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October 23, 2006

Honey (Recipe: honey gingerbread cookies)

Updated September 2010.

Honey gingerbread cookies

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.

Honey

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 antioxdidant 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. Honey will never actually spoil.
  • 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.

By the way, honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans.

(And, yes, bears do love honey.)

Honey gingerbread cookies

Honey gingerbread cookies

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. 

Ingredients

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

Directions

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.

[Printer-friendly recipe.]


More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Mango lassi
Honey-roasted beets with orange and thyme
Grilled flank steak with ponzu and honey glaze
Armenian brioche filled with dates, honey and walnuts
Honey and lemon green tea cupcakes

Other recipes that use honey:
Honey walnut shrimp, from Rasa Malaysia
Honey balsamic bean salad, from 101 Cookbooks
Honey pear bread, from Amanda's Cookin'
Honey mousse, from Tastingmenu
Honey glazed ham slow cooker recipe, from A Year of Slow Cooking

Comments

I found a web site that explained why honey is not vegan. Who knew? The salmon glaze sounds scrumptious!

I loved Winnie! I love honey! I love these cookies!

An adorable recipe... Can't wait to try it.

I've always loved honey but ever since I discovered it could be poisonous if the flowers harvested by the bees were toxic I've thought it was one of the most fascianting foods. Apparently an entire legion of Roman soldiers once died in the desert (in ancient times) after eating honey from a hive that had been harvesting posionous cactus flowers.

Kate, here's more on the vegan issue:
http://www.vegetus.org/honey/honey.htm

Ivonne and Luisa, I hope you try these cookies.

Ari, thanks for adding to our honey knowledge. I'm still planning to make your honey cake recipe, now that Kate has refilled my honey jar!

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  • My name is Lydia Walshin. From my log house kitchen in rural northwest Rhode Island, I share recipes that use what we keep in our pantries, the usual and not-so-usual ingredients that spice up our lives.

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