Some years ago, on a cooking trip to France, I bought every manner of French ingredient I could fit in my suitcase (removing the dirty clothes to an extra folded bag that came with me for this exact purpose). I visited gourmet markets, specialty traiteurs and big box grocery chains. It was marvelous. I tucked in jars of fine herbes, herbes de provence and a jar of quatre épices, to make sure I had covered all my seasoning bases. Quatre épices is a classic French seasoning of cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg with bite from black or white pepper. It is used in all manner of ways – traditionally in pates and terrines, but also in pain d’épices, a traditional spice bread I had tasted in a food tour in Paris. I made a version of pain d’épices for every occasion I could, and sprinkled it in daubes and on braised vegetables. Eventually, what was left lost its flavor and scent and I moved on to other things. But I recently stopped in a lovely spice shop on a trip to Charlottesville, Virginia, and was thrilled to stumble across quatre épices on the shelf. I tucked a little bag in my suitcase (it’s a thing with me) and couldn’t wait to get home and use it. I, of course, planned to make some pain d’ épices, but the first weekend home found me with some apples from the farmers market. As I pondered the best way to combine the two, it immediately came to me to incorporate my newest obsession, hazelnut flour, which I find at better grocery stores.
This loaf is homey and nutty and perfect for fall. Your house will smell wonderful while its baking. It’s a lightly sweet and spice treat – the elusive warmth of pepper adds a real difference. I love the sprinkling of rough textured demerara sugar to give a crackly topping. This loaf is perfect for a chilly autumn breakfast or as a lovely afternoon snack. It is the perfect companion to a mug of warm apple cider.
Make you own quatre épices and store the leftovers in a jar. You’ll want to come back to this recipe, but try it sprinkled over roasting sweet potatoes or to make spiced nuts.
French Apple Hazelnut Loaf with Quatre Épices
1 ½ cups hazelnut flour
1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ cup tightly packed light brown sugar
3 teaspoons baking soda
2 teaspoons quatre épices
¼ teaspoon salt
1 cup buttermilk
¾ cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 large apples
1 Tablespoon chopped hazelnuts
1 Tablespoon demerara sugar
Preheat the oven to 350°. Spray a 8 ½ inch loaf pan with baking spray.
Mix the hazelnut flour, flour, brown sugar, baking soda, quatre épicesand salt together in a large mixing bowl, breaking up any lumps. Measure the buttermilk and oil in a 4-cup measuring jug, then break in the eggs and add the vanilla and beat together. Add to the dry ingredients in the bowl and mix until just moist. Grate the unpeeled apples into the batter using the large holes of a box grater. I like to grate one side to the core, then turn to the next until I have grated the flesh from the whole apple and am left with the core. Quickly stir the apples into the batter until evenly distributed and there is no trace of dry ingredients visible. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Sprinkle over the chopped hazelnuts, then the demerara sugar.
Bake for 45 – 50 minutes, until a tester inserted in the center comes put clean. Cool in the pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
1 tablespoon ground cloves
1 tablespoon ground nutmeg
1 tablespoons finely ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
Put all the ingredients into a small jar and tighten the lid. Shake until thoroughly and evenly combined. Store in the jar for a few months.