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#ThatTranslatorCanCook week 12: Pain d’épices (French Spiced Loaf)

For this week’s challenge, I made Pain d’épices, a delicious comforting loaf just perfect for this chilly weather.

This is an interesting bake. My source recipe doesn’t contain any butter or oil, but does contain rather a large amount of honey, 250g of it in fact. As the Telegraph puts it: ‘Pain d’épices is the French version of our ginger loaf.’ As the name suggests, it’s spiced, containing an interesting mix of Christmas flavours.


Four spices, or five, or all? Disambiguation of similarly named ingredients

Once again, spices caused me a bit of bother here. As well as green aniseed (which I couldn’t find in my local supermarket), ground nutmeg, cinnamon, and ginger, the ingredients list called for quatre-épices (four spices).

It appears this spice causes a great deal of confusion for French speakers, as the following extract demonstrates. On the one hand, there is the spice blend or mix Mélange Quatre-Épices, while on the other hand, quatre-épices can also refer to one spice on its own. What’s more, according to some, in the four spice blend, there are not four, but actually five spices. But the Mélange Cinq Parfums (five flavours blend), or Cinq-Epices (five spices) is different again.

'Attention toutefois ! Le mélange 4 épices ne doit pas être confondu avec le « quatre-épices » ou « tout épices » aussi appelé « piment de la Jamaïque » ou « bois d’Inde ». Le Piment de la Jamaïque est une épice pure (c’est-à-dire, non mélangée) dont les saveurs se rapprochent du 4 épices, le mélange dont il est question ici. Ces 2 épices ne doivent donc pas être confondues.'

And all of this is before you even start considering the English names for these spices or blends, where they exist.

Working my way through all of this, I decided the only reasonable thing to do was to create a table for this info. You never know, someone else may find it useful.

Mélange Quatre-Épices, Quatre-épices, Cinq-Epices and more: differences and ingredients

*not all sources consulted include this as an ingredient.

According to the ‘Mes épices’ website, the name quatre-épices (the blend) came about due to its similarity in taste to the singular spice quatre-épices ('allspice’):

'Le nom quatre-épices n'est pas issu de sa composition, mais de sa proximité gustative avec le piment de la Jamaïque, plus connu sous le nom de quatre-épices, ou tout-épice.'

It is fascinating how many different names some of these spices have. Perhaps different regions of France, or different Francophone countries all named the spice differently when it reached their shores?


It was a simple recipe, and aside from the spice dilemma, very straightforward. Once cooked, the author advises waiting for 24 hours before eating. I’m not sure why this might be – perhaps to allow the flavours to develop? Or perhaps to ensure a more cakey texture?

Anyway, I did wait, and it was simply delicious - just look at it glistening there, with all that honey!

Next time

I’ve made my favourite French patisserie – keep your eyes peeled and your appetite whetted.

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