Pain d’épice cookies are filled with the warming spices that we associate with colder months and Christmas. Allspice, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and a hint of orange. Add to that sweet honey, dark brown sugar, and a boozy citrus glaze and you’ve got yourself cookie heaven.
Allspice, ginger, cinnamon, and nutmeg are familiar flavors. But when combined with honey and rye flour, they give cookies the depth and allure of pain d’épices, the Christmas bread of Dijon, France. An easy Grand Marnier glaze adds a sweet veneer and is practical as well, helping a garnish of candied orange peel to adhere.—Editors of Gourmet Magazine
Pain d’Épice Cookies
For the cookies
- 1 cup rye flour
- 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 3/4 teaspoon grated or ground nutmeg
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
- 2 sticks unsalted butter softened
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon mild honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
For the glaze
- 4 cups confectioners’ sugar sifted
- 1 tablespoon Grand Marnier
- 1/4 cup whole milk
- 4 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
For the decoration
- Candied Orange Peel cut into 1/4-inch dice
Make the pain d’ épice cookies
- Whisk together the flours, spices, and salt. In a separate bowl, beat together the butter, sugars, honey, and vanilla with an electric mixer at medium-high speed until creamy, about 1 minute. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour mixture until just combined. The dough will be sticky.
- Roll out the dough between 2 sheets of parchment paper into a 10-inch square (about 1/4 inch thick) or place the dough in a large resealable plastic bag (not one with a pleated bottom) and smooth the dough with a rolling pin, filling the bag with the dough.
- Place the dough (still on the parchment or in the bag) on a baking sheet and refrigerate for 8 to 12 hours to allow the flavors to develop.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F (176° C), adjust the oven rack to the middle position.
- Remove the top layer of parchment or remove the dough from the bag. Trim the ragged edges of the dough. Cut twenty 1/2-inch-wide strips with a pastry wheel and a ruler. Cut each strip crosswise into fourths for a total of 80 cookies. If the dough begins to soften, refrigerate or freeze it until firm.
- Transfer about 30 cookies to an ungreased baking sheet with a spatula, arranging them 1 inch apart. Keep the unbaked cookies in the refrigerator or freezer. If the cookies on the sheet are no longer cold, chill or freeze until firm. Bake until the edges are several shades darker, 13 to 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on the baking sheet for 1 minute, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Repeat with the remaining cookies.
Make the glaze
- Whisk together all of the glaze ingredients until smooth.
Decorate the pain d’épice cookies
- Tip the bowl of glaze on its side so the glaze is as deep as possible. Place a folded kitchen towel under the bowl for support. Dip half of a cookie into the glaze on a diagonal, letting any excess glaze drip off into the bowl and then scraping the bottom of the cookie on the edge of the bowl to remove any last extra drops of glaze. Set the cookie on a rack set over a baking sheet and immediately place a piece of candied orange peel on the glazed half of the cookie. Repeat with the remaining cookies, glaze, and candied orange peel.
- Let the cookies stand until completely set, about 1 hour. The cookies keep, layered between sheets of parchment paper in metal tins, at room temperature for up to 3 days.
Recipe Testers’ Reviews
These cookies were delicious, pretty, and, perhaps apart from making the candied orange peel, relatively quick and easy. My coworkers always welcome pastry, but these cookies were especially well received.
The dough came together easily and, after chilling, resembled a sweet compound butter. The dough seemed just a bit too thick for my fluted pastry wheel, so after a few strips, I switched to a knife. The glazing process was totally unfussy, and the orange peel cubes stuck perfectly.
One note: Cut the cookies as evenly as possible. It makes a noticeable difference in their size, once baked. The only possible downside I could see in these is that they are too delicate to mail in holiday cookie boxes, so they’ll have to stay local!
These cookies are very tasty indeed! The spice combination is delicious. I love the method of putting the dough in a one-gallon resealable bag and smoothing it out with the rolling pin. The dough was so even, I’ll try this technique with other cookie recipes.
You have to work fast with the dough once it comes out of the fridge, though, as it softens up at room temperature (just return it to the fridge for a few minutes and it will be fine). Each cookie came out looking exactly the same as the others.
The flavor of the Grand Marnier in the glaze is very subtle but goes nicely with the spiciness of the cookies. The candied orange peel recipe is delicious as well. You just have to cut the slices into smaller pieces to fit on the cookie. The extra peel is delicious dipped in melted chocolate! I didn’t have gold luster dust, but I will definitely look for it, as I’m sure it would add that extra something to the look of the cookies for the holidays. Will definitely make these again.
Originally published December 7, 2010