This honey spice cake recipe is known as a pain d'épices in France. This speciality of the Alsace region has been around for hundreds of years and you will find different ways of making it all over France and much of Europe. The method given here can be easily followed by home cooks.
The traditional recipe for pain d'épices calls for making a pâte-mère (mother dough) by mixing honey and flour (many times rye flour) and letting it sit for a long time, sometimes even several months. The lack of water and preserving qualities of the sugar in the honey creates an environment where germs can not proliferate. After this aging, other ingredients are added to produce different sorts of cakes.
Traditionally pain d'épices did not contain milk or butter, making it a very low fat treat. However the spice cake recipe you find here contains milk, butter and eggs and does not use the pâte-mère technique, making it a practical and popular alternative for home cooks of today.
You will probably enjoy slices of this spice cake recipe just as it is, at tea time or even for breakfast. However, the French like to use pain d'épices in many different preparations. Here are a few ideas:
Note: Most people agree that honey spice cake tastes better after it has aged a bit and some will even wait several days before eating it. Wrapped in plastic wrap you can save it at room temperature or in the refrigerator. It also freezes very well.
Substitute rye flour for part of the regular flour for a more authentic taste.
Try different varieties of honey and don't be afraid to use a strong tasting honey in this recipe. It can take it.
Instead of the orange peel, or in addition to it, try candied lemon peel, dates, dried figs, or raisins.
You can also add nuts, such as chopped almonds or walnuts.
The spices can be changed to suit your fancy. Some other spices that are popular in this recipe are: fennel, cardamom, ground coriander, black pepper, and allspice.
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Alsace is very proud of their pain d'épices and you can even find a museum dedicated to this cake in the tiny village of Gertwiller.
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