Pain d’épices is a bread-cake cross and gets deliciously sticky after sitting on the counter overnight and improves with age. This one has a wonderfully complex flavour with both spelt and rye flour, the warm spices, and honey.
Calling it French gingerbread is a misnomer, as we generally associate gingerbread with cookies, but it is spiced very similarly to gingerbread or lebkuchen or speculaas. Nutmeg, ground ginger, cinnamon, and a touch of cloves are used in this version, alongside orange zest and juice for a bit of brightness.
This recipe was adapted from one I used to make as a small child, but that book burned years ago (house fire, not on purpose) and I can’t remember what it was called now. Of course the original used butter, eggs, etc. so it is a very loose adaptation – but it was my first introduction to pain d’épices.
Why You’ll Love This Recipe
A French classic, I think this is well worth making all through autumn and winter, though it’s particularly good around Christmas with the orange and spice combination.
- A bit less sweet: using full-fat coconut milk allows for the honey in the loaf to be reduced slightly and the coconut flavour isn’t noticeable.
- It’s perfectly spiced: with cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, and cloves, it’s just right for the holidays with typical Christmas flavours.
- It’s egg and dairy-free: with coconut milk and honey acting as the main binding agents, this is light and slightly sticky, but there’s no need for butter and eggs.
Ingredient Notes and Substitutions
- Spices: alter the spices based on your preference. Cardamom would be nice in place of cloves, for example.
- Spelt flour: plain white flour can be subbed for the light spelt. The rye should remain, it’s a key element in pain d’epices.
- Honey: I have no idea if this recipe works without honey to make it vegan. It might, but I haven’t tested and can’t provide a recommendation. I think it would probably ruin the texture to use a different sweetener.
Step by Step
1. Mix dry ingredients: whisk the dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
2. Mix wet ingredients: whisk together the honey, oil, coconut milk, and orange. This might curdle, that’s normal.
3. Transfer: spoon the batter into a lined bread tin, evening out as needed.
4. Bake: for about 50 minutes. Once the loaf is cool, wrap well and rest overnight before serving.
Wrapping the bread and letting it rest overnight before eating is a crucial step. The honey works through the loaf, making for a dense, sweet slice.
Full-fat milk is important. A lighter milk, like oat milk or even reduced fat coconut milk, will result in a dry and crumbly loaf. This is much the same as my coconut bread in that the fat content in the milk is integral to the success of the bread – it partially replaces the eggs.
A smaller loaf tin is better here, but a regular one works too. Mine is 9.5 x 22.5cm and it’s perfect here. When tested in my larger tin it’s still good, but doesn’t look quite as nice.
This makes a wonderful gift if you feel like dropping a food gift on someone’s doorstep. Wrapped up in a pretty tea towel or beeswax wrap for an eco-friendly double gift – reusable fabric as wrapping paper, tea towel plus homemade treat.
How to Store
Storage: wrapped well, the loaf will keep for about a week in a cool place (refrigerate if needed). You can also keep it in a sealed container.
Freezing: place the cooled loaf or individual slices in an airtight container. Freeze for up to six months.
- Rest overnight: this is a key step to the recipe. It’s better to wrap the bread in something like beeswax wrap than simply placing in an airtight container, so that the honey doesn’t evaporate (less air contact is good).
- Use beeswax wraps: and on that note, there’s no need for disposable plastic wrap here. Something like a wax wrap works very well and can be reused again and again – you can also make your own.
- Don’t over mix: this recipe is lower in gluten, so it’s even more important not to over mix the batter. If stirred too long, the resulting loaf will be tough.
More Recipes with Honey
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- 225 grams light spelt flour
- 70 grams rye flour*
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ½ teaspoon fresh ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon vanilla powder 1 teaspoon extract
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves optional
- ¼ teaspoon sea salt
- 400 ml canned coconut milk
- 120 grams honey
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- Zest of an orange
- 2 tablespoons orange juice 1/2 an orange
- Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F) and grease or line a smaller baking tin (mine is 22.5×9.5cm or 9×3 1/4 in.).
- In a large bowl, whisk together the spelt flour, rye flour, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, vanilla (if powder), cloves, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Set aside.
- In another bowl, whisk the coconut milk, honey, oil, orange juice, and orange zest. If using vanilla extract, add it as well. If your coconut milk is on the harder side, you may want to blend instead – I used an immersion blender. This will likely curdle but that’s fine.
- Add the coconut milk mixture to the large bowl and use a wooden spoon to mix until just combined. Don’t over mix.
- Spoon the batter into the prepared baking tin and bake for 50-55 minutes, or until golden in colour and a skewer inserted in the centre of the loaf comes out clean.
- Leave the loaf in the tin for ten minutes before removing to cool fully on a rack. Cool completely before wrapping in beeswax wrap or placing it into an airtight container to rest overnight.
- The following day, slice and serve. This loaf will keep for about a week in a cool place, stored in an airtight container, and freezes well.
This post was originally published in December 2014. It has been updated with slight changes to the recipe, new text, and new photographs, as of December 2020.