Sunday, 18 April 2010

That's what little boys are made of ...

Not all those ghastly things like puppy-dog tails, give 'em a chance and it'll be spice cake and other things nice. Karen kind of beat me to the gun on this one, as I promise I really did have it in mind to put up the recipe I use for pain d'épices, and out of sheer spite (I can be very petty) I'm going to do it anyway. And as I was up in Beaujolais on Saturday, delivering sewing tables to Margo and, incidentally, buying a few bottles of wine, I didn't actually have the occasion to head off for brunch with Sophie so I could not, in all honesty, tell you about that instead even if I weren't being bitchy.

So here goes with Gaston Lenôtre's pain d'épices gâtinais. The gâtinais is a region of France (extreme northern end of Burgundy, unless I'm mistaken - you can always check it up on Wikifibs if you want to) which is - at least within its borders - renowned for its honey. Which is a major ingredient in this cake. So go get some, I'll wait.

Whatever, you are going to need the following:
  • 200gm honey
  • 125gm sugar
  • 80 gm butter
  • 20cl water
  • peel of 1 lemon and 1 orange
  • 2tsp anis seeds
  • 50gm slivered almonds
  • 280gm flour (plain or rye, it's up to you)
  • 2tbsp baking powder
If you have problems getting hold of anis seeds, you could always try grinding up some star anise in a spice grinder (I use the little Braun electric coffee grinder we bought yonks back, when we still used to buy coffee beans; these days it's reserved for spices and does a really good job): it should make a good substitute.

You'll also need a square cake tin, which you should carefully line with parchment paper. If you don't you may have a few problems getting the cake out in one piece, which would be a shame now, wouldn't it?

Anyway, the first thing you need to do is melt the butter, honey and sugar with the water: in a saucepan if you really insist but I can't see any reason not to give it a quick zap in the microwave. Now mix the flour and baking powder in a bowl and slowly beat in the liquid: when that's all incorporated, add the finely chopped peels, the almonds and the anis, and beat all that in as well until well mixed. Especially if you're using rye flour, you may need to add more: the dough shouldn't be too disgustingly runny.

Now pour the lot into the lined tin and stick it in the oven at 200°C for half an hour, then lower the temperature to 175° and let it cook for up to another hour. Watch it: if it starts looking as though it's going to go too brown, stick a sheet of tinfoil over the top.

Remove when cooked and let it cool in the tin overnight, then turn it out and either eat it or, if you have any self-control at all, wrap it in tinfoil and let it sit in the fridge for two or three days: the flavours mix and improve with time, and it also settles and is easier to cut. It's true, I promise. Sliced and buttered, it makes a lovely breakfast: alternatively, you could pair it with some fig jam and a slice of foie gras pôelé for an entrée.

But right now I'm going to don the Armour of Righteousness and the Cod-piece of Profusion, fire up the lawnmower and do battle with the green stuff in the paddock. Wish me luck.

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