Learn How to Bake with Honey
When you think of honey you might first think of its unique sweet flavor but there is so much more to this naturally produced sweetener. First of all, one honey can taste wildly different from another, depending on the bee’s feeding source, and then there are the properties it possesses that will affect your baked goods. Here is what you need to know before you bake with honey.
- Honey Basics: Honey is all natural and composed of fructose and sucrose, which are simple sugars and also contains trace minerals, vitamins and enzymes. Honey should not be fed to babies under 1 year of age as it can contain Clostridium botulinum spores, which can cause infant botulism. Heating is not considered a thorough enough treatment to kill the spores. The spores, however, are harmless to adults and older children.
- Honey Types: Honey comes in liquid honey, creamed honey (which is very finely crystallized) and comb honey (honeycomb is present as seen immediately above).
- Honey Labeling: Read labels to know what you are buying. The label might say what the source is for the honey, such as Orange Blossom or Wildflower. The label also might state “raw honey”, which is honey that has not been heated in any way and is unpasteurized and unprocessed. When you read about honey’s health benefits, raw honey is being referenced. Most commercially produced honey is pasteurized giving it a cleaner, clearer look for a longer time, which makes it more appealing to many consumers. There are no strict legal requirements for the term “raw”, so some “raw” honey might be lightly heated to facilitate bottling. If you buy direct from the beekeeper you can ask about the product.
- Honey Storage: Store in a cool, dry place, such as a closet or cupboard. Refrigeration will hasten crystallization, which does not harm honey, but does change its texture. If your honey does crystallize it may be used as is or heated gently and re-liquefied (but then it will no longer be raw). It can be microwaved or heated in a water bath on the stove. Do not over-heat.
- Honey Origin: The food source for the bees will determine the color and flavor of the honey. According to the National Honey Board there are over 300 unique varieties in the U.S.
Note that when a label says Blueberry Honey or Sage Honey is not referring to a honey infused with those flavors. It is honey that is derived from bees feeding on that source.
In general the lighter the color of honey the lighter the flavor; the darker the color the stronger the taste. Occasionally this is not the case as with Basswood, which is light in color but strong in flavor or Tulip Poplar, which is darker in color but milder in taste. Sometimes naming the source doesn’t give you enough information, for example many are labeled “Wildflower Honey” but depending on the wild flowers the taste will vary. This Wildflower honey from Georgia’s Organic Mountains has a distinct black licorice taste that took many of us by sweet surprise (we love it). Their Gallberry honey was a new variety for us and many testers thought it was “less sweet”, which lends itself to some great savory applications or try it in our Salted Bourbon Honey Caramel Sauce. We also really appreciate their truly drip proof bottles. You can literally squeeze out one drop with no mess or residue on the bottle. You have to taste to see what you like. Tasting such two different honeys side-by-side is a terrific learning experience and we highly recommend you conduct one yourself. Some lighter honeys to look for are Acacia and Alfalfa. Some darker and bolder ones to seek out are Buckwheat and Eucalyptus; this last one can be quite medicinal.
(In the top image left to right: a chestnut honey from Italy; a mostly chestnut based honey from France; local western MA comb honey and its accompanying liquid wildflower honey; Grecian thyme honey; Organic Mountains Gallberry and Wildflower from Georgia; a different thyme honey from Greece; a sunflower honey (tournesol) and a fir tree(sapin) honey from Maison du Miel, the must-visit Parisian store).
- Honey’s Health Benefits: Honey is an alkaline-forming food and is said to help indigestion by counter acting anything acidic. Raw food devotees look to honey for its amylase content, an enzyme concentrated in flower pollen which helps predigest starchy foods like bread.
- Substituting Honey in Recipes: If you want to try replacing granulated sugar with honey, try using 2/3 cup to ¾ cup honey to replace every 1 cup of granulated sugar in your recipe and reduce oven temperature by 25°F. It is not foolproof, but you can experiment. Honey, by the way, is great at keeping baked goods moist.
- Measuring Honey: Spritz your liquid measuring cup with nonstick spray, then measure your honey. It will slip right out. Or, if the recipe calls for oil measure your oil first, then use same measuring cup for the honey.