Sometimes a recipe grabs my attention not because it sounds particularly delicious but because the method by which you make it is so peculiar, I just have to try it.
Such was the case with the recipe for Pain D’Epice in Canal House Cooking Volume 2. Other recipes for Pain D’Epice, a French spice bread, are packed with, well, spices. Nancy Silverton’s has fennel seeds, black pepper and lots of ginger; David Lebovitz’s has cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves; the Canal House pain d’epice has no spices. It has marmalade.
This recipe is wacky. In one bowl you mix orange marmalade, honey and milk. In another, flour, brown sugar, and baking powder. Then you mix it all together. There’s no fat in this bread (except the butter you use to coat the pan), and there are no spices in it either. And it’s a spice bread. What’s going on?!
Melissa Hamilton, one of the co-authors of the book, claims this recipe as her family’s own. She writes, in the intro: “This French spice bread recipe was handed down to my mother from her mother, a native Parisian. It has a dark, almost gingerbread-like flavor and curiously not a single spice in it.”
Intrigued? So was I. So intrigued, in fact, that I baked it the night before leaving for a week in Seattle. My cat-sitter, Cole Escola, was the beneficiary and I am IMing him now to get his thoughts. (My thoughts? I liked it well enough, but found it a bit too bready, not at all cakey. But maybe that’s the point.)
Me: Hey Cole, what did you think of that Pain D’Epice I left behind? Be honest.
Cole: I loved it. But I like old lady stuff, it was old-lady-like to me.
Me: Did you think it was too bready? Or did you not mind that fact?
Cole: I didn’t mind that fact.
Me: Did you eat the WHOLE LOAF? [Editor’s note: there was no Pain D’Epice left when I got back.]
Cole: No, I ended up having to throw what I didn’t eat out because it was hard.
Me: HOW RUDE!!
Cole: It was kind of the same consistency of fruit cake, no? I thought it was supposed to be like that, minus the junk inside.
So there you have it. Old lady fruit cake that’s bready, without fat, and easy to make. Are you sold? Probably not, but here’s the recipe!
Easy Pain D’Epice
from The Canal House Cookbook, Vol. 2
1 Tbs butter, softened
3 cups flour, plus more for dusting
2/3 cup dark brown sugar, sieved to remove any lumps
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 cup orange marmalade
1/3 cup honey
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup milk
Preheat the oven to 325. Grease a 6-cup loaf pan with the butter. Dust it with some flour, tapping out the excess. Set the pan aside.
Put the flour, brown sugar, and baking powder in a large bowl and mix together. Put the marmalade and honey in a large bowl.
Dissolve the baking soda in the milk and stir it into the marmalade and honey. Add the flour mixture to the marmalade mixture and stir until the batter is well mixed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan…
…and bake until the pain d’epice crowns on top and a wooden skewer inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour.
Let it cool to room temperature in the pan on a rack, then tip the loaf out of the pan.
Serve it sliced and slathered with butter, if you like. [Oh, I like.]