Pain d’épices – A French Spiced Honey Cake
by Zach Townsend, Owner and chocolatier at Dallas Chocolate Classes
During the holidays, I love the comforting, fragrant spices of autumn — nutmeg, anise, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice.
Pain d’ épices is my go-to recipe for a time I’m looking for those familiar fall flavors yet want an exciting departure from traditional pumpkin-filled baked goods.
This delicious cake is found in various parts of France and is a specialty of Dijon (where you’ll see it under the name nonnette, “spice loaf.”) and one I always seek out when I’m traveling near there.
The recipe I created has an easy-to-purchase mixture of spices. There are no added white sugars in the batter because 100% honey is the primary sweetener — which translates to lots of flavors but without cloying sweetness. (If you use the marmalade, there is sugar in that of course, but it’s not part of the batter.)
To deepen the flavor, I use dark, rich honey, preferably a local organic one. The honey cake has a touch more sweetness when using the optional warm honey glaze brushed on top just out of the oven.
And — there are no eggs! Not adding eggs isn’t necessarily a common characteristic of pain d’ épices, but it is a bonus of this recipe. You’ll be surprised at how moist and rich the loaf is without the addition of egg.
Pure-Honey Pain d’Épices
Makes one 7-inch loaf
¼ C + ¾ tsp – Good quality dark, raw honey, preferable local and organic
2 T + ½ tsp – Unsalted butter
2 ¼ – Chinese Five Spice powder
1 tsp – Dutch-processed cocoa powder, sifter (optional)
1/8 tsp – Salt
1/3 C – Water
1 T + 1 tsp – Grand Marnier or water
3⁄4 C + 1 T + 2 ½ tsp – All-purpose flour, I use bleached Gold Medal
2 ¼ tsp – Baking powder
Scant ¼ C – Orange marmalade
• Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
• Lightly grease a 7 by 31⁄4-inch paper baking loaf pan with nonstick baking spray (the one with flour).
• Place the pan on a baking sheet.
• Position the oven rack so that the loaf pan will be as close to the center of the oven as possible.
• In a small saucepan, heat together the honey and butter, just until the butter is fully melted; stir to blend.
• Remove from the heat and whisk in the spices, cocoa powder, if using, and salt until thoroughly combined.
• Let cool slightly.
• Add the water and Grand Marnier and stir to thoroughly combine. Let cool.
• Using a silicone spatula, scrape the liquid into a medium mixing bowl, ensuring to scrape all the spices into the bowl that may be clinging to the sides and bottom of the saucepan.
• Using a whisk, thoroughly combine the flour and baking powder.
• Sift half the flour mixture into the mixing bowl then thoroughly stir with a whisk to combine (there may be some small lumps).
• Add the remaining flour mixture and whisk again to combine, just until the flour is incorporated and there are no visible lumps of flour; the batter should smooth out.
• Scrape half the batter into the prepared loaf pan.
• Briefly stir the marmalade vigorously to loosen it, then spoon half of it evenly over the top of the batter.
• Gently swirl the marmalade until slightly incorporated into the top of the batter; just a few gentle swirls here and there will combine it sufficiently and distribute it evenly.
• Scrape the remaining batter on top.
• Spoon the remaining marmalade evenly over the top of the batter, swirling gently again to lightly combine it throughout the top.
• Bake for 25 to 30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center and near the edges comes out mostly clean but with a few moist crumbs.
• Place the loaf on top of a cooling rack and immediately brush the top evenly with the warm honey glaze.
• Let cool completely, then carefully unmold the loaf; you may have to run a small offset spatula or paring knife carefully around the edges to loosen it from the pan.
1 T – Good-quality dark, raw honey, preferably the same honey used in the batter.
1 ½ – tsp- Water
½ tsp – Grand Marnier or water
While the pain d’épices is baking:
• Add the honey and water to a small saucepan over medium heat and stir to combine.
• Alternatively, add it to a small microwave-safe glass measuring cup and place it in the microwave.
• Bring the mixture just to a boil then remove from the heat.
• Let cool slightly then stir in the Grand Marnier.
• Cover, and set aside to keep warm.
• Brush the warm glaze on the top of the warm cake
A Few Tips
• The pain d’ épices honey cake is even more delicious a few days after it’s been made, as the flavors and moisture have distributed more evenly throughout.
• Once it has cooled completely, wrap it in plastic wrap and set it on the counter. It keeps for several days at room temperature when covered well. Enjoy with a hot cup of coffee.
• Where do you get the 7 by 3 ¼-inch disposable paper loaf pan? Follow this link: Amazon. Or, visit Sur La Table. Using these pans is convenient to bake with because they are disposable, the perfect size (better than most metal brick-sized loaf pans, especially if you are baking for 1 to 2 people), and the cake can be cooled in the decorative paper pan, wrapped, and given as a gift.
Check www.DallasChocolateClasses.com for upcoming holiday-themed onsite events and other classes! Need a little help perfecting your baking skills before the holidays? Sign up for a Private Lesson with Chef Zach (or give a class as a gift to your favorite baker and chocoholic!)
About the Chef
Zach Townsend has spent more than 27 years in the world of chocolate and chocolate dessert making, working in both France and the United States. He has recipes featured in IACP Cookbook of the Year Rose’s Heavenly Cakes and Flavorful by baking author Tish Boyle. He was a contributing writer to Dessert Professional magazine and is the translator of twelve cookbooks, including Maison Kayser’s French Pastry Workshop (a semifinalist of the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards); Let’s Eat France (voted top pick for 2018 by the New York Times Book Review, National Geographic, Real Simple, and the Houston Chronicle); and the international bestseller Simple Desserts by French chef Jean-François Mallet. Zach’s chocolate desserts have been served by request to President George W. Bush and First Lady Laura Bush. His chocolate classes and events were recommended by Rachael Ray Every Day magazine as a fun event for chocolate enthusiasts across the nation.