The Story of Pain d'Épices

7 Sep 2022


From the battlefields of Genghis Khan to the French royal court, discover the journey of pain d’épices from 10th Century China to modern-day classic.

The mixture of ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves within a classic pain d'épices combines spices synonymous with winter celebrations for most French households. But where did this sweetly spiced bread originate and how has it become an essential flavor for the French festive season? 

The origin of pain d'épices

The origin of pain d'épices can be claimed by several ancient civilizations. The Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, and Middle Eastern cultures all enjoyed sweet bread baked with honey that is reminiscent of pain d'épices recipes today.

It’s believed, however, that pain d’épices can trace its origins back to Mi-Kong, a 10th-century Chinese honey bread made from wheat flour. It is thought that Mi-Kong would have been eaten by soldiers during Genghis Khan’s campaigns which introduced the sweet bread to the Middle East. 

The road to Europe and royal favour

The Crusades in the 12th and 13th centuries brought the recipe to Europe where it would have spread from monastery to monastery in the Holy German Empire. The first mention of a “pain d’espessez” was made in 1372 which over time became “pain d'épices”, first referenced in 1530.

In the 15th century, pain d’épices was a favourite of the French court but it fell out of favour during the reign of Henry II as it was rumoured that the Italians in Catherine de Medicis’s entourage were using the spicy flavour to mask the taste of poison. Understandably, pain d'épices was regarded with suspicion during this period.

By the end of the 16th Century, however, pain d’épices returned to glory. In 1571, the bakers of French pain d’épices started their own bakers' guild that was then officially recognised by Henry IV in 1596. During the 17th century, particularly under the rule of Louis XIV and his luxuriant courtesans, pain d’épices gained widespread popularity once again. 

Why is pain d'épices associated with the festive season?

The earliest mention of pain d’épices being enjoyed at Christmastime dates back to a 1453 text that noted the Cistercian monks of Marienthal in the Alsace region had gingerbread amongst their festive feast.

This likely became a tradition throughout the monasteries of the Holy German Empire, cementing gingerbread-like delicacies, like Lebkuchen in Germany, as festive favorites throughout Europe.

The power of patisserie stories

Humans love stories. They’re an essential way in which we relate to each other and withhold information. An exciting and emotive story will grab a person’s attention and build a more long-lasting impression on them.

With classic recipes, we can express the incredible stories behind the recipes and the years of tradition they represent, and with creative re-inventions, we can tell new, unique and unexpected stories too.

Our Taste Tomorrow research shows that consumers want to know the stories behind their favorite patisserie items and they also want to understand the impact the food they eat has on their health and that of the planet.

Discover the pain d’épices stories you can tell with our recipe collection:


Our classic pain d’épices recipe is delicious, easy to make, and is most reminiscent of the traditional pain d’épices that could be found on the dining tables of Henry IV’s royal courtesans. 


This plant-based twist on the classic pain d’épices uses agave syrup, plant-based satin, and high-quality chocolate to create a delicious, vegan-friendly version for health-conscious consumers. 


This elegant-looking pain d’épices recipe is made with reduced sugar ingredients and our sustainably sourced Belcolade Cacao-Trace chocolate that empowers farmers and aims to improve their quality of life.


Our pain d’épices blanche recipe is a showstopping new take on the classic recipe. Layers of pain d’épices and an apple and ginger filling are topped with citrus cheesecake and a white chocolate glaze to create a beautifully decorated and modern take on the classic pain d’épices.

Looking for more ways to make this festive season as successful as possible?

Read our guide to winning the holiday period as an artisan bakery.

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