Douce sensation d’enfance – Pain d’épices

I decided out of the blue one day to make pain d’épices…I think last time I had one slice I must have been 10 years old. What is pain d’épices? Well it’s another one of those traditional French breads or cake that is popular in Alsace region. It’s literally translated into “spice bread”, simply because it has many spices. It could be an distant ancestor of the Ginger bread, but the French one has no ginger so, I would not even try to compare it to ginger bread.

Pain d’épices is made with honey and rye flour, and no sugar even though some recipes include brown sugar. Of course some recipes vary slightly from one to another; this version has no butter nor oil, so no fat and no eggs. Its consistency is very similar to the one I am used to eating in France…chewy, dense and very flavorful.

The origin of pain d’épices is traced back to ancient times (as far as the Egyptians) and was brought to Europe from China by the Crusades. They brought back the recipe and the spices, It was then spread over Europe during the middle ages, and the first Pain d’Epices called Lebkuchen was found in Germany in 1296. But it’s in Reims in XVII century that the Masters of Pain d’épiciers (Maîtres de pain d’épiciers) were officially recognized by King Henri IV as a specialty company. Reims remained one historical city linked to this bread. Nowadays there are two different kinds of Pain d’épices, the one from Reims made with mainly rye flour and the one from Dijon made with mainly wheat flour. Think that that we have a Museum on Pain d’épices in Alsace, called Musée du Pain d’épice et de l’art populaire Alsacien so that’s a serious deal!

In this recipe I use already packaged spices “épices pour pain d’épices” I bought during my last trip to France, but you can use loose ones, so I will give you the quantities for regular loose spices.

Pain d’épices can be served with savory dishes such as foie gras, or salmon…it can be eaten as is with a cup of hot chocolate, or as a toast with butter and jam, even prepared as a French toast, or combined with fruits in verrines (this will be on my next post). So as you can see its use is quite wide.

I was thinking that for someone with a savory tooth like mine, I did quite a good job with the sweets lately. The beauty of it is that I always share half of my sweet concoctions with my neighbor…otherwise I would break the poor scale. Unfortunately I am not among the lucky ones who can eat anything and remain thin…I have to work at it!! Oh well, maybe in my next life!

Ingredients for one loaf

  • 4.4 oz (or 125 g) wholewheat flour
  • 4.4 oz (or 125 g) rye flour (you can also use 250 g rye only)
  • 7 oz (or 200 g) honey
  • 1.7 oz (or 50 g) agave nectar
  • 6.7 fl oz (or 200 ml) milk
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/4 tsp baking soda
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp star anise powder
  • 1/4 tsp cardamom powder
  • 1/4 tsp clove powder
  • 1 tsp orange peel powder (see picture above)


In a mixing bowl combine honey, agave nectar and lukewarm milk. Mix well to dissolve the honey. Add flours gradually whisking well to obtain a smooth and homogenous mixture. Add the rest of the ingredients. Place in a bread pan previously buttered and floured to prevent from sticking. Cook in a pre-heated oven at 365-370F for about one hour. Let it cool and serve warm or cold.