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Pain d’Epices – Honey & Spice Cake

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This ‘cake’ is a marvel of baking chemistry. Pain d’Epices (which translates to ‘spice bread’) has a roughly 450 year old rich history in France, resulting in countless variations. Dorie Greenspan’s latest book ‘Baking Chez Moi’ has a version that suddenly moved me to action. Think of a teacake or loaf cake, and historically, one that relies primarily on only honey for sweetness, a varying list of spices and no eggs. Even more interesting, Master Greenspan instructed to wrap the cake well and leave on the counter for a few days to ‘ripen’, as this cake is best aged. I was intrigued. When her opening ingredients included orange, peppercorns, fresh ginger and lavender to steep together to be added to the dough, it was officially time for me to make my first one.

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After steeping these ingredients in water, you strain them and, to this uber-fragrant infusion, stir in melted butter and honey. In a different bowl, you grate citrus zest over the sugar and rub them together and this is added to the flour and baking powder. You then mix wet and dry ingredients, finally stirring in dried cherries and placing into loaf pan. But the real magic is the ‘ripening’. The cake is perfectly acceptable soon out of the oven as a tea cake for dunking, but after two days, the flavors are layered, you taste the honey, then the lavender, then the ginger, and by five days after, suddenly the texture too has changed, shifting from a crumbly cake for dunking to a soft, doughy bread with great flavor depth. I love the concept of a cake being at its best days after the baking itself, and I wish I had another slice right now. Bundle up everyone (cakes included).

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