Pain d’Epices, or What I Did With The Buddha’s Hand

Sounds kinda like a Victorian ghost story, huh?

Greetings from Most Excellent Spice Bread

Greetings from Most Excellent Spice Bread

This stuff has been my January mainstay. (I have made 5 loaves since the 1st!) It is sort of a grown-up gingerbread, good on its own or with so many other things. I was additionally inspired to add some of the candied Buddha’s Hand I made a few weeks ago, which was a super duper addition. I don’t know if it’s authentic to add candied peel (or nuts, perhaps?) to this traditional French loaf, but it is authentically quite good.


The recipe I used is one David Lebovitz adapted, who in turn adapted it from Baking for All Occasions by Flo Braker. His post about pain d’epices includes some context for the recipe, and it has piqued my interest in Flo Braker’s books, too.

This is a dark, moist, and fragrantly spicy bread that’s perfect for wintertime. David says that “[p]ain d’épices makes the most wonderful afternoon snack when you’re foraging around for something slightly sweet, as I often find myself doing, but don’t want something rich or creamy. That said, you could dress it up with a swipe of cream cheese or jam, or use slices of pain d’épices to make an impromptu strawberry shortcake, piling on the berries and cream between a few moist slices.” I agree wholeheartedly, and will also add that it is very nice to toast your slices before adding your toppings, be they savory or sweet.

The recipe is amenable to substitutions. Honey, for example, can be swapped out entirely for agave nectar or corn syrup another sugary humectant (such as the syrup I had leftover from candying the citron!), or you could use half honey and half syrup or even half jam. Half maple syrup? That might be good, too. Flax or chia eggs work just fine here — pain d’epices is essentially a quick bread whose loft comes from the baking soda — and the amount of butter is quite small, so using a coconut substitute doesn’t derail the flavor. I also successfully substituted bread flour for AP flour twice, and I think I prefer that substitution altogether.

The recipe is also easy. Turn on the oven and start pulling ingredients out of the cupboards. Get your eggs and butter to room temp and prep the pan. Weigh and sift your flours and spices into one bowl; chop the candied peel; grate the orange zest. Throw everything together in a mixer and pour into a pan, pop into the oven and go take a nap. No butter to cream, nothing fiddly to roll out; one pan, two bowls, some measuring spoons, a sifting tool and a microplane, and that’s basically it.

This li'l work of art is ready to be hung up on the wall.

This li’l work of art is ready to be hung up on the wall.

Pain d’epices has reawakened my fondness for dark and sweet breads, and I’m looking forward to making Laurie Colwin’s Boston Brown Bread again — an old favorite that I have a great fondness for. Lorna Sass also has a recipe for BBB that I’m eager to try. After that… Jamaican Black Cake?

Makes one large (9″) loaf, or two smaller ones. If you are able, absolutely use a scale for determining ingredient amounts.

3 1/2 C. (455g) AP flour or bread flour

1/2 C. (60g) dark rye flour

2 1/2 tsp. baking soda

1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger

1/2 tsp. salt

1/4 tsp. freshly-grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp. ground cloves

1/4 tsp. white pepper or freshly-ground black pepper

1/2 tsp. anise seeds (whole)

2 oz. (55g) unsalted butter or coconut butter, at room temperature

1 large chix egg or one flax egg, at room temperature

1 C. (340g) honey
 or agave syrup
1 tablespoon finely-grated orange zest

1/2 – 3/4 C. chopped candied peel
1 C. (240ml) water

Preheat the oven to 350º. Butter a 9-inch loaf pan and flour it (if you wish).

Sift together the flour, rye flour, baking soda, the ground spices, and the salt in a bowl. Stir in the anise seeds.

In a separate bowl, mix together the butter, egg, honey (or syrup, or half-syrup mix), and orange zest.

Add the water, then the candied peel, and then add the dry ingredients in three additions, scraping the sides of the bowl to make sure everything gets mixed in evenly.

Transfer the batter to the prepared loaf pan and bake for 60 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean. The top will rise quite high and bake to a dark color, which is normal.

Cool 10 minutes, then tip the cake out of the loaf pan. Let cool completely before slicing.

David says: “Pain d’épices can be wrapped in plastic and stored for at least a week, during which time the flavors will meld and it’ll get denser. It can also be frozen for a few months.”

1 comment
  1. This is my favourite bread – vastly underrated. Thanks for the beautiful post :)

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