Cook the Book Fridays – Pain d’épices

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I can appreciate the variations in flavour between buckwheat honey and lavender honey, fireweed honey and blueberry honey. But I’ll take city honey over any of them. City honey’s flavour depends on the gardeners in the neighbourhoods the hives inhabit. It changes across the seasons and reflects the trends in the planted environment.

Best of all, it comes from bees with the best of all possible lives. The nectar sources might have a riotous variety, but the hives are rooted and stable. Cities like the one I live in also have pesticide bans, which is much better for bees and for their honey. And the apiarists range from obsessively careful amateurs to professionals with an interest in helping create a healthy urban ecosystem.

These are the thoughts I turn to when I’m cooking or baking with honey. I have some favourite local honeys, including Mellifera Bees and Hives for Humanity, but there’s also UrbanSweet, Lulu Island Honey, and others.

All of this is to say that this week’s recipe is well-worth using your favourite honey. Pain d’épices looks like it might be a sweet quickbread, but it’s something more elusive than that. It’s full of assertive spices like anise and cloves and is at home with pâté as it is with jam. I like it very much with cultured, salted butter.

The method, too, is fascinating. It starts out as though you’re making a caramel, cooking the honey with brown sugar (and in my case, a bit of molasses, too). Then, that mixture is cooled before it’s added to the dry ingredients and egg.

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The result is a dense and tender loaf, that has a texture somewhere between a quick loaf and a true bread. I might have to indulge in some pâté this weekend to try it in a savoury fashion, or pair it with my mother’s plum jelly for a sweet treat. Or, I might just stick to butter. It’s awfully good that way.

Now, if you’re part of the Cook the Book Fridays group, you might be wondering what happened to this week’s primary recipe, Belgian Beef Stew with Beer. This wasn’t a good week for a side trip into cooking with meat in our household, so I’ve decided rack up my very first entry on my ‘catch up’ list for the group. I’ll be glad of the excuse to make this bread again. For now, I’m just glad I have an excuse to go honey shopping, as I used up the last of my current stash with this recipe.

David Lebovitz has one version of this bread on his website, but I’d buy the book if I were you.

You can read through everyone’s posts here. And consider joining this community of wonderful cooks and lovely people, as we work our way through David LebovitzMy Paris Kitchen.

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30 thoughts on “Cook the Book Fridays – Pain d’épices

  1. Looks so good, Teresa!. I’m so glad you wrote about the urban bees in your neighborhood. Here in Boulder County there are many organic farmers and home gardeners, but there’s still lots of education to do with our community to reduce the impact of neo-nicotinoids and other pesticides on our beneficial insect and pollinator populations. I’m always on the lookout for the first wild and honey bees to show up in my garden each spring. I was happy to hear lots of buzzing before we got our first “spring snow” yesterday. Cheers!

    1. Thanks so much, Marilyn! It’s good to see you back posting with us. 🙂

      I love the first signs of pollinators in the garden, too. I am guilty of leaving the dandelions for them – it’s some of the first nectar available to them.

  2. Great insight into urban bees. I was just reading an article about a scientist in Poland who is looking into the bee decline and trying to pinpoint the exact pesticides and combinations of pesticides which are leading to the decline and here in Germany they have already banned at least one pesticide because of it. How wonderful to hear that your city has honey from the different neighborhoods. It makes me wonder if we have something similar around here… now I’ll be keeping an eye out for it.

    1. Thanks, Rose! I love trying the different honeys available in the city – when you find some in yours, I hope you post about it. I’d love to hear what you’ve discovered. The bee decline is such a multifaceted issue. I found Rowan Jacobsen’s Fruitless Fall interesting because it explores many of the theories around colony collapse – the movement of bees from monoculture to monoculture, year round; pesticides; disease – even migration is a factor.

  3. Love your post contents on the bees and honey. You baked yourself a lovely spice loaf. The making of the panade had me stumped, but everything worked out fine in the end (not pretty looking but tasted good)!

  4. Hi Teresa, love your bread, it looks and sounds delicious! Thanks for sharing the insight into the city honey too, interesting. I’m a big Lebovitz fan and though I’m not able to make the commitment to another cooking the book group at the time, I do own My Paris Kitchen and am happily observing the recipe development and making some mental notes on perhaps giving a few of the dishes a try. I have prepared a brownie cake recipe of his but since I own all of his books I’m not sure which one it is from (well, I know its not from the Perfect Scoop.) See you soon.

    1. Thanks, Peggy – it’s so good! I can understand not wanting to take on another cook the book group. I’ve had to decline a few. I’m glad you’re following along, though! I haven’t made that brownie cake, but I’ve seen photos of it and it looks amazing.

    1. Thanks, Shirley! I think it’s important to encourage bee-keeping in the city. It was interesting to read about your yeast version of this bread – it looked beautiful!

  5. I love that you are using your local honey. I really loved the bread and though I used a store bought clover honey to make it, I do have some special honey in the pantry to eat on top of it!

  6. I had no idea of all the different honey out there, interesting though. This bread was so good
    that just putting butter on it worked for me. The stew was really good, you must try it when the time is right for you.

    1. There’s been an increasing interest in beekeeping, both in the city and outside of it, which I think is very good for bees. I especially like that the same people who keep honey bees often provide habitat for native pollinators, too.

  7. I enjoyed the discussion you presented around types of honey. The bread was delicious and I am glad to have this recipe in my arsenal.

    1. Thanks, Cher! I’m glad people enjoy my tangents. 🙂

      I feel the same way about the bread – it’s a nice addition to my repertoire and not quite like anything else.

  8. Buckwheat honey is probably my favorite, but we just got city honey here in NYC a few years ago, and it’s also such an interesting, complex flavor. Gorgeous pain d’epices – love it with some foie gras 🙂

    1. Thanks, it’s a really delicious loaf! I like buckwheat honey, too. There are a few places out in the Fraser Valley that have good beekeeping practices and their honeys across the seasons are great. I do love the complexity of city honey best, though.

  9. You’re quite the honey connoisseur, Teresa! You are fortunate that the place you live is so caring about the bees.
    I’ve been reading a book of Alice Munro’s short stories this week. Many of them take place in Vancouver, so I’ve been thinking of you as I read.

    1. It comes out of all the reading I did around colony collapse a few years ago – though, I’m now a fan of the taste of city honey! I love Alice Munro. I always think of her Ontario stories, but she has many set here, too. She and her ex-husband started a famous independent bookstore, Munro’s Books in Victoria, which was in his hands until two years ago. If you’d like another recommendation, Ethel Wilson is a wonderful mid-Century BC writer who evokes this region beautifully.

    1. I try and save my meaty-meal-cooking for when I go over to my parents’ place. They appreciate having someone cook for them, I get to exercise my non-veggie cooking skills. 🙂

  10. We’re all bound to have a ‘catch up’ list at some point! And yes, an excuse to make the spice bread again is well worth the need to catch up.

  11. I need to crack open my cookbook—this bread looks marvelous! I buy local honey, but I’m not certain are area is as strict with pesticides. One of my favorite bakery sold a honey oat bread that I adored and the owner was lamenting about the honey from overseas not performing as it should. Made me worried about those bees and what sort of nasty chemicals they were ingesting 😦

    1. I worry about those nasty chemicals, too. Even at the places I like out in the Fraser Valley, the bees can be affected by gathering nectar at nearby farms that use pesticides. And the industrial honey industry isn’t well-regulated – a surprisingly large percentage of the volume may be filler. It can be exhausting to think about.

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