As the air outside begins to chill and the holidays loom, I inaugurated my holiday bakes with a honey spice bread. Honey spice bread, or pain d’épices as it known in France, is a traditional bread that is both popular in the Alsace region and within France since the 1400s. Centuries of bakers have perfected honey spice bread, and I look forward to it every year.

This modern take on honey spice bread is from the excellent cookbook of chef Thierry Mulhaupt, who is himself from the Alsace region. He owns the amazing Mulhaupt pâtisserie shops in both Strasbourg and Colmar and also runs a pastry school, which I’ve been lucky enough to attend. On top of being a great chef, he’s a super nice guy!

Honey spice bread is delicious on its own or as an accompaniment to foie gras. It also goes perfectly with white wine, and especially with a Gewürztraminer, which is both used in the recipe and also hails from the Alsace region.

At first glance, this cake seems fairly similar to the US gingerbread, but the two have a very different taste. Gingerbread has a deeper flavour that is dominated by molasses and ginger. The flavour in pain d’épices is strongly influenced by the honey (the only sweetener in the recipe) and a variety of winter spices (cinnamon, cloves, ginger, cardamom).

Best of all, this is an easy recipe! I hope you enjoy this honey spice bread, with its combination of spices and delicate crumb.

French honey spice bread (or pain d'épices)
 
Prep time
Cook time
Total
 
Serves: 2 loaves
Ingredients
  • 320 g (scant 1 cup) acacias honey (or other flower type honey)
  • 55 g eggs (approximately 1 large egg)
  • 110 g (1 stick) melted butter
  • 130 g (1/2 cup + 1 Tbsp) whole milk
  • 270 g (2 cups + 2 Tbsp) flour
  • 9 g (1¾ tsp) baking soda
  • 9 g (3¼ tsp) ground cinnamon
  • 1 g (1/2 tsp) ground cloves
  • 1 g (1/2 tsp) ground cardamom
  • 2 g (1¼ tsp) ground ginger
Other ingredients
  • Butter and flour to line the cake tins
  • 100 ml (scant ½ cup) Gewüztraminer or the juice of an orange
  • Candied fruit for decoration
  • 150 g (~1/2 cup) apricot jam for glazing
Instructions
  1. Preheat the oven to 165°C (330 F). Line the bread tins (18x7 cm, height 6 cm; or about 7x3 inches, 3 inches high) with butter and flour.
  2. Melt the butter and let cool.
  3. In a small pan, heat the honey to 50°C (120 F).
  4. Mix the flour, baking soda and spices, then sift into a small bowl.
  5. Using the whisk attachment or a hand whisk, mix the eggs with the warm milk until you see a foam start to form, then add the milk and melted butter.
  6. Once combined, add the flour mix and switch to the paddle attachment if using the electric mixer and mix until the dough is homogeneous. Don't overmix.
  7. Pour the mix into the two bread tins and bake for 35 min at 165°C (330 F).
  8. Remove the cakes from the tin, and brush them with the Gewürztraminer or the orange juice.
  9. Optional: to give the cake more shine, heat up some apricot jam and lightly brush the cakes with the heated jam. Use candied fruits to decorate the cakes.

 

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