Pain d’Epices: a French classic

I still remember the Pain d’Epices of my childhood, store-bought, dense, and plain (no nuts or dried fruit in it, which suited me just fine since I really did not care for the extra-sugary, syrupy cherry bits that seemed to be the standard addition in many a “pain d’epices”). Mine was simple and perfectly sliced in its cellophane wrapping. I could grab a piece anytime and I did!! I particularly enjoyed it with a piece of chocolate…

Fast forward a few years(..??) and here I am attempting the real deal…A Pain d’Epices with loads of dried fruit and nuts; and since homemade is still the bomb, it came out fantastically spicy, nutty and altogether delicious. Even got a major husband’s stamp of approval!

This recipe had been sitting in my files ( I think I cut that one out from the New-York Times) for quite some time and with the holidays approaching,  I really wanted to give it a try. Done! And needless to say, this will become a traditional giveaway dessert at SWEETTABLESCAPES. 

img_0021You’ll need:

2 cups nuts, preferably a mix of sliced almonds, slivered almonds, skinned pistachios, skinned hazelnuts, walnut halves and pine nuts

1 cup dried fruit cut in small dice, preferably equal amounts of apricots, figs, prunes and dates

1/4 cup dark raisins

1/4 cup golden raisins

finely grated zest of 1 lemon

finely grated zest of 1 orange

4 tsp baking soda

1 tsp pastis or other anise-flavored liqueur (we used Anisette)

1/4 tsp cinnamon

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

1/4 tsp ground cloves (optional)

pinch of salt

1 cup pine honey or other strong flavored honey (we used lavender honey)

3/4 cup sugar

2 TBsp dark rum

2 pieces star anise, tied in cheesecloth

3 cups all-purpose flour


  1. Preheat oven to 350 F. Butter four or five aluminum-foil baby loaf pans. Dust insides with flour and tap out excess. Place pans on baking sheet; set aside.
  2. In large mixing bowl, combine nuts, diced fruit, dark raisins, golden raisins, lemon and orange zest. img_0001Mix well. Add baking soda, pastis, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves and salt. Stir to mix.img_0002
  3. In medium saucepan over medium heat, combine 1 3/4 cups water with honey, sugar, rum and star anise. img_0003Bring to boil, and immediately remove from heat. Remove and discard star anise. Pour liquid into bowl of fruit and nuts, and stir gently.img_0004 img_0005Let mixture rest for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally . Add all-purpose flour, stir well and let rest for 2 or 3 minutes.img_0006img_0007
  4. Divide batter among pans; the pans will be about 3/4 full. img_0008Place baking sheet in oven. Bake until knife inserted in center of cakes comes out with the tiniest bit of moist batter at the tip, 45 to 50 minutes. (Check cakes after 20 minutes of baking; if at any time the cakes appear to be browning too quickly, cover them loosely with tent of aluminum foil.)img_0009
  5. Transfer cakes to a rack, and cool to room temperature. Unmold, and wrap in plastic film. To serve, cut into thin slices. the cakes are best after ripening for 3 days at room temperature. If sealed in airtight wrap, they may be frozen for a month.

NOTE: This cake is an excellent keeper. In fact, it should not really be eaten until 3 days after it’s made; its flavors need time to ripen. In addition, this cake is great toasted for breakfast and superb with savory foods.







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