Have some cake, honey
A beekeeper friend of mine invited me to watch as he introduced a wooden box of at least 30,000 bees and one queen to their new home - a hive positioned on a grassy space near basswood trees across the road from his house. Wearing a baggy white jumpsuit and a headpiece with a screen covering my face for protection, I cautiously looked on as the beekeeper expertly went through the annual spring process of getting a buzzing batch of bees into the hive. That experience happened more than a year ago.
Before I headed home on that cool evening in spring, I dipped my finger into a frame of thick, sticky golden honey. Sweet and delicate, the natural sweet substance produced by honey bees melted on my tongue. It was that one ambrosial taste of local honey that began my obsession with what some culinary experts refer to as liquid gold.
I no longer pass up the honey jars lined up on tables at farmers markets or the shelf holding jars of local honey at grocery stores. Honey from local beekeepers tastes far superior to commercial brands which are sometimes doctored with water, corn syrup, flavorings or dyes to enhance appearance and extend shelf life. Local honey is pure and less processed.
I'm using honey to balance the acidity in vinaigrettes, to add depth of flavor to sauces, glazes, brines and marinades for meats and vegetables. I find honey adds pronounced sweetness to desserts and baked goods.
Honey varies in both flavor and strength according to the type of plants the bees have used for gathering pollen. Most of us are used to the mild flavor of clover honey, but there is a wide range of local honey varietals to explore with flavors that run from floral to fruity to herbal, spicy and robust. As a general rule, the darker the honey, the richer and more full-bodied the flavor will be. In Honey Honey Cakes, it's safest to use a mild-flavored honey to avoid overpowering the dessert.
Honey is significantly sweeter than sugar by volume and cannot be substituted in equal amounts.
Store honey in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Keep it someplace dark, such as the pantry.
If your honey happens to crystallize, it can be easily revived either in the microwave (in a glass container) on low power or on the stove. If using the stove, take the top off the jar of honey and place the jar in a small saucepan with some water in it and simmer over very low heat. Crystallizing doesn't affect the quality or flavor of the honey.
Ground coriander, with its citrus and floral character, is a surprise ingredient in Honey Honey Cakes. Made from the seeds of the cilantro plant, coriander adds mysterious flavor. A liquid mixture of honey, lemon juice and lemon zest is poured over the warm cakes, adding moist, subdued essence. Honey Honey Cakes can be baked in a cupcake tin or glass jelly jars. To create one large cake, the batter can be baked in a mini-Bundt pan. Check the cakes often as they near the end of their baking time to avoid dryness.
Berry sauce, chunky baked apples and poached pears are all complementary to Honey Honey Cakes, making a lovely autumn dessert.
My fixation with honey has sparked my desire to have my own beehive. Next spring I will position a home for bees on a sunny spot on land owned by friends. My bees will pollinate their young fruit trees, strawberries and vegetable plants with their fuzzy little bellies and we will have fragrant, sweet liquid gold at the end of the summer. Stay tuned.
Honey Honey Cakes
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1/2 cup butter
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup honey, divided
1/2 cup plain or honey Greek-style yogurt
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease muffin tin or 12 4-ounce glass jelly jars.
Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and coriander into a bowl and set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, cream butter with sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs and 3/4 cup of the honey and blend well.
Add sifted dry ingredients to the creamed mixture alternately with the yogurt, beginning and ending with the dry ingredients. Spoon batter into prepared muffin tin or glass jars placed on a baking sheet. Fill jars up to the bottom line at the top of the jar to get a nice rounded top with no overflowing drips of batter. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, or until wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean. Remove from oven. If cakes have baked in muffin tin, wait a few minutes before transferring cakes from pan to wire cooling rack placed over a rimmed baking sheet.
Heat remaining 1/4 cup honey with lemon zest in a 2-cup glass measure in the microwave or in a small saucepan over low heat on the stove. Add lemon juice and stir to mix.
Pierce tops of warm cakes several times with a wooden skewer or long-tined fork. Slowly spoon honey-lemon mixture over cakes, continuing until all of the liquid has been used.
Cool cakes completely. Store in a tightly covered container. Makes 1 dozen small cakes.
Tips from the cook
--The small cakes are best when they've had a chance to sit, tightly covered, over night.
--If you prefer one large cake, bake the batter in a greased and floured mini Bundt pan, which holds 6 to 8 cups. Baking time will be about 40 to 45 minutes.
--Add a touch of simple buttercream frosting to the little Honey Honey Cakes. Beat together 4 tablespoons soft butter with 1 1/2 cups powdered sugar, sifted, a pinch of salt, 1 tablespoon milk and 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.
--The honey and lemon sauce is good spooned over chilled, fresh grapes and served as a light and healthful dessert.