Julia Child's Recipes. My Kitchen.

Follow along as I cook from volumes 1 and 2 of the culinary classic - with a modern makeover.

French Spice Cake {Pain d'epices}

Thursday, October 29, 2009

If you happen to be the kind of person who enjoys planning life out in advance, you're in luck - this recipe is for you!

Here we are a good month away from the start of December and all the hubbub that comes with it. And guess what? Today would be the perfect day to make a fruitcake to age over the next month or so, just in time for holiday cheer.

Just so you know, I am neither much of a planner or a lover of fruitcake, but Julia Child's Spice Cake made me happy. It's not too sweet; in fact, the cake appears in the index of Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2, as "spice bread" and "honey bread" in addition to Spice Cake, which calls to mind something more of a snack cake or quick bread rather than a rich dessert. The batter lacks both eggs and fat, depending only on baking soda for leavening. It works - the cake puffs up rather dramatically in the oven.

The thing I usually detest about fruitcakes are those psychedelically-colored, sticky-sweet fruit chunks in it. I can never tell if they're pieces of actual fruit or just chopped-up Gummy Bears.

The recipe in MTAOFC calls for glacéed fruit - what I imagine as moist orange, lemon and citron peel - or the dreaded "fruit cake mix". Since I run away screaming from the latter and I didn't have any actual French glace fruits in the house, I substituted apricots and golden raisins and added a good amount of fresh orange rind.

In addition, Julia calls for rye flour, which I switched for whole wheat pastry flour; it's more readily available and the bit of extra wheat bran it has lends some texture and flavor. That said, I don't see why you couldn't use regular all-purpose flour if that's all you have.

It didn't turn out to be much of a fruitcake after all, but a more like the "Old World gingerbread" that the authors {one being dessert mistress Simone Beck} describe in the recipe preface, made all over France using many different methods and ingredients, depending on the region.

Maybe that's why I liked it so much; that and also that while the cake baked the house smelled amazing! I felt like a hungry mouse nestled inside a gingerbread cottage.

I would be interested to know how the cake improves, if, as per Julia's suggestion, a person kept it wrapped up tightly for a few weeks before serving, instead of doing what I did - sliced into it as soon as it was cool. If one of you dear readers attempt the recipe, please let me know how you like the cake after you've kept it a month or so.

My cake didn’t last a week on the counter, but it tasted delicious with a blob of lightly sweetened vanilla whipped cream on top.
French Spice Cake
{Pain d'epices}

Printable recipe here

  • 1¼ cups honey
  • 1 cup light brown sugar
  • ¾ cup boiling water
  • 1 tablespoon baking soda
  • ½ teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 3 ½ cups whole wheat pastry flour {unbleached all-purpose will work fine, too}
  • ½ cup almond flour *
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • ¼ cup dark rum, such as Myers’s
  • ½ teaspoon EACH ground cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg
  • ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper {optional}
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange or lemon peel
  • ½ cup moist apricots, chopped
  • ½ cup golden raisins
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

Generously butter bottom and sides of a 9-inch springform pan or a 10-inch loaf pan {8 cup capacity}.

Beat the honey, sugar and water in the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer with the paddle attachment. When the sugar is dissolved, beat in the baking soda and salt. Add half the flour and beat about a minute.

Gradually add the remaining flour and continue to beat another 2 minutes on medium speed - the batter will be stiff and sticky.

Stop the mixer and add the remaining ingredients to the mixing bowl. Mix on slow speed to incorporate everything.Scrape the batter into the pan; smooth the top with a damp finger or spatula.

Bake on the middle rack for 1 hour – while it bakes, the cake will rise beautifully to fill the pan.

The cake is done when it begins to pull away from the side of the pan and a toothpick inserted in center emerges clean.

Cool the cake on a rack for 15 minutes. If using a springform, release the pan sides; otherwise unmold the cake and place on a rack, top-side up. Cool for about 2 hours or until completely cool, then wrap well in plastic.

Julia recommends waiting at least a day - preferably several - before serving. For the best flavor and texture, age the cake for 2 weeks in the refrigerator or 1 month in the freezer.

Adapted from Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Volume 2 {page 481}

*To make your own almond flour, pulse blanched almonds in a food processor to form fine crumbs


Katie @ goodLife {eats} said...

I can almost smell it! Looks gorgeous too! I love the kind of desserts that make the whole house smell wonderful.

elfinpdx said...

Will there be some of this around when I get there? I hope so!

Post a Comment

Share with me all things Julia! I'm happy to hear from you.