Sunday, January 2, 2011

Spice bread

This recipe comes from a cookbook called Crave by Ludo Lefebvre. There were several irresistable things about this cookbook: the name, the author's name, the photos, and the fact that it was supposed to cost $65 but was on for 10 bucks in a remainders bin. Choice! It's a pretty frou-frou cookbook, but has some great recipes if you want to impress people with something off the charts (my only sea urchin recipe is in here, for example). This means of course, that it's a little thin on day-to-day fare. However, I did spy this cool spice bread on the first flip through it (pain d'epices in the book, but I never like the idea of a recipe that starts with "pain"). What prompted me to finally cook it was my neighbour. He stopped by yesterday to wish me a happy New Year, and gave me a piece of Carribean fruit cake. It was SO good that I had to make more of it today. I'll hit them up for their recipe at the next opportunity, but for now, this one will fill the gap (and it rocks, too!).

You need a whole whack of ingredients to pull this off, several of which I didn't have on hand. But have no fear! Wing it! You'll need several spices (2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon, 2 teaspoons of ground star anise, 1 teaspoon of ground nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves, and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cumin), there's also some orange and lemon peel in there (the recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of orange zest and 2 teaspoons of lemon zest: I'm fresh out of both -- damn bourbon sours! -- but I did have some dried peel to substitute), about 1 1/3 cups of mixed nuts (I used almonds and pecans), 1/3 cup of raisins (mine were kind of dry so I soaked them in rum -- smart, eh?), and 1/3 cup of candied fruit (I didn't have any, but did have some currants and dried pears that I used instead). You'll also need some rum, honey, flour, and baking soda. Nice list!

I have a coffee grinder that is devoted to spice duty. Grind the orange and lemon peel (if you use dried) with the cloves, star anise, and cumin. I had some ground cinnamon on hand (grinding it fresh is a pain). By the way, the recipe calls for Ceylon cinnamon which I do happen to have, if you only have the regular one I'd drop it down to 1 teaspoon. I also grind my nutmeg separately in a little nutmeg grinder that looks like a pepper mill.

After all that grinding, you should have a nice pile of spices. Add 1/2 teaspoon of salt to the pile. (You could probably avoid most of the above hassle with a tablespoon or two of Chinese five spice powder, but where's the fun in that?!)

Whisk the spices into 1 1/2 cups of flour.

Then start chopping the nuts and fruit. The currants and raisins were ok as is, but the pears needed some chopping. Take your time with this: you want nice small pieces. Play some tunes, pour a beer, and enjoy the chopping time. (I started soaking the raisins in rum at the start of the recipe, then I dumped them -- rum and all -- into the other fruits so they could all get to know each other.)

Now you need to make a syrup. Mix 1 1/4 cups of water with 3/4 cup of honey and half a cup of sugar in a saucepan. Add two tablespoons of rum too (or, if you're inclined to excess like some people I *cough* know, then scoop out a tablespoon of water and add an extra one of rum). Start heating your oven to 325. Bring they syrup to a boil. Ludo says to do this over high heat, but I know that molten syrup is no friend of the inattentive, so I recommend heat 8 max.

Once your syrup starts to bubble, pour it (careful!) into the flour and spices and mix all that up.

Then work in the fruit. Then the nuts. (You may need to start a new beer by now.)

And finally, add 1 tablespoon of baking soda and mix that in too.

Pour the batter into a greased loaf pan. Then discover that your loaf pan is too small (I have been burned by putting too much batter in a loaf pan before -- not this time, sukka!). So, drag out a muffin tin, grease a couple of the forms, and pour the rest of the batter in there. If you do this, fill the other muffin forms with water. I read once that this helps keep the pan from distorting or blowing up or something. The water can't hurt while baking, so why not? (It does make extracting the muffins a bit of an adventure later, but who can't use more adventure?!)

Pop it all in the oven.

Your muffins should be done in 35 minutes (mine were anyway, and since this is the first time anyone ever made pain d'epices muffins, you'll have to trust me -- or you could check at 20 minutes with a toothpick and go from there). Getting the muffins out of a tray full of water is a trick. Here's the trick. Just do a little twist after you grab, and they come out just fine.

The bread is done after 55 minutes total (or after your toothpick comes out clean) -- i.e. 20 minutes after the muffins come out. Give it 5 minutes to cool in the pan, then turn it out on a wire rack to cool completely before you try to slice it. And guess what? It is smokin'! If you like dark fruitcake, or like to go "WOWZA!" when you eat something, then this should be right up your alley. Personally, I'll take this kind of pain any day.


  1. This looks like it will keep pretty well and will taste even better the day after baking.

  2. Looks incredible, and super fun to make too!! Best line:

    (You MAY need to start a new beer by now.)