Good Pain d’Epice, Bad Choucroute

Pain d'épice

How do you tell a true friend? She lets you buy her a hunk of pain d’épice in her hour of need and smiles to show it does help, if only a bit. And then when you meet again, she surprises you with a return hunk (in a signed ziplock bag), bought at her favorite market.

This in turn allows you to take a little slice with you on that 6:52am train to cold and rainy Luxembourg where you have to spend the day on business. This slice is a teeny handheld comfort zone to nibble on as you awake, disoriented, from one of those early morning, neck-straining half-naps on a train seat.

You might as well enjoy that slice while it lasts: it is the only thing you’ll eat for the better part of that day, as lunchtime will give you the opportunity to take a blood-chilling taste of The Worst Choucroute Ever at the cafeteria of an industrial zone just outside of Luxembourg. Names will remain confidential to protect the innocents. And me.

Oh boy. I haven’t had such despicable food in… well, ever. Potatoes that manage to be both overcooked outside and raw inside, sauerkraut that’s actually swimming in oil (yes, in oil), and pork meat that’s dry and brittle, but at the same time ingeniously larded with big pieces of translucent fat. All of this slapped with a vengeance on — I kid you not — a metal tray with compartments. Meat in the lower one, potatoes in the upper left, sauerkraut in the upper right. True, discipline is all we ask of food.

And don’t try to ask for one of those little bowls of salad that you spot like an oasis on a counter in the back, the lady who serves (oh sure, her life is probably not all pink and flowers but in what way am I responsible I ask) will yumble at you (it’s when you yell something that’s a jumble of syllables and the opponent can’t answer back because s/he has no idea what you said and there are people waiting in line). Probably the little salads are strictly reserved for the upper management.

Thankfully, after the afternoon meeting ends, there is a little time before your train to Paris leaves, and it doesn’t take much persuading to enroll your colleague on a walk in the pouring rain to the Christmas market, for a glass of Glühwein and a soft pretzel. Which make everything instantly better.

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  • Hi Clotilde,
    Thanks for letting us share the (imagination of) worst choucroute :P

    But Glühwein makes a great relief, always!

  • Alisa

    Is it quite possible that pain d’epice is a remedy for many perdicaments?
    Directly on a metal tray? That would even ruin good food.

  • Sam

    Clotilde. I am sorry about the choucroute. It sounds awful! Here are some pictures of some choucroute a French friend made for me here in San Francisco. I hope they cheer you up!

  • When I began reading this article I thought you were about to give a Pain d’Epice recipe :)
    I’d love that !


  • Marc – I’ve never made my own pain d’épice, but I’ll probably try my hand at it some day. And when I do, well, C&Z readers will be the first to know! :)

  • Julie

    Oh, those metal trays! I spent a summer in Madrid, studying at the Universidad Complutense, and living in a dorm run by some rather strict nuns. All of our (generally pretty bad) meals were slopped into those trays, along with grim looks, and a general sense of “no” being the answer, no matter what the question might be. When I finally escaped, I went to visit friends in the Languedoc, who plied me with 3-hour lunches and dinners prepared lovingly by their Maman to make up for the horrors of the metal trays and their contents…

  • Dug

    Darn! what memories. I grew up in Paris and pain d’épice was a favourite.

    I used to think the best way to tell good from bad was that a good Pain d’ sticks to the backs of your front teeth :-)


  • john doe

    Pain d’Epices from ‘Paris Boulangerie Patisserie’ By Linda Dannenberg

    Andre Lerch’s Pain d’Epices
    3/4c honey
    1/2c light brown sugar
    3/4c water
    2c all purpose flour
    1 lg egg
    1 1/2 tsp baking powder
    1 tsp baking soda
    1 1/2 tsp ground anise seed
    1 1/2 tsp allspice
    1 1/2 tsp cinnamon
    1 1/2 tsp nutmeg
    1 1/2 tsp ginger
    3/4 tsp ground cloves
    preheat 350
    butter 9 x 5 inch loaf pan
    in saucepan bring honey sugar water to boil, boil gently 5 min stirring once or twice. Remove from heat, gradually sift in 1 c flour, whisking steadily.
    In lg mixing bowl whisk egg yolk until frothy. Sift remaining cup flour with baking powder, soda, and spices. Add honey mixture to eggs, then add sifted ing. Mix and pour into pan. bake until firm to touch and has begun to pull away from sides of pan, about 45 min.

  • La recette donnée dans le livre C&Z est l’une des meilleures pour réussir un Paind d’épices maison sans complication. Il est d’un moëlleux, le rêve ! Je suis ravie à l’idée d’imaginer que je peux le reproduire à l’infini !

    • Je suis bien contente que cette recette te plaise, Liseron, merci !

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