Pain d’Epices (French spiced bread) is a lightly spiced quick bread that’s perfect as morning toast or a light afternoon snack!
French recipes just sound fancy, right? I seriously think I could live in a French pastry shop. Just put me on a cot in the corner, and I can take it from there. From mille-feuille (i.e. French Napoleon) to éclairs, the French know how to bake! And Pain d’Epices is another one to add to the list of amazing French treats. Pain d’Epices literally translates into ‘spiced bread,’ and it makes for a wonderful breakfast or mid-afternoon snack.
Laura and I stumbled across Pain d’Epices on our Viking river cruise down the Rhine River this past summer, and we were immediately hooked. To set the stage, we were wandering through the small French town of Strasbourg. There was a light rain falling, and we were ducking along from shop window to shop window trying to stay dry. Our guide stopped outside of a small bakery and commented that they made the best gingerbread in town. She didn’t have to tell me twice! I circled the spot on my city map, and we made our way back on our own after the tour. I needed some gingerbread!
But here’s the thing about Pain d’Epices. It’s actually not really gingerbread at all. Or at least it’s not the classic gingerbread cake like we know here in the States. Pain d’Epices is a spiced quick bread, but the spices are mild. The bread is spiced just enough to make you keep going back for more without being over-the-top in the spice department. And unlike many other quick breads, you’ll notice that this one is relatively light in the butter/oil department, too. As a result, this bread stores quite well. In fact, we’ve stored it at room temperature in a plastic bag for well over a week. I guess you could call Pain d’Epices a cross between quick bread and standard bread in that regard. Either way, it’s a treat that we really enjoy quite a bit!
Small loaves and slices of Pain d’Epices are found all over Strasbourg. From bakeries to honey shops, it’s difficult to walk down a street without finding some of this wonderful spiced bread. (For the record, Laura and I brought a huge bag of Pain d’Epices back in our suitcase…you know, in case we got hungry on the plane or something. The bakery we visited made 7 different varieties of Pain d’Epices, and it was so hard to pick which one to get!)
Honey is the only sweetener used in this spiced bread which is why slices and loaves are also sold in honey shops all over Strasbourg. In keeping with Strasbourg tradition, I’ve included a bit of cinnamon in this Pain d’Epices, too. I mean cinnamon is one of my favorite spices, so that was a no-brainer for me!
Laura and I both found Strasbourg to be one of our favorite cities of the entire trip down the Rhine. Perhaps it was because we had quite a bit of time to explore this town on our own, so we wandered off of the main tourist area into the back roads of town. We discovered a number of amazing shops, and Laura even stumbled across an ice cream vendor selling passion fruit sorbet. Delicious! (On a side note, why isn’t passion fruit more common here in the States? It needs to be!)
Aside from the wonderful bakeries and shops that we discovered in Strasbourg, it’s worth noting the colorful architecture of the houses. Not only were the homes bright and colorful, but most had gorgeous flowers out front. And like most older European cities, Strasbourg lends itself to exploring on foot down a the spiderweb of narrow streets and cobblestone alleys.
One of the most unique things about Strasbourg is the fact that a large number of storks spend their summers in this region of France. Yes, storks. Like the ones that dropped Robbie off on our doorstep a couple years ago. Have you ever seen a stork’s nest? It’s huge! Like almost unbelievable huge. These nests look like something that Big Bird would curl up in! And not only that, but the storks build these nests on church steeples, rooftops and telephone poles all over town. The nests literally look like a big wind would send them toppling over. If for no other reason, Strasbourg is worth a visit just to see the storks!
Oh, and one other notable feature of Strasbourg is the astronomical clock located inside the Cathedral Notre-Dame. Like most European cathedrals, the Cathedral Notre-Dame (not to be confused with Notre Dame de Paris) is impressive. The gothic style church was actually the tallest building in the world for about 225 years, and it still ranks as the 6th tallest church in the world. But one of the most unique features of this church is actually located inside.
This fully-mechanical clock not only keeps the time, but it also keeps track of the day, the month, the year, the sign of the zodiac, the phase of the moon, the position of planets, leap years, and equinoxes. How incredible is that! And what’s more, the clock also shows a depiction of the stages of life. Figures representing a child, a teenager, an adult and an old man all “walk” (remember the clock is fully automated) past the Grim Reaper over the course of time. On another level, the 12 apostles walk in front of Jesus each day at precisely 12:30pm. When Peter passes, a cock crows three times in keeping with the Biblical story. I seriously could have just stood and watched this clock in action for an entire afternoon! (It’s worth noting that the clock takes up a full wall in the corner of the cathedral.)
Have I convinced you to visit Strasbourg yet? It really is an amazing town, and making this loaf of Pain d’Epices gave us a chance to sit back and relive those memories. I’m half-convinced that the best part of a good vacation are the memories that you bring home with you! As we head into the holiday baking season, do add a loaf of Pain d’Epices to your baking list. It’s not overly spiced, but it will definitely have you coming back for more…especially when you toast it lightly with a bit of butter. Oh, and your house will smell amazing while this loaf bakes! Enjoy!
This post was inspired by our Viking River Cruise down the Rhine River. Click below for other posts inspired by this trip!
Day 6: Strasbourg, France (Pain d’Epices)
Day 7: Black Forest, Germany (Black Forest Cake)