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Baking with Dorie: Pierre Hermé’s Fruit and Spice Loaf Cake

I’m in Paris now where the sweet you see in every pastry shop and bakery this time of year is pain d’épices. Sometimes translated as spice bread or likened to gingerbread, I think pain d’épices comes closer to honey cake than to any other sweet in the pantheon. The problem with pinning down this cake, a specialty of Dijon and Alsace and probably a bunch of other areas as well, is that it comes in a million varieties: it can be a loaf or a huge sheet cake; it can be as dark as mahogany or as light as a peanut-butter blondie; it can have nuts, or not; be full of dried fruits, or not; and be either firm or soft. And, of course, as is true with most traditional recipes, everyone who makes pain d’épices thinks his recipe is either the most authentic or the best or both.

This is a recipe from Pierre Hermé, the famous Paris pastry chef, who comes from a family of pastry chefs, each of whom made pain d’épices. In fact, if I remember correctly, Pierre said that this recipe is based on one his father, a pastry chef in the Alsatian town of Colmar, made.

Pierre’s pain d’épices has honey, of course, and Pierre suggests you use a honey with a lot of flavor. (He uses pine honey.) And, like all pain d’épices, this one will be better if you make it a day ahead, let it cool, then wrap it up and let it sit overnight.

While pain d’épices is delicious with tea or cider, it’s often toasted and then served with magret de canard (duck breast), particularly if the duck is paired with something fruity, spread with soft cheese or used as a base for foie gras, either sautéed or pressed into a terrine. If you have any pain d’épices left over, dry it in the oven, then whir it in the blender or processor to make crumbs—they make a fabulous breading for calves liver or chicken breasts.

Happy New Year! I hope this year will be a great one for all of you—a delicious one, too.

About the author: Dorie Greenspan is the author of several books on dessert, most recently Baking: From My Home to Yours. Dorie can also be found at DorieGreenspan.com and on the Bon Appétit website, where she is a special correspondent.

Pierre Herme’s Fruit and Spice Loaf Cake

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