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.

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