Honey (Recipe: gingerbread cookies)
The second post for my friend Peter, an American chef who's running a lovely inn and restaurant in the mountains of Minas Gerais, in southeastern Brazil. I'm revisiting some favorite posts this week on The Perfect Pantry, featuring recipes that he might adapt to local Brazilian ingredients.
Do bears really love honey, or was that just Winnie-the-Pooh's thing? And what about honey bears? Do they love honey, too?
Inquiring minds want to know.
Beekeeping, and extracting one's own honey, are all the rage in rural Rhode Island. This summer, my friend Barbara, an organic farmer, set up her first beehives. So did Tom — a writer. And Kate — a graphic designer (not much left in our jar of her very first crop of honey, pictured above). Of course, bees are the super-pollinators of our vegetable and flower gardens, but does that make honey, the world's oldest sweetener, a superfood?
Inquiring minds want to know that, too.
If you define "superfoods" as those that contain vitamins, nutrients and/or minerals believed to benefit health, disease prevention and/or longevity, does honey make the grade? Yes and no. A lot has been written about honey's antioxidant properties; while honey is not nearly as rich as, say, blueberries or spinach, the darker varieties of honey do provide an additional source of antioxidants in the diet. On the down side, honey also contributes 64 calories, and 17 grams of carbs, per tablespoon.
For cooks, however, honey brings more to the table than sweetness. Honey is hygroscopic (meaning that it attracts water), which makes it good for baking, as it keeps cakes and muffins more moist. In many cases you can substitute honey for half of the sugar called for in the recipe. The National Honey Board offers these tips for baking and cooking with honey:
- Reduce any liquid called for by 1/4 cup for each cup of honey used.
- Add a half teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey used.
- Reduce oven temperature by 25°F to prevent over-browning.
- Microwave the honey for a few seconds before measuring. The warm honey becomes thinner and flows much faster, and allows for easier and quicker measuring.
- Coat a measuring cup with nonstick spray (like PAM) before adding honey; the honey will slide right out.
- Store honey at room temperature; if stored in a sealed container, honey will remain stable for years, though it may darken and lose flavor over time.
- If your honey crystallizes, place the jar in warm water until the crystals dissolve, or microwave for a few seconds.
I don't bake very much, or very confidently, but I do use honey in a delicious teriyaki glaze for salmon, made with dark soy, mango juice, and black pepper. A little bit of sweet also balances the flavor in savory dishes like soup, eggplant, cardamom-honey chicken, and baked squash.
By the way, honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans.
(And, yes, bears do love honey.)
From The Pooh Cookbook by Virginia Ellison, published in 1969. Don't feel constrained; if you'd rather not cut these cookies into Poohs, go right ahead and make Tiggers or Roos! Makes 30 3-inch round cookies.
1/2 cup sugar
3 cups sifted all-purpose flour
2 tsp baking soda
1 tsp salt
2 tsp powdered ginger
2 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp each powdered cloves and nutmeg
1/2 lb butter, cut into dots
1/2 cup honey
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Sift the sugar, flour, baking soda, salt, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg together into a mixing bowl. Work the dots of butter into the dry ingredients with your fingertips. When thoroughly worked in, add the honey and stir until blended. Refrigerate for an hour, or longer if possible.
Roll the dough out about 1/8-inch thick on a floured board or between sheets of waxed paper. Cut it into the shapes of Gingerbread Men or Houses or Pooh (bear). Bake for 12 to 15 minutes on a cookie sheet. Remove from oven and, after a minute, from cookie sheet with a spatula to cool on cake racks.