Pain d'Epices

September 15, 2004

Rosh Hashanah starts tonight at sunset. Part of the holiday ritual is to eat honey "for a sweet new year," and honey cakes are an important part of the holiday food. An aside - Judaism really is an excuse to eat, and eat well.

My favorite honey cake is actually a French spice bread (recipe below the fold) made with honey, jam, anise, cinnamon, and milk. If done correctly it makes a dense tender bread that can be cut into thin slices; it has a sweet taste but the dense load of spices mean that what I notice when I eat it is the tingling on my tongue and the lingering resonance of anise back where nose and mouth connect to one another. Baking the bread fills my head with spice and I smell it for a day or two afterwards, and eating it returns all those smells to the forefront of my memory. It is powerful bread.

J does not care for it, so I get to eat most of it myself. The toddler likes it, probably because it is sweet, but it is so sweet that we serve it to him as "cake" and not as "bread."

I had not made it for a couple of years, and this year I goofed it badly. The problem was not the recipe but the execution. I think I had the oven a little too hot. I also left the rack at the bottom third of the oven instead of moving it higher. This meant that the bread smelled done, and the side of the loaf tested done, but the top of the loaf was not done, and so I have a trough of wet uncooked dough sitting on top of my slightly dry spice bread.

So far, since cracking the first loaf this morning, I have eaten about a third of the loaf, throwing out the wet dough and narfing the good stuff. I told you I like this bread.

I will leave the political implications of good recipe, poor execution, as an exercise for the reader.

Pain d'Epices
Susan Loomis
from French Farmhouse Cooking
New York: Workman Publishing Company, 1996

Ingredients:
2 cups milk (whole or skim depending on your dietary fetishes)
2 tbsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground cloves
1 tsp ground cardomon
2 tbsp whole anise seeds
NOTE - if any of these run short, grate in some fresh nutmeg to fill.
24 oz liquid honey (one medium jar will do it.)
7 1/3 cups AP flour.
3/4 cup of jam - orange marmalade, red currant, or beach plum.(1)
2 tsp baking soda
2 tbsp warm water

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 325
Butter and flour two 9*5*3 loaf pans

Method:
Combine the milk and spices in a medium sized saucepan. Heat, stirring constantly, until the milk just begins to steam or gets bubbles along the side of the pan. Do not let it come to a boil.(2) Once it hits this point, cover the pan and let sit for 10 minutes.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the milk and the honey and mix well.
Add 2 cups of flour and mix well.
Then add the jam.
Slowly add the rest of the flour, stirring until the mixture is thoroughly combined.
(I use the mixmaster with the paddle.)

In a small bowl mix together the baking soda and the warm water. Stir into the batter and mix at medium speed for 5 minutes until the dough becomes satiny. (10 minutes if by hand.) This will be a very thick, sticky dough.

Divide the batter between the two pans. Bake in center of oven, well separated for better air flow. Bake until loaves are puffed and golden and spring back when touched IN THE CENTER of the loaf. 1 hour and another 20-40 minutes depending on how moist your jam was.

Remove from oven and cool on wire racks. When cool, wrap in wax paper and aluminium foil and let sit for at least 24 hours to develop the flavor. Will remain good for about 2 weeks, or can be frozen for up to 2 months.

Cut into thin slices and serve as a snack, breakfast food, or dessert. They are wonderful with coffee.

Footnotes:
(1), Jam is made from fruit, sugar, and optional pectin, acid, and preservatives. If your jam has corn syrup or, horrors, HFCS in it, throw it out and get real jam.
(2)This is the same method I use when making hot cocoa on the stove.

Posted by Red Ted at September 15, 2004 08:58 AM | TrackBack