I really like pain d’épices, especially for breakfast, but there are huge variations in the texture and taste depending on where you buy it or whose recipe you follow. I like it soft inside, very full of honey and not heavily spiced. I've tried different techniques, flour combinations and flavourings and I've now arrived at this hybrid recipe that finally produces the kind of result that I've been looking for. With all that honey in the cake it should keep well but so far it's been eaten too quickly to confirm that.
Incidentally, my favourite commercially produced pain d’épices was sold by the apiculteur Marc Fourneaux in Dieppe market on Saturday mornings, and hopefully still is – though I haven’t been back there for a while.
200 g ‘00’ flour
50 g wholegrain rye flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp ground ginger
100 ml milk
350 ml runny honey (this is actually a little more than one of most of the standard jars in the supermarket)
40 g dark brown soft sugar
80 g butter, cut into small pieces, plus some extra for greasing the tin
zest of 1 small orange, as fine as possible, (I had a Seville orange left from marmalade making, which is ideal)
2 tbsp almond butter
1 egg, lightly beaten
Unless you have a silicone loaf tin, grease and line a 1 Kg (2 lbs) loaf tin with baking parchment – be thorough, this is a very sticky mix. Preheat the oven to 180°C (for a fan oven, a little hotter otherwise). Sift the flours, baking powder and ground ginger together.
Pour the milk and honey into a fairly large saucepan and put them on a very gentle heat, stirring a lot until the mixture comes together and flows freely. Add the butter and sugar to the pan and keep stirring until the sugar has dissolved and the butter has just melted.
Take the pan off the heat (it shouldn’t be too hot, so let it cool a little if in doubt). Stir in the orange zest and the almond butter followed by the beaten egg. Gently work in the sifted dry ingredients. Keep stirring until you have a smooth batter – at least as smooth as you can reasonably make it – and pour into the prepared tin. This amount of mix may be a little generous for the tin – you’re aiming for about ¾ full. Don’t overfill the tin, a bit of a bulge is good but not too much.
Put the tin in the oven but make sure you’ve got some foil ready. Cover the tin with some foil when the top of the cake starts to take on an even light brown colour after about 15 minutes. The high sugar content will mean that the top will tend to go a dark brown but it needs to be covered to prevent it becoming too scorched. The cake will take around 45 – 55 minutes altogether – test that a skewer comes out clean.
Let the cake cool for 10 or 15 minutes in the tin before turning out (carefully – it might be fragile) and cooling fully on a rack (preferably non-stick).