All over northern Europe, people once seemed to make celebration biscuits and cookies of gingerbread at the drop of a festive hat. Each town had its own shape, its own recipe, its trademark.
Gingerbread men are still a happy feature on Dutch, German, and British tables, but not something you expect to see in France where the spiced bread pain d’épice has carried the standard of honeyed sweetness coupled with the bite and zest of spices: always symbols of extravagance and celebration.
It was perhaps a speciality of the north and east of the country; and each city, as elsewhere, had its own particular set of ingredients and favoured combinations.
Some pains d’épice are heavy with chopped candied peel and flaked almonds, but this particular recipe is more even in texture, though the aromas in the kitchen as it cooks are heady and intoxicating.
I have used wholemeal rye flour because the texture seems to gain from a little grittiness.
Although rye is the customary grain, it is quite possible to substitute wheat and, in this case, you don’t need to wait a couple of days before eating it.
© 2005 Tom Jaine. All rights reserved.