Gingerbread, that is! And also, my mom never actually warned me about it. Which is probably why Brian and I were so excited to sample some when we arrived in Strasbourg.
When I learned that the Alsace region is famous for its pain d’épices (literally, spice bread; aka, gingerbread), I knew we had to try some during our visit to Strasbourg, the capital of Alsace. This savory-sweet baked treat originated in Germany, but the Alsace region has passed back and forth between Germany and France several times. Right now, it is part of France, hence France’s ability to claim a little ginger-spicy heritage.
Actually scratch that. Apparently gingerbread is from all nations, regions, and countries and of cultural significance everywhere and has a thousand varieties of ingredients, ways to bake it, uses, purposes, shapes, and flavors, and about 1 million related traditions. It’s very, very, interesting but there is just too much history for this little blog post. Here’s some nighttime reading for you if you want to go down a gingerbread rabbit hole:
I’ll just shorten this post to: we wanted to try gingerbread while we were in Strasbourg, so we did and we didn’t like it much! Even the places that are very popular and with rave reviews online had gingerbread that tasted a bit old and stale. Like, older and more stale than I think it is even supposed to.
We went to two well known shops, Mireille Oster and Fortwenger. We also bought some from a popular bakery, Au Pain de mon Grand-Père.
Mireille Oster Gingerbread
Mireille Oster was a very cute shop with a boutique feel. They had several varieties of gingerbread packaged as bread pieces in decorative bags. The shop attendant was very friendly and patiently explained the different kinds available and their various flavors. We were the only customers at the time which was nice because no one else had to suffer through my broken French. We had a few samples but didn’t purchase any because the packages were pretty big and we didn’t love the flavor or texture. However, this shop was very pleasant and felt more fancy than our next stop, Fortwenger.
Pain d’Épices Fortwenger
Fortwenger was a busier shop that had both more customers and a lot more product. There were a variety of different gingerbreads: as cookies, breads, and candies – and they were packaged in different ways: in bags, shrink wrap, decorative tins, etc. Fortwenger felt more touristy and festive. It had a kind of “Christmas-y” feel to it. It was too hectic there for an attendant to chat with us but that meant we could peruse at our leisure. We finally picked out a heart shaped gingerbread cookie which we didn’t like that much either. It felt dry and a bit cardboard-y but that’s also what the bread at Mireille Oster was like, so seems like their taste/texture was spot on, it just wasn’t to our liking.
Au Pain de mon Grand-Père
Lastly, on a whim we popped into a popular bakery, Au Pain de mon Grand Père, and picked up another heart shaped cookie. It was also dry and a bit stale tasting, cementing our suspicion that it’s actually supposed to taste like that.
Even though we didn’t love the gingerbread, it was a fun experience exploring the various shops and trying different ones.
The prize for best gingerbread goes to…
Our best gingerbread experience was actually in the champagne region, far from Strasbourg. We were served a slice of gingerbread with a smear of paté at Champagne Elodie D. in Épernay as an accompaniment to our champagne tasting. The salty, umami flavor and creamy texture of the paté paired so nicely with the spicy, dense gingerbread, and the dry, yeasty bubbly (<–please don’t show that description to any sommeliers).
I’m mostly a vegetarian so I almost never eat paté but when I do, it’s smeared on gingerbread and chased by champagne. Unfortunately, I ate it before taking a photo – I had no idea it was going to be blog worthy!
Now, back to Strasbourg…
The city itself is downright amazing and I posted more about it here. Maybe don’t come just for the pain d’épices, but definitely DO come. There is plenty more to Strasbourg than gingerbread shops!