Local, fresh honey always fascinates me. I love speaking with the bee keeper about the flavors of the season. The taste of the flowers comes in to play with each delicious flavor. When bees are left to roam, each batch of honey will taste just a touch differently and honey colors will vary depending on the season.|
It's a sweet treat with a rich history: For thousands of years before sugar cane was imported to Europe from Asia, honey was the only sweetener available to people living in Europe and North Africa. As a result, it was highly prized. Depictions of gathering honey in the wild can be found among ancient cave paintings in Spain, and references to honey are found in sacred Hebrew, Hindu and Egyptian texts.
The individual histories of any given jar of honey are no less fascinating. A colony of bees can travel an area of 40 square miles in their hunt for nectar, with each individual returning to the hive carrying up to 70 milligrams of nectar to be converted into honey. Even though that is a miniscule amount, compared to the bees' body weight, it's the equivalent of a 150-pound person ingesting 127 pounds of liquid. When the bees finish converting the nectar for storage (a process that involves fanning it with their wings to "dry" it), the resulting honey is naturally antimicrobial and energy dense.
As part of a move to a diet based more on whole, less-processed foods, I weeded out conventional sugars and began replacing those with maple syrup and honey in what I eat. When substituted correctly, honey makes a great addition to cakes, muffins and even scones. I find that honey is slightly sweeter than sugar. For that reason, I often substitute 3/4 cup of honey for 1 cup regular sugar and, at the same time, for each 3/4 cup of honey I use I also reduce any liquid in a recipe (milk or water, for example) by 1/4 cup.
Substituting honey in baked goods, such as muffins and cakes, makes two changes: flavor and texture. The texture of the baked good often ends up denser and a bit more moist compared to the recipe made with granulated sugar. The honey also adds a bit of a floral note to the flavor that works particularly well when paired with baked goods containing fruit (like banana muffins).
Of course, if baking math isn't your thing, not to worry. Honey also makes a great addition simply drizzled over desserts such as berry crepes or a bit of plain yogurt. And you always can stir it into beverages like tea to add a touch of sweetness. If you are looking for a local honey to try, be sure to check out the farmers' market or your local health food store.
Honey banana muffins
1 3/4 cup whole wheat pastry flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup pecan pieces, plus extra for topping
2 ripe bananas (about 2 cups)
1/2 cup honey
1/3 cup walnut oil
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and lightly grease or add liners to a muffin pan. In a large bowl, stir together pastry flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, nutmeg and pecan pieces. In a separate bowl, mash bananas into a puree; whisk in honey, oil and eggs.
Combine wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Scoop batter into muffin pan, filling each muffin 3/4 of the way full. Sprinkle with pecan pieces.
Bake until muffins are golden brown and spring back when touched, 15-18 minutes. Let cool slightly and remove from muffin pan. Makes 12 muffins.
Erin Alderson is a regular Radish contributor. Find more of her recipes and musings at naturallyella.com.