Honey Fennel Breakfast Bread: A waft of sweetness from Burgundy

Sweet and scented Honey Fennel Bread

And you got excited thinking we are going to have some wine talk since we are talking Burgundy.  My friend, that famed area of France has more to share than it’s gorgeous wine and this honey fennel breakfast bread is one of them. Ok, let me clarify, this is a low calorie, less sweet, more ‘healthy’, less fancy and highly inspired version of a traditional Pain d’Epice, the traditional honey spice bread of Burgundy. But this is also a perfectly rich, spicy, novel and warm bread that will surely make you love your fall and winter mornings. The original pain d’epice is much sweeter and moister than my version. It is somewhat similar to a gingerbread and so I would put it more in the cake category than  in breakfast bread. This adapted version is perfect smeared with (preferably) salted butter and paired with (preferably) hot milk, tea or latte. The texture is bread like and it is not as moist or supple as gingerbread or a honey cake can be (neither is it soaking sweet like them).
As happens often, I ‘stumbled’ onto David Leite’s website and discovered this gem. And as happens almost always, I adapted it nicely to make sure my weighing scales did not shriek out !!! 😀 Unlike me, if your house is full of extraordinary humans whose metabolism falls in the XXL category, or if you have enough people to share the bread and bring down your share of calories, then go for the real version. I knew I would be consuming the whole loaf myself so I made sure it was the lean version :). Check in the end to figure out what to do to yield the original output.

Butter/Baker’s Spray for the loaf pans
3/4 cups milk (whole)
1/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
1/2 cup honey
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2-3 teaspoon fennel seed
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
2 tablespoons very finely chopped candied ginger
1 large egg, at room temperature
1 teaspoons baking soda

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°C). Brush a 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans with butter/spray. Cut four strips of parchment: two 15 x 5 inches, and two 14 x 8 inches. (If you don’t have teh recommended size of pan, go with whatever you have and portion the parchment cutouts accordingly). Lay the two long pieces of parchment the length of the buttered pan and press to adhere. Brush the parchment with butter. Lay the two wider pieces crosswise on top. Brush the parchment with butter. Everything must be very well buttered or the bread will stick. You are essentially making a sort of a parchment pan for the batter.
2. Heat the milk, brown sugar, and honey in a small saucepan over medium heat. Stir until the sugar is dissolved. Remove from the heat and set aside until slightly cooled. Make sure you remove the saucepan from heat as soon as the sugar dissolves or else the mixture might curdle. Honey is acidic in nature and so is brown sugar, and together they can curdle milk when heated.
3. To make the batter, in the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle, combine the flour, fennel, cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and salt. In two batches, add the honey mixture and candied ginger. Scrape down the sides as needed, and blend on low speed until just combined.
4. In a small liquid measuring cup, combine the egg and baking soda. Stir to combine. Add the egg mixture to the batter and mix until well blended.
5. To bake the loaves, pour the batter into the prepared loaf pan. Bake, rotating once, until a skewer inserted into the center comes out clean, 45 to 50 minutes. Cover with aluminum foil if the bread starts to become too dark.
6. Remove the loaves to a rack to cool slightly, about 15 minutes. Turn out of the pan and immediately remove the parchment paper. Store very tightly wrapped in plastic wrap for up to 1 week.

Insights:
1. The original honey spice bread has double the sugar, honey and egg amount and has ground fennel seeds mixed in the batter. If you use ground fennel seeds, you will have the fennel flavor but will miss out on the fennel texture/crunch. It’s a matter of preference. If you want to be close to the French version, then double the amount of sugar, honey and eggs and grind the fennel in a spice/coffee grinder (reduce fennel to 2 tsps instead of the 3 that I have prescribed here).
2. The thing to note is that sugar, besides giving sweetness, also makes the bread moist. So know that reducing the sugar will also mean a drier output (which is why mine had a bread like feel instead a cake like feel).
3. Try to use a light aluminum pan to help reduce the darkness of the baked bread. Also, if you see the bread is still baking but has started turning dark on the top, cover it with a aluminum foil.
4. Interesting variations would be to add some fine chopped nuts to the mix (better for bread) and/or glaze the top of the bread with a lemon sugar glaze.
5. If honey is not your thing, then you can try molasses too.

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