Honey and Spice

This Fall I decided to try some raw and unprocessed honey from Stagecoach Orchard Apiary, who sells from time at my farmer's market.

On one sunny, Saturday morning in November, I stood at a table with other shoppers, some of whom I know, and with a little plastic spoon, tasted various types of thick dark and light honey. I purchased a jar each of wildflower and goldenrod.

I have since been back to buy larger jars of each. I'm not sure I have ever had raw, unfiltered honey before, and now I'm not sure I would choose anything else. I need to use my honey sparingly now because the beekeeper won't be back at market until Spring.

I wanted to find a recipe where this special honey would really count. I chose a Pain d'Epices from a book about gingerbread that Mr. Savory gave me last Christmas. The author is from the area, which makes this a more thoroughly local experience. I am enjoying this book so much, and I plan on sharing more of what I try with you soon.

Pain d'Epices is a Burgundian bread-like cake featuring orange, anise and honey. Traditionally, it was naturally-leavened and made with rye flour. There seem to be endless variations.

This bread smells like gingerbread, has a noticeable anise flavor and is spongy and light in texture. I probably don't need to tell you how the house smelled like Christmas and Winter while this was baking.

The batter rests overnight in the refrigerator, so you need to plan ahead if you are thinking of making this.

Pain d'Epices
adapted from Gingerbread

1 cup whole milk
1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
3/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 3/4 cup raw wildflower honey, or honey of your choice
4 cups all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon whole aniseed
1 teaspoon ground ginger
3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Grated zest of 1 orange
2 large egg yolks
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier, Cointreau or other orange-flavored liqueur (I used orange juice instead)

Stir together the milk, orange juice, brown sugar, and honey in a small saucepan. Cook over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the sugar has melted and the mixture is smooth. Remove from the heat and cool to room temperature.

Meanwhile, combine the flour, salt, aniseed, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, orange zest in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Increase the mixing speed to medium-low. Pour the cooled sugar mixture in a slow, steady stream into the flour mixture, beating to form a smooth batter, about 1 minute. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside to rest in a cool area or in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours or overnight.

Position a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 250 degrees. Butter two loaf pans.

Lightly whisk together the egg yolks, baking soda, and Grand Marnier in a small bowl. Return the bowl of rested batter to the mixer fitted, again, with the paddle attachment. Begin beating the batter on medium speed and add the egg mixture, beating until smooth and stopping at least once to scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl. The batter will be quite thick and sticky.

Divide the batter between the prepared pans. Cover loosely with buttered aluminum foil or parchment paper and bake for 30 minutes. Remove the foil and continue baking for about 1 1/2 hours, or until the loaves are deep golden brown and a skewer inserted in the centers comes out clean. Set the breads on a wire rack to cool completely in the pans.

To serve, cut the bread into slices, using a serrated knife, and spread with butter and or jam, if desired. Store the loaves wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 4 days at room temperature, in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks, or in the freezer for up to 3 months.