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°). Brush two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans with some of the butter. Cut four strips of parchment: two 15 x 5 inches, and two 14 x 8 inches. Lay the two long pieces of parchment along the length of the buttered pan and press to adhere. Brush the parchment with butter. Lay the two wider pieces crosswise on top. Brush the parchment with butter. Everything must be very well buttered or the bread will stick.
- 2. Heat the milk, brown sugar, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside until slightly cooled.
- 3. To make the batter, in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, ground fennel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt. In two batches, add the honey mixture and candied ginger. Scrape down the sides as needed, and blend on low speed until just combined.
- 4. In a small liquid measuring cup, combine the egg, egg yolk, and baking soda. Stir to combine. Add the egg mixture to the batter and beat until well blended.
- 5. To bake the loaves, pour the batter into the prepared loaf pans, dividing it evenly and not filling the pans more than halfway. Bake, rotating once, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil if the bread starts to become too dark.
- 6. Remove the loaves to a rack to cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Turn them out of the pans and immediately remove the parchment paper. Store very tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 week.
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Burgundian Honey Spice Bread Recipe © 2008 Virginia Willis. Photo © 2008 Ellen Silverman. All rights reserved.