House of Daughters is the third novel by Sarah Kate Lynch, and follows the story of three sisters who must come together and save the family’s champagne business after their father passes away. Olivier Peine dies leaving behind large debts, a cellar of his once famous champagne, and a legacy of bitterness. His lonely daughter Clementine can now use her knowledge to rebuild the family’s reputation as first class champagne makers. However, it is upon Olivier’s death that his second daughter Mathilde and a previously unmentioned third daughter, Sophie, show up for their share of what’s left behind. The three ladies must overcome their differences, let go of their secrets, and heal some very deep wounds in order to fix the mess they were left with from a father they believed never loved them.
I have previously written about one of Lynch’s other novels, Blessed are the Cheesemakers (you can find that post here), and I enjoyed her writing and the use of food in her novels so much I decided to do another post on her work. I really liked this novel and was actually moved to tears at one point so I definitely recommend checking it out.
In a novel centered around champagne I was a little unsure if there would be any food for me to work with. Thankfully, with good champagne there comes good French breads and pastries and there were several different ones to choose from in the novel. I chose one that is mentioned quietly and only once but I felt it had great significance to the happenings of the Peine sisters and after checking it out decided it would be perfect for a winter treat: pain d’epice.
To put the pain d’epice in context; it is wintertime in the vineyard and Clementine has been tending to the vines. Mathilde is recovering from some emotional truths and sets her sights on recovering the Peine finances. It is at this time that Sophie and the aging house guest La Petite make the bread.
“Sophie, meanwhile, was busy perfecting a recipe for pain d’epice to La Petite’s exact specifications and spent much of her time with the old woman whose breaths grew shorter with every winter day.”
The significance of this goes beyond just making bread. The first important thing here is that Sophie baking the bread is symbolic of her having a home. Before coming to the house after her father died, Sophie was living on the streets of the city with no family and no home. The fact that she is baking in the kitchen of what was her father’s house alludes to the fact that Sophie has found home and family.
Second is the idea that she is “perfecting a recipe”, meaning making it over and over again until it is right. This seems symbolic of what the Peine sisters are attempting to do with each other and the business. There are many instances in the novel where they attempt to start anew after their issues with the past and with each other have gotten in the way of their goals.
Finally, the idea that Sophie is working to La Petite’s specifications is symbolic of the role that La Petite is playing in the rebuilding of the family and the champagne house. In the novel, it is La Petite who guides the girls into becoming a family and doesn’t stop until her job is complete. Guiding Sophie in how to properly make pain d’epice is representative of her other guidance duties in the novel.
Pain d’epice has been around for a long time and is traditionally known as a honey sweetened spice bread that often gets misinterpreted as gingerbread. A distinction of pain d’epices is that it is not a dessert type bread but is used as a backdrop for more savory spreadables like foie gras or a strong blue cheese. Yum.
To start, I got some honey from my local beekeeper friends; I feel like local, raw honey has a much better flavor than anything in the store. Finding the proper flour was the biggest challenge I ran into, for some reason the stores here do not stock any kind of rye flour. Since it is traditionally used in the bread I still included it in the ingredient list but I had to use whole wheat flour for this. Everything else was stuff I had in my spice cabinet. I was upraised at the use of coriander but honestly, when I smelled it and thought about it in context of the other spices in the bread it made sense.
This bread came together like a standard quick bread. I served it alongside a creamy goat cheese and ate it for breakfast, it was delicious. Overall, I was really happy with the dense texture and the warm homey spices. I can definitely understand the motivation for Sophie to make this in the novel and I definitely understand why La Petite would want her to experience it. It’s taste exudes feelings of home and family which is what House of Daughters is all about.
House of Daughers: Pain D’epices
- 1½ cups milk
- 1 cup honey
- 1 Tb Orange Zest
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup whole-wheat, rye or buckwheat flour
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ½ teaspoon whole anise seeds
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour a 9-inch loaf pan.
2. Pour the milk and honey into a small saucepan and stir over gentle heat until the honey has dissolved. Add the zest and set aside.
3. Combine the flours, baking soda, baking powder, salt and spices in a bowl. Mix in the honey, milk and zest. The batter will be quite liquid and a little foamy.
4. Bake until the top of the cake is deeply golden and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes.
5. Cool, slice and serve.