The inspiration to make something can come from anywhere: obviously cookbooks, blogs and TV shows (walnut sales probably went through the roof after the first of this year's Great British Bake Off), but also from a want to recreate a dish from childhood or from travels, or an idea to combine two flavours or existing recipes.
Sometimes the inspiration can come from a scene from film or literature.
I only recently read Chocolat for the first time last week (long overdue), and though obviously I was drooling over descriptions of truffles, hot chocolate, praline and Easter eggs, it was mentions of pain d'épices that kept grabbing my attention.
Nothing chocolatey actually, but a "spiced bread" which I was drawn to partly because its French name makes it more exotic, and partly because anything spice-related now makes me think of Diana Henry's excellent and transportive Crazy Water, Pickled Lemon (which I also only read for the first time recently).
But as it was a French thing I wanted to make, it was to David Lebovitz that I turned. Though an American, the former pastry chef has for the last 11 years or so had the arduous task of living, baking and writing in Paris. His recipe (itself an adaptation) calls for dark rye flour, but I just used "normal" rye, and it's used in such a small quantity I'm not sure what difference it would actually make.
What I think does make this different is that there is no sugar - just a huge slick of honey (a whole jar) - so I suppose it is actually quite healthy!
Pain d'épices is perhaps more of a cake, but has a certain "breadiness" because of the relatively high quantity of flour and bicarbonate of soda, and it has a nice bread-like crust when baked.
It also has an amazing spiced air that wafts from the oven, transporting you to somewhere in the middle east, or to Paris, or to the chocolaterie in your head...
440g flour 75g rye flour
2 1/2tsps bicarbonate of soda
3 tsps ground mixed spice
1/2 tsp salt 1/4 tsp pepper
55g softened butter
1 large egg, at room temperature
Zest of one orange
Preheat oven to 180ºC and line a nine-inch loaf tin.
Sift (or I just whisk) together the flours, bicarb, spices and salt in a bowl.
In another bowl, beat together (with an electric mixer or by hand) the
honey, egg, butter and orange zest.
Add the water, then mix in the dry ingredients in three stages, making sure to scrape
the edges of the bowl to incorporate everything.
Bake for an hour or until a skewer inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean.
Cool in the pan for 10 minutes then turn out and allow to cool completely before slicing.
The bread will keep, well-wrapped, for about a week, during which
time the flavours will deepen and meld.