Back to basics today with an old French classic: the famous spice cake “pain d’épices”, consisting of rye flour, honey and spices.
French pain d’épices often gets mistranslated into English as “gingerbread,” but beyond being heavily spiced and sweet, the two cakes bear little resemblance to one another. While the flavor of American gingerbread is dominated by molasses and the eponymous ginger, pain d’épices features rye flour, anise seed and honey.
There are different ways to enjoy it. It’s delicious on its own or with just a touch of butter, but it’s also a wonderful accompaniment. You can for instance serve it with foie gras, as the heady spices and sweet honey enhance the rich duck or goose liver perfectly (see my elegant and fancy recipe here). Or if you are more on the veggie side, you can serve it alongside a cheese platter. Strong blues, such as Roquefort or bleu d’Auvergne, are marvelous with the honeyed notes, and fresh goat cheeses provide a refreshing foil to the warm spices. Add a chutney or a confit (such as my pear-vanilla confit) in between the cheese and the pain d’épices and it’s even more surprising for your taste buds. Wash it all down with a glass of lightly sweet white wine for a sophisticated aperitif or pre-dessert course.
I have tried different pain d’épices recipes in the past, and they are not all good. This is actually the reason why I didn’t really like them in the beginning (i.e. the 22 first years of my life!). Some of them can be too dry in texture, far too sweet, or not well-balanced when it comes to the spices. Served as an accompaniment, it doesn’t matter so much as its role will simply be to cut off the taste of another ingredient with a different nature/flavor. However, if you want to enjoy it as it is as a dessert or with a cup of tea for tea time, it is just not what you are looking for….