Honey was the first unrefined sweetener I ever used in baking. I still consider it my favorite to this day. And it’s not because of the nostalgia factor. It’s because honey is awesome.
Honey is a liquid sweetener produced naturally by honey bees and derived from the nectar of flowers. The human hunt for honey began at least 10,000 years ago. We know so because there’s a Mesolithic rock painting on a cave in Valencia, Spain that shows two hunters collecting honey and honeycomb from a wild nest. Honey went on for centuries to be regarded as sacred because of its sweetness and rarity. I know I still bow down to the honey gods. You?
The honey-making process begins when bees – 20,000-40,000 of them per hive! – collect sugary flower nectar in their mouths. They may travel up to 55,000 miles and visit more than two million flowers to gather enough nectar for just one pound of honey. I wish I had that kind of endurance! This nectar then mixes with special enzymes in the bees’ saliva and – voila! – it’s transformed into honey. Back in the hive, bees deposit the honey into wax cells that line the walls – the honeycomb – and flutter their wings to evaporate excess nectar water and make the honey sticky sweet. Oh, and the honeycomb? They make that too. Ever hear the phrase “busy as a bee”?! When all is said and done, the honey is removed from the hive by a beekeeper. And to market it goes!
There are 300 unique kinds of honey in the United States. Wowza. They range in color from white to amber to red to brown to black. In general, the lighter colors have a mild flavor and the darker colors are more robust. Polyfloral honey – aka wildflower honey – is made from the nectar of many types of flowers. Monofloral honeys – like clover, orange blossom, tupelo – are made from the nectar of one type of flower. They have the most distinctive color and flavor. The honey you find in your regular old grocery store – the one in that cute little bear jar – is a blended honey, which means it’s a mixture of two or more different kinds. You can read up on some different honeys here.
If you don’t think honey is cool by now, I should also tell you that it contains a wide array of vitamins, minerals and amino acids. Hello antioxidants!
In baking, I substitute about 3/4 cup honey for 1 cup sugar. Honey is sweeter, so you can use less! I also reduce the other liquid in the recipe and add a bit extra baking soda. “Experts” are very precise and say to reduce liquid by 1/4 cup and add 1/2 teaspoon baking soda for each cup honey. But I just go with whatever seems to be a nice, rounded amount for the recipe I’m using. They also say to reduce the oven temperature by 25*F to prevent over-browning, but I only do this if I’m feelin’ it. So reckless, I know.
Fun tip – Coat your measuring cup with non-stick cooking spray before adding the honey. It’ll be way easier to get out!
What’s your favorite way to use honey in baking?