There is something inherently happy about spices, don't you think? They are as old as time itself (nothing faddish about them); because of their medicinal value, most of them are considered beneficial; and finally they are wickedly delicious (the expression "to spice up your life" says it all). In other words, they offer the perfect paradigm for a New Year's resolution by making it easier to eat well.
Pain d'épice in France is traditionally made with rye. Carole (Alter Gusto's owner) used chestnut flour (which she had in abundance) because she couldn't find any rye flour. I had wholegrain rye flour and that's what I used (I have yet to find a good chestnut flour in the US). Also traditionally pain d'épice is made without fat or eggs and this one is no exception. Which is a huge plus in my book.
Pain d'épice is customarily sweetened with honey and here a word of caution seems appropriate. According to this article in Food Safety News, some of the honey sold in the US isn't honey at all and many of the big chain stores we'd think we could trust actually peddle junk under the honey label.
Ingredients: (the recipe was slightly modified to take into account the greater absorption capacity of the American flours compared to the French ones. I also added salt).
- 160 g whole grain rye flour
- 80 g unbleached all-purpose flour
- 70 g almond paste (make sure almonds are listed as the first ingredient on the label)
- 10 g baking powder
- 40 g powdered milk (I had none and used whole milk instead to supplement the orange juice)
- 2 untreated oranges
- 160 g honey
- 4.5 g of ground ginger (2 teaspoons)
- 1.2 g ground cardamom (1/2 teaspoon)
- 3 cloves
- .6 g grated nutmeg (1/4 teaspoon)
- 1 pinch of salt
- a handful of roughly chopped almonds (optional)
- Wash and dry the oranges. Grate the zest of one of them and set it aside
- Squeeze the juice out of both oranges. Add enough milk (or water if using powdered milk) to obtain 200 g of liquid
- In a saucepan, heat the honey, the blend of juice and milk (or water), and all the spices. Mix until honey is well incorporated and the liquid hot. Remove from heat. Let stand for 30 minutes then drain out the spices
- Pre-heat the oven to 350°F
- In a food processor or a blender, mix flours, almond paste and orange zest until powdered. Transfer to a bowl. Add powdered milk (if using) and baking powder. Blend well
- Drain the orange juice infusion. Stir the liquid into the dry ingredients until just well combined. Do not overwork
- Divide into mini-molds or pour into a bread pan
- Garnish with chopped or sliced almonds if desired
- Bake for about 30 minutes (a bit longer if using a single large pan)
- Cool on a rack.
Happy New Year everyone!