Pain d’épices is a traditional spice bread of various French origins (Alsace, Burgundy, Paris and notably made with Brittany dark buckwheat honey). Although naturally leavened in the past, modern versions are quick breads with some portion of whole grain flour, sweetened with honey and flavored with a wide variety of spices ranging from cardamom to coriander, cinnamon to saffron, anise to allspice. Chef and author David Lebovitz describes it as a bread with a “chewy and dense texture, and an almost medieval taste” in his book of recipes and stories, My Paris Kitchen.
Although my favorite pain d’épices recipe is more indulgent with a generous addition of butter and crème fraiche, the task at hand was David’s Carbonade Flamande or Belgian beef stew with beer and spice bread. One of my friends says I can never made a recipe without changing something, and she’s probably right. I don’t like to shop for single or special ingredients, preferring to use what I have on hand. That usually works, as I have a fairly well-stocked pantry and fridge. And since I had already bought a brisket (think corned beef) that’s what went into the pot instead of the main ingredient of cubed beef chuck. Here’s how the bread, beef and sides turned out for our St. Paddy’s Day dinner this year.
First, the bread. David called for the unusual technique of boiling the sugars, water and salt, then adding some of the AP flour to the hot liquids and mixing it in. Think – first step of a cooked panade for pâte a choux. WARNING: sift the flour first or you will get a sore arm from the aggressive stirring needed to get rid of the lumps! After this mixture cooled, it’s added to the whole grain flour and spice blend alternating with the egg mixture. I made several changes to enrich the bread a bit and for the mile high altitude here in Boulder, Colorado. I added 2 T. butter to the panade, omitted the brown sugar but substituted some molasses for some of the honey to deepen the flavor, added zest of an orange and a little more salt, used emmer flour for the whole wheat, reduced the baking soda to 1/4 tsp. and added 1/2 cup yogurt for moisture, flavor and tenderness. Oh, and fresh grated ginger since I didn’t have ground, and star anise for anise seed. I baked the loaves at a slightly lower temperature for an hour, to make sure they would cook through without burning the exterior. The results were better than I expected for the first pass at a recipe – moist, deeply flavored with spices and caramelized sugars, with a dense but tender texture. Might be my new favorite pain d’épices!
Wishing you the luck of the Irish and a beautiful beginning to spring in your part of the world!