History of Pain d’Epices (Spiced Bread)
According to the World History of Beekeeping and Honey Hunting by Eva Crane, spiced bread originates from honey cakes from Ancient Egypt. The middle ages marked a widespread consumption of these bread-like cakes with the original recipe usually omitting butter or oil due to shortages of dairy in eastern Mediterranean countries. As towns began manufacturing and distributing bread among the masses, starting as early as 1400, the pain d’epices became a mainstay in northern European countries.
Today, pain d’epices is a classic well-known and loved treat in France, particularly the Alsace & Burgundy regions. Kitchens full of cinnamon and clove aromas evoke millions of memories, and the bread is often sold by honey merchants in both loaves and squares. Since pain d’epices straddles the line between a cake and bread, it is sometimes eaten with butter, and other times with foie gras. Variations on the bread in France are widespread depending on the region and flours used. If you’re riding on our tour in Alsace, you may want to seek out the Musee du Pain d’Epice in the nearby village of Gertwiller on your rest day in Obernai.
The spiced bread has taken on several personalities over the years and across different European countries. In Slovenia, the batter is placed in a mold to cook and then decorated with icing while in other countries the bread evolved into gingerbread and became the framing for gingerbread houses in places like Czechoslovakia. Interestingly enough, vendors in Paris in the 1500s sang songs about the bread, heralding its positive effects on the heart.
Although this recipe is a loose interpretation of the age-old pain d’epices, we thought it would be a welcome change and something new to add to your holiday dessert repertoire.
Apple Spice Cake
- ½ cup whole wheat pastry flour
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 2/3 cup buttermilk
- 1 egg white
- 1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
- 1½ cup peeled and diced apple
- 3 tsp maple sugar, turbinado sugar, or brown sugar (optional)
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. In a large bowl, mix together all dry ingredients to ground ginger with a whisk. In another bowl, mix together the wet ingredients until well blended, keep out apples.
Add wet ingredients to dry, fold in apples. Pour the thick batter into a 8” round cake pan, sprinkle top with maple sugar if desired. Cook for 30-35 minutes until light brown and a knife comes out cleanly when cake is pierced.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or yogurt, or accompany with a warm winter drink, and share some stories with your friends and family around the fireplace hearth.