Recipe Corner: Honey

by Lorna Sass

I once met a Queen Bee. Not the kind you might see shopping in Bloomingdales, but the real boss of buzzing thousands - a certified member of the Apidae family.

The day I met her, I was visiting my friend Maria Emmer-Aanes, a marketing maven and the most adventurous woman I know. At the time, Maria was spreading the word about Great Harvest breads. I was visiting her, munching on a freshly baked slice, and commenting on the superb honey my taste buds detected. Before I had a chance to swallow, we were on our way to the apiary that supplied the sweet elixir - the Smoot Honey Company in Power, Montana.

Shortly after the friendly Mr. Smoot welcomed us to his small family-owned operation, we donned special protective garb and went to meet the bees. Mr. Smoot waved a smoke-maker around the stacked hives to keep the bees tranquil as he lifted one super after another in search of the queen. Once he found her, Mr. Smoot told us that she lays about 2000 eggs every day! We learned that while some bees take care of the queen and the brood, others are out gathering pollen and nectar. I suddenly understood the origin of our expression "as busy as a bee."

Sad to say, despite endless toil, one worker bee's lifetime of honey-making amounts to only a 1/8 of a teaspoon of honey. Since learning that startling fact, I now make sure to use every last drop of honey in the jar - and you should too!

Cooks might also might want to pay attention to the special taste qualities of varietal honeys. Their unique taste depends on the blossoms feasted upon by the bees. For example, if you use lavender honey, you may detect subtle floral notes while orange blossom honey will suggest citrus. Other honeys, such as buckwheat and chestnut, have a characteristic muskiness that is loved by some and detested by others. (For more on the fascinating subject of honey varieties, see Covered in Honey by Mani Niall and

You might want to consider organizing a honey tasting. Ask each of your guests to bring a different variety. Taking one honey at a time, slip a tiny bit onto your tongue, close your eyes, and experience the complex taste of a varietal honey.

Then for dessert, try this delicious honey cake to celebrate the hardworking life of bees. I have adapted it from a September 2003 issue of Gourmet magazine by using whole wheat pastry flour instead of white, and by adding the cranberries and crystallized ginger. You'll find whole wheat pastry flour in any well-stocked health food store.

Lorna Sass is a widely published food writer and an award-winning cookbook author. Her Whole Grains Every Day, Every Way cookbook won the 2007 James Beard Foundation award for the best cookbook in the Healthy Focus category. Visit her listing on our website.

Honey Cake

Nice on its own, or top each slice with a dollop of vanilla ice cream or lemon sorbet.

Makes 3 mini-loaves. The batter bakes most evenly in mini-loaves. If you don't own mini-loaf pans, make muffins and begin checking for doneness after 13 minutes. Each mini-loaf serves 4 to 6.

  • 1 3/4 cups whole wheat pastry flour (NOT whole wheat bread flour), plus more for dusting pans
  • 1 teaspoon ground ginger
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup honey
  • 2/3 cup safflower oil, plus more for oiling pans
  • 1/2 cup freshly brewed strong coffee, cooled
  • 2 large eggs
  • 3 packed tablespoons dark brown sugar
  • 1/3 cup chopped crystallized ginger
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries, coarsely chopped

Lightly oil 3 mini-loaf pans. Dust lightly with flour and shake out excess. Set aside. Set the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 350 degrees.

In a small bowl, combine the flour, ginger, cinnamon, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In another small bowl, blend the honey, oil, and coffee.

In a large bowl, use an electric mixer on high speed to beat the eggs and sugar together for 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low, and beat in the honey mixture until well blended, about 1 minute.

Add the flour mixture and use a rubber spatulas to mix just until all of the flour is absorbed. Do not overmix.

Fill the 3 mini-loaf pans halfway. Scatter a third of the ginger and cranberries into each. Then divide the remaining batter among the three pans.

Set the loaf pans on a cookie sheet and bake for 15 minutes. Rotate the cookie sheet and continue baking until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 12 to 15 minutes more.

Transfer the pans to a rack and cool for 30 minutes. Run a knife around the sides, then invert the pans to release the cakes. Set the cakes right-side-up and cool completely. Serve within a few hours or wrap tightly in plastic wrap and store at room temperature for up to 4 days, or freeze for up to 3 months.

Back to the October 2007 Newsletter