RECIPE: Honey Ginger Spice Bread is perfect twist on French gingerbread

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Mama pulls out her candy thermometer for Christmas almost as soon as the Thanksgiving dishes are done. My grandparents started baking fruitcakes to enjoy and give as gifts long before Thanksgiving, carefully tucking each one, swaddled in bourbon-drenched cheesecloth, tightly in a tin. To this day, my Novembers and Decembers are filled with shimmering butter cookies; tea cakes dusted in powdered sugar; tottering shaggy coconut layer cakes; and tins of aggressively crunchy peanut brittle. The holidays mean giving and getting, making and baking a wide array of homemade sweets.

There’s nothing like receiving a homemade baked good, especially during the holidays. One of my favorite treats for gift-giving is Honey Ginger Spice Bread, based on a classic French gingerbread called pain d’épices I learned while living in Burgundy, France.

With a toothsome crust and a sturdy, dense crumb, it is often sold in loaves or squares cut from giant planks in the village markets. Both the classic recipe and my adaptation are somewhere between bread and cake. With honey as a leading ingredient, it’s not as sugary as most American desserts. It’s also fruitcake-like with the touch of candied ginger, without actually being the lamented boozy brick many folks abhor.

We don’t often think of exotic spices when we think of French food, but for centuries, the wealthy Dukes of Burgundy controlled part of the spice trade of Europe.

In France, pain d’épices is available year-round, but I prefer it as a change of pace for the holidays. This recipe makes two loaves, one for keeping and one for giving — or a nice double recipe if you want to share both loaves. Sliced, toasted and topped with butter or jam, it works as a simple breakfast. It’s also wonderful with a cup of hot tea, or warmed and topped with a dollop of whipped cream or a scoop of ice cream for a simple but stunning dessert.

The classic recipe for pain d’épices is traditionally baked at a low temperature for several hours. I’ve adapted my recipe for Honey Ginger Spice Bread to bake as a quick bread in less time at a higher temperature – perhaps my own compromise to instant gratitude.

Virginia Willis is an Atlanta-based Food Network Kitchen chef, James Beard Award-winning food writer and author of seven cookbooks. Follow her at

Credit: Virginia Willis

Credit: Virginia Willis

Honey Ginger Spice Bread

The large quantity of honey in this recipe requires attention to the type of baking pan. I prefer a light-colored aluminum pan. If you are using glass, it can take longer to heat up, so prepare for a longer baking time and cover the loaves toward the end of baking. Lastly, if you are using a dark baking pan, reduce the temperature to 325 degrees because a dark metal pan absorbs and distributes heat more quickly and thoroughly than a lighter-colored pan.

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