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Pain d’Epices – The Feeling Of Christmas

Pain D'epices

Every where I look right now, it seems that everyone is hands and elbows deep in Christmas baking, truffle rolling and cookie decorating. I wish I could say the same for our household. Every year, I bake, cook and mix Christmas gifts for friends and family. A dozen boxes packed with homemade goodies to eat (cookies, chocolate, cakes) and to drink (extracts, infused liqueurs, etc…). This year, well…I am feeling already behind.

By this time in December, I usually have lists of who is getting what, which cookies need to be made and refrigerated, which ingredients need to be marinated and so on. This year? I have zip. So far… No wait! We did put our Christmas tree up yesterday and decorated the house a little. I love how a few twinkling lights and ornaments can instantly brighten one’s day.


On the baking front, however…Not even a couple of cookie doughs parked in the freezer. No egg whites aging for macarons. Only the infused booze is getting better as days go by since I have nothing to do it…I have motivation. I am just oscillating between being overwhelmed with choices and underwhelmed by my decisions. ugh…

Work has kept me deliciously busy and I am not complaining. I have had the opportunity in the last few weeks and days to shoot for some pretty darn motivated and inspired people. The workshop this past weekend was such a great way to round up all the workshops held so far this year. I was thrilled it was in my town, in a space I really want to support the best I can and with some pretty awesome attendees. You can read more about it on Lauren’s blog, Still + Life.

Pain D'epices

I guess it doesn’t help that my lack of baking is greatly due to the fact that I’m booked on shoots way passed Christmas. I also know that it might me because my mind has been preoccupied with family issues back home. My parents had to cancel their trip to Charleston for the holidays. They need to be home right now and they need every bit of moral support.

We call and email everyday and are forced to revisit memories and stories. It’s bittersweet but it’s also very heart warming on the eve of a lot of celebrating and gathering. It’s our way of keeping together across the miles. Of course, the conversations turn to food at some point or another. We go down memory lane with holiday meals and treats we shared throughout the years. Came one or fifty, there was always good food going around the table.

Pain D'epices

One scent that brings me home everytime, even so far away, is the spice mix used in the traditional "pain d’epices". A blend of cinnamon, cardamom, clove, star anise, black pepper, orange and lemon peel. You can find the mix already blended and ground in most good epiceries but it’s not that complicated to make yourself. There are as many ways to blend it as there are regions of France.

While the components are the same, the proportions may vary. What I love about this spice blend is that is lends itself to so many preparations, well beyond Christmas. A little dash in rice pudding. A sprinkle over fish and roasted vegetables. A little bit in a potato gratin…I could go on and on about the versatility of using these spices from sweet to savory.


This week it was waking up to the promise of a little pain d’epices for breakfast was the best therapy. The scent of childhood and story telling time spent listening to my grandfather’s stories for hours. The texture of velvety Christmas morning spent playing quietly in our room with the presents Santa had brought that night. All wrapped up within the smooth spiced sugar coating the pain d’epices.

Every morning it connected me to my loved ones a little. That scent evokes my family, the time spent together baking and getting goodie packages together. It reminded me that beyond what I was feeling or how busy I’d be until Christmas day, that there were good reasons to push through and get my baking lists pinned down and to get to it. One specifically: making people happy.

Pain D'epices

What are your favorite treats to give throughout the holiday season? Please, share a recipe if you have one!

Pain D’Epices:adapted from Saveurs France, December 2011.

Makes 12 mini cakes

For the spice mix:
equal parts in ounces or grams (I usually go by 30 grams of each & refrigerate)
star anise
black peppercorns
dried lemon peel
dried orange peel

Place the cinnamon, cardamom seeds and the rest of the ingredients in a coffee grinder and process until finely ground.

For the cakes:
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup packed dark brown sugar
3/4 cup milk
1 cup Jeanne’s gluten free all purpose flour mix or regular flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon spice mix for Pain d’epices
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, kept cold
1 large egg

Sugar coating:
equal parts sugar and equals spice mix stirred together well.

Preheat the oven to 350F and position a rack in the middle. Butter 12 mini bundt cake pans or other of your choice.
In a small saucepan set over medium heat, stir together the honey, dark brown sugar and milk until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and reserve.
In a food processor or with a pastry blender, combine the flour, baking powder, spice mix, and unsalted butter until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Whisk the egg into the cooled milk mixture and add it to the flour mix. Pulse a couple of times until the mixture is smooth. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared molds and coo 20 to 25 minutes or until a knife inserted in the middle comes out free of crumbs. Let the cakes cool completely before rolling them in the sugar coating.

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Jessica December 15, 2011 um 5:59 am

I'm sorry your parents won't be able to come for the holidays this year. I know how hard that can be.

I hope you find your holiday baking spirit soon girl!

Maja December 15, 2011 um 7:24 am

Looks georgeous Helen!

Shoutforfood December 15, 2011 um 9:04 am

What mouth watering pictures you have here! I am off to check out the recipe… can't wait!!!

Joanne December 15, 2011 um 9:47 am

Dear Helene, I just want to take a moment to thank you for your wonderful blog. I've been reading it for years now and always look forward to your tales and beautiful photographs. The last nine months it has been a particularly great escape for me, as my younger brother suffered from cancer. He died in November aged 22 and I am just getting back to reading blogs again now. My thoughts are with you and your family. I hope things get better.

Lorna December 15, 2011 um 12:04 pm

These are incredible! Would it work as one larger ring cake do you think? I don't have small tins…

Helene December 15, 2011 um 12:25 pm

Lorna: I am thinking it would. Even in a loaf pan or plain 9-inch round. Not sure how high it would get in a regular sized bundt cake. You can even use mufffin tins.

Florence A. December 15, 2011 um 12:25 pm

Those little cakes are beautiful, I can almost smell them behind my screen!
I hope the news from France will soon get better and better, and that the end of 2011 will remain a source of celebrations for you and your loved ones.

Amy December 15, 2011 um 1:11 pm

These are lovely, and how wonderful that they are gluten free! They sound delicious as well with all of the spices and flavors!

Averie @ Love Veggies and Yoga December 15, 2011 um 1:11 pm

these little cakes look adorable and delish…and the lighting on them is just so…Christmas-ey and Christmas Eve-ish. Makes me want to leave a plate of them out for Santa 🙂

Rachel Willen December 15, 2011 um 1:13 pm

Thanks for the GF baking mix from Jeanne! I am going to try this…gluten intolerant myself…but have never found an acceptable substitute for wheat flour. And the Pain D'espice looks beautiful. They would perfectly grace a Christmas morning brunch table…

Sofie Dittmann/The German Foodie December 15, 2011 um 1:18 pm

Changed Christmas plans must be hard, especially w/ health issues etc….. Those little cakes look divine, tho.

argone December 15, 2011 um 1:20 pm

Tes petits pains d'épices sont ravissants ! quelle jolie forme !

Vicki Bensinger December 15, 2011 um 1:23 pm

It's so incredible when you've worked so hard to create an imagine and then everyone wants to use your services. You're a lucky gal. However it's difficult as well when the holidays come and you can't do the things you're use to doing with family.

I hope you're able to spend time this holiday with your family instead of shooting photos for others. When all is said and done family is most important. Try to enjoy the holidays with the ones you love.

By the way your little treats look wonderful as always.

Happy Holidays!

Anonymous December 15, 2011 um 1:25 pm

Like you, I feel completely behind on my Christmas baking, and also because of work – there just isn't enough time in the day to make all the delicious treats I want, let alone package, photograph and write about them! However this weekend I'm planning some baking – I'll be making candy cane macarons (similar to the ones you've made previously), walnut & honey pastry pies and little christmas cookies. Your pain d'epices look absolutely beautiful, and the dusting of sugar makes them feel very christmassy 🙂

Unknown December 15, 2011 um 1:33 pm

I would definitely like to try these adorable little cakes. Even the name sounds so pretty. I'm sorry that you will be separated from your family as they are dealing with health crisis. We had a shuffle around kind of holiday plans as well. If we lived closer, I'd have you and your husband over in a heartbeat! Take it easy

valérie December 15, 2011 um 1:41 pm

Ils sont super appétissant
Je te souhaite uine bonne après midi


Schokozwerg December 15, 2011 um 1:50 pm

Merci pour ta recette à la francaise, elle va completter ma collection de pains d'epices (allemands) parfaitement 🙂 Je n'ai qu'une problème avec les poids et volumes américains. Ce sont combien de grammes et millilitres?

Mercedes December 15, 2011 um 2:37 pm

These look beautiful and delicious! I feel behind as well! Can you ever feel caught up in December??

Violets and Cardamom December 15, 2011 um 4:00 pm

These look so lovely and tasty!

Lauren December 15, 2011 um 4:26 pm

When my mom comes on Sunday, the baking commences! I'm scared to stir foot without her! We have traditional cookies that I am anxiously awaiting because it seems that no matter how much decorating I do, Christmas hasn't really begun until the house smells of baking. Our stand-by are rich roll cookies from a Joy of Cooking that is so old it's split down the middle and pages are missing.

This year, in honor of one of my grandmother's, I want to make sandtarts.

Thank you so much for linking to! The workshop is still resonating with me; I can't wait to do it again.

The Devil's Food Advocate December 15, 2011 um 4:36 pm

This comment has been removed by the author.

la domestique December 15, 2011 um 4:53 pm

Lovely post! I struggle with feeling overwhelmed all the time- too many ideas can paralyze me, especially this time of year. I try to slow down and decide to do 1 thing (like bake cookies) the next day. It seems like the holiday season often flies by before we can enjoy it. This week at my blog I made a wonderful Martha Stewart recipe for fig bread that always gets me in the Christmas spirit. Take care!

Veronica December 15, 2011 um 4:53 pm

This is a recipe that I have to make several times over the holidays. It was the first recipe that I converted to gluten free.


2 cups flour mix
½ tsp xanthan gum
¼ tsp each salt, baking soda, and baking powder
1 Tbsp powdered or granulated instant coffee
½ cup butter, softened
¼ cup shortening
½ cup each granulated sugar and firmly packed brown sugar
1 ½ tsp vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
3 Tbsp (approx) granulated sugar
¼ cup (approx) coffee bean-shaped chocolate candies **

1. In a bowl stir together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and instant coffee to blend thoroughly; set aside. Preheat oven to 375 F
2. In a mixing bowl, combine butter and shortening: beat until fluffy. Add sugars and beat until well blended. Beat in vanilla, then egg yolk. Gradually add flour mixture, beating until just well combined.
3. Shape dough into 1-inch balls. Place about 2 inches apart on an ungreased baking sheets. Dip a flat bottomed glass in granulated sugar (grease the glass so the sugar sticks but only for the first one) and use it to flatten each cookie to a thickness of about ¼ inch. In the centre of each cookie, place a coffee bean candy.
4. Bake until cookies are golden brown and feel firm when touched lightly (10 to 12 minutes). Let stand on baking sheets for 1 to 2 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool.

Makes about 3 dozen 3-inch cookies

** I can find these at my local greek store (and I found them in the Netherlands) but if you can’t find them just drizzle with a nice bittersweet chocolate

Sophisticated Stationery December 15, 2011 um 5:05 pm

Those look absolutely delicious!

Anonymous December 15, 2011 um 5:10 pm

Pictures are amazing also to your spice mix! It's interesting the black peppercorn, I haven't used it yet.

Shelby December 15, 2011 um 7:50 pm

What a lovely post of looking on the bright side of things… Here's wishing you and your family a lovely holiday filled with love, laughter, good food & company!

jacqui December 15, 2011 um 10:06 pm

I know what you mean, I've been so busy with work too that I haven't baked a single thing yet and Christmas is practically a week away! I need to make it happen soon!

Helene December 16, 2011 um 12:40 am

Sarah: thank you dear! We do have my husband's family here in town so we won't be alone for Christmas. Would have been nicer with my parents 🙂

Thanks everyone!

Ilke December 16, 2011 um 3:03 am

Hope everyone is doing ok and there is not a serious health issue.

It seems to be the story this December, everyone I know, including myself is late to decorate, shop or put the tree up. I feel tiredness all around. Hope you catch your breath during holidays.

My favorite cookie so far to give to the people around me has been this hazelnut cookies. Hazelnut is my most favorite among nuts.

1 stick of butter (4 oz)
150 gr (~3/4 cup) of sugar
150 gr (~1 – 1/4 cup) of toasted, peeled, ground hazelnut
125 gr (~ 3/4 cup) of all-purpose flour
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt

Beat sugar and butter well, then add the rest. Make small balls and bake at 300 degree until done, maybe 20-25 min or so. Let it cool.
If I feel fancy and festive, sometimes I dip them in chocolate half way.

Modern Cupcake {Jill} December 16, 2011 um 4:58 am

These cakes are so decadent & lovely! Thank you for sharing! I will return with a link to an upcoming blog post. I will be sharing my cranberry pastry.

Honey for Jam December 16, 2011 um 11:10 am

These look gorgeous! I bet they taste amazing!

Unknown December 16, 2011 um 5:13 pm

Those look adorable. I love the sugar/spice coating!

Daisy@Nevertoosweet December 16, 2011 um 5:39 pm

These are so cute and dainty hehe

Hmmm my favourite xmas treats would have to be gingerbread men 🙂

Lovely recipe!!!

Amanda December 16, 2011 um 6:28 pm

These look absolutely lovely. I love the combination of spices, so comforting. Despite being apart from family at Christmas, I hope it is still wonderful for you Helene.

Sneh Roy| Cook Republic December 17, 2011 um 10:51 am

What delightful little beauties these cakes are. I have only baked a jar of cookies so far but my boys and me have planned to bake an army of ninjabread men this week. Wish you and yours a beautiful Christmas Helene!

Gen December 17, 2011 um 10:59 am

Hum le pain d'épices maison! Le parfum doit embaumer la maison!

Aude December 17, 2011 um 7:11 pm

Ces photos sont très belles et me donnent bien envie de changer de recette pour mes pains d'épices cette année! Merci!
Par contre, j'ai toujours un problème quand je vois "cup" dans une recette: pouvez-vous me dire à quelle taille cela correspond?

Helene December 17, 2011 um 11:54 pm

For grams to cup and cup to grams measurement conversions, please refer to
The site has all the resources, foods and measurements imaginable.

Thanks everyone!

Stephke December 18, 2011 um 11:07 am

Looks absolutely delicious!!! I love pain d'épices!!!

Baker Bettie December 19, 2011 um 2:54 am

These are gorgeous! The spice mixture sounds amazing. LOVE cardamom and anise!

Happy Holidays!

Meg@thelegaltart December 19, 2011 um 10:16 am

They look and sound beautiful. I love christmas recipes and traditions we have a few of them.

Vanessa December 19, 2011 um 12:10 pm

These are getting me so excited for christmas. Gorgeous, as always! <3

Sara December 19, 2011 um 9:10 pm

sounds great!

Parisbreakfasts December 19, 2011 um 10:40 pm

Bon chance with your famille Helene.
Thank you for a year of luscious temptations
I could make something it would be marshmallows..

The Whimsical Wife December 20, 2011 um 3:21 am

I am in the same boat with being behind in my baking…. I have decided just to sit back and relax this year! No point stressing about what I can't do! Love these little delicious morsels you have made! Yum

My best christmas recipe would be my Christmas Fruit & Nut Bread:

Christmas Fruit & Nut Bread

3 egg whites
½ cup sugar
½ cup plain flour
½ cup spelt flour (* Can substitute with plain flour)
300g dried fruit & nuts
*I used a combination of cranberries, diced apricots, whole almonds, pistachios and walnuts)


Preheat oven to 180 C and grease and line a loaf tin.
Beat the egg whites with an electric beater until soft peaks form. Add the sugar gradually and beat until dissolved and firm peaks form in the meringue mixture and it becomes thick and glossy.
Fold in the sifted flours and mixture of fruit and nuts to the meringue mixture. Spread mixture into greased loaf tin and bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown. Let the loaf cool in tin and then remove and wrap in a clean tea towel for a couple of hours to cool completely.
Using an electric knife cut into very thin slices. Place slices onto a lined baking tray in a single layer and bake at 150 C for 30-35 minutes or until dry and crisp. You will need to keep an eye on these biscuits so that the dried fruit does not burn.

Optional serving options: Drizzle slices with melted white or dark chocolate for a more decadent biscuit.

Fruit & Nut Bread will keep for at least a month in an airtight container.

More details & photos here:

Merry Christmas!

notyet100 December 20, 2011 um 2:59 pm

Bookmarking this,,,for this season,.

Geisslein December 22, 2011 um 1:05 pm

huuhhh, I´m hungry now… :o/
these are looking SO YUMMY! :o)

Jillian@TheHumbleGourmet December 28, 2011 um 5:44 pm

I have made the same cranberry/orange bread for my dad every Christmas for about 15 years. Basically just cranberry and orange zest finely minced and spread over basic white bread dough with sugar, cinnamon and allspice. It's rolled like a jelly roll, folded in half then cut and opened to resemble a heart. Toasted pecans and an orange glaze finish it off. Delicious and simple and completely fitting of the season.

Antonina January 8, 2012 um 11:32 am

Absolutely gorgeous!!!

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