Every day from December 1-12, The Connexion will be sharing a French regional Christmas speciality. Today we look at pain d’épices.
What is pain d’épices?
Much like vin chaud (see day 6 article), pain d’épices (gingerbread) dates back to Antiquity. Many variations have been reported across what is now Egypt, Greece, and even China.
The Western world only discovered pain d’épices after the Crusades (15th century). The oldest mention of pain d'épices was in 1296 in Ulm, Germany, according to historical documents. Other later mentions reported it in Munich, Nuremberg, and Augsburg, Germany.
Much like vin chaud - again - gingerbread has spread to locations closest to Germany, which in France is mainly the Alsace region.
The town of Gertwiller (in Bas-Rhin) is considered to be France’s gingerbread capital, with many shops specialised in gingerbread products. There is even a dedicated museum.
The Musée du Pain d’épices brings together 50 years of a collection belonging to the museum owner, Michel Habsiger who also happens to be the director of the Maison Lips, which has been crafting gingerbread since 1806.
Other companies have created similar businesses over the centuries, including the Fortwenger firm, which first opened in 1768, and now has shops all over Alsace.
Many gingerbread takes the shape of a man, in honour of the (slightly macabre) British fairytale ‘The Gingerbread Man’, a tale about a woman baking a gingerbread man who escapes, and ends up being eaten alive by a fox.
The animated film Shrek has also revived the popularity of the gingerbread man, after including a very-much-alive version as a character in the trilogy.
How do you bake pain d’épices?
Michel Dumas, a French chef with 1.13 million subscribers on YouTube, has published a video with his own version of gingerbread.
In terms of spices, you will need one gram of salt, three grams of fennel seeds, and four grams each of the following: baking powder, cinnamon, five spice, and ginger.
You will also need 50 grams of cane sugar.
Blend three eggs and all of the ingredients above with 450 grams of honey, and 150 millilitres of milk. Add 300 grams of flour. Oil a baking pan with butter and sprinkle it with a light covering of flour.
Add the whole mixture into the pan, and put it into the oven at 175C for 30 minutes. Once taken out of the oven, brush over with honey, icing sugar, and some lemon zest
“Super nickel (Super great),” as the chef usually says.