The interesting thing about this kind of bread is that there’s no butter, oil or eggs. Somehow it doesn’t feel like it’s going to come together, rise, crack and turn into a moist, spicy slice of anything. The fact that it does is one of those incredible baking results, the ones that defy many laws or ideas.
The texture is weird at first, the knife sort of doesn’t want to dive into it and offers a bit of a resistance. A thick skin, that's what this bread has. And shiny. So, it’s better to leave it wrapped for one or two days, like the recipe advices. But it looked so nice that of course I cut it before that. And then I wrapped it and left it unbothered for a day.
It was so much better the next days. It becomes a more uniform thing in terms of flavor and texture. The spices and nuts and dried fruit and honey are what this bread is all about. Kind of obvious, right? I went ahead and used up almost everything I had. Mainly pistachios and figs. Man, I love that stuff.
I recently found out my mom loves figs uncontrollably too. She bluntly told me that I should take the bread away, and also the containers with the dried figs, and the jar with the fresh fig jam I made a few days ago, if I wanted them to last. She had no control, she said, and wasn´t about to try to build it up now. She would just eat all the fig-related stuff lying around. I pretty much feel the same way.
So you can imagine I made a very figgy pain d'epices. So good.
The combinations are many, and what makes a huge difference is the type of honey used. The thing with honey in this country is that, beside a few flavors that you may come by accidentally at some specialty store that will most certainly be sold in expensive and tiny jars, here there´s just honey. It's all the same. Honey.
So I set out to make my own flavored honeys, with a wonderful recipe from Viviane’s site. The process is dead easy and you can have great honey in a few hours. I had to restrain myself from making a dozen different combinations. Just cardamom and cinnamon-mint this time. You can get the recipe here.
from Simply Sensational Desserts, by Francois Payard
Makes 1 loaf
1 cup (335g) honey
¾ cup (150g) sugar
2 Tbs dark rum, such as Myers's
2 pieces star anise
2 cups (180g) nuts, I used a mix of almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts and walnuts
1 cup (150g) dried fruit, I used apricots, dark and light figs and prunes
½ cup (90g) raisins, both dark and golden
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 Tbs + 1 teaspoon (20g) baking soda
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon (I used Vietnamese)
Pinch of ground cloves
Pinch of salt
3 cups (435g) all-purpose flour, sifted
Preheat the oven to 350ºF / 180ºC
Butter and flour one large loaf pan or 4 individual small ones.
Combine 1 ¾ cups (143g) water, honey, sugar, rum and star anise in a medium saucepan and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, combine the remaining ingredients except the flour in a large bowl.
Remove and discard the star anise and pour the liquid over the fruit and nut mixture. Let stand, stirring gently every now and then, for 5 minutes, then stir in the flour. Let the mixture stand for 2 to 3 minutes.
Pour the batter into the pan or divide evenly among the small pans, filling about ¾ full.
Bake for 45 to 1 hour or more (depends on the pan size), or until a tester inserted in the center of the pain comes out with a few moist crumbs attached to the tip. Transfer to a rack to cool completely.
Unmold the loaves, wrap in plastic and store for one or two days.