Navigate / search

Honeycomb salad

Always on the lookout for unique ways to use comb honey, I was intrigued to receive this recipe from Richard Lercari, a chef and owner of Culinary Hive Products LLC. Richard wrote:

Unlike a honey vinaigrette, the great advantage to having comb honey fresh, candied, or set is that you can have moments of sweetness in a dish without every mouthful being of honey. Using the classic combination of cheese and comb try this salad:

A bitter green salad (arugula or kale) tossed with some salty cheese (semisoft pecorino or parmesan or a less salty manchego) shaved in slivers with a peeler, add a few walnuts and olive oil, and a twist of black pepper. Go easy with the salt because the cheese will add salt. Mix lightly and finish with several tiny 3/8 x 3/8 cubes of comb sprinkled about each dish . . . and wow. Every mouthful is a different combination of sweet, bitter, salt. You can add an acidity of lemon or vinegar if you like. Adding walnuts creates a chew that balances the wax of the comb. I think you will enjoy this.

So I promptly purchased all the ingredients and made the salad just as Richard recommended. I made one change due to a food allergy in the household, and that was to substitute pecans for the walnuts.

But have no doubt, this salad was a hit. Everything Richard says about it is true. It’s a salad of contrasts: sweet and salty, smooth and crunchy, bitter and mild. It’s pretty too—the honeycomb catches the light in a sparkle that just begs you to eat. And I loved the isolated bits of sweetness that seemed to make the honey flavor even more intense.

The nuts really did their job and no one complained about wax particles while they were eating. In fact, I didn’t notice the wax at all.

The hardest part was cutting the honey into tiny cubes. I had pieces of honeycomb stuck to everything, especially to each other. I ended up taking a piece of comb and slicing it into thin pieces with a knife and letting them drop onto the salad. It was messy, but worth it.

However, I did make one serious strategic error: while I was trying to cut the comb I dropped a glob of it on the cutting board. It was very messy, so I scooped it up with a pecan and ate it. I was mesmerized. In fact, I had another and another and another. I had to stop myself before dinner became nothing but an afterthought.

But seriously, the salad is great. Try it! Let me know what you think. And Richard . . . you’ve got me hooked. What’s next?


Cooking with honey

How much honey does your average beekeeper eat? I don’t know about anyone else, but I don’t eat that much. Probably more than the average American, but still not much. When I do eat honey, I like it plain and still in the comb. A little cheese doesn’t hurt either.

So when people ask me for recipes, I’m at a loss. For me, when honey is heated or mixed with other ingredients, it losses its identity. Although it still tastes like honey, it doesn’t taste like tupelo, or gallberry, or maple. When cooked, it seems to lose the thing I like best about it—the regional flavor, the contributing flowers, the subtle shift that makes your own honey the best in the world.

What gets me excited is that first taste of a honey I’ve never tried. I am always up for a new varietal or a new regional honey. The flavors are especially strident when compared side-by-side with a honey I’m used to. To me, that is the real joy of eating it.

That’s not to say I never cook with honey. I have a barbecue sauce recipe that requires heaps of buckwheat honey—I’m sure buckwheat wouldn’t lose its molasses flavor if you boiled it for a week, so that one works for me. I also like a balsamic vinegar and honey salad dressing, but in all honestly, the balsamic takes over and the honey is just the sweet part.

Now, I’m certainly not saying you shouldn’t cook with honey. I’m just explaining why I don’t have a little tab up there with recipes for humans. (The recipes up there are all for bees.)

But if it’s recipes you want, try The National Honey Board. They have lots of free recipes, usage and storage tips, recipe conversion guidelines, hints on baking with honey, honey FAQs, and even nutrition information. If anyone knows how to handle honey in the kitchen, it the folks at the Honey Board. Give them a try.


Baking with honey

People often ask if they can convert a favorite recipe to use honey instead of granulated sugar. This is a tough question with a short answer of “maybe” or “sometimes.” Although it sounds like it should be easy enough to do, even the best bakers may get disappointing results. For the most part, I believe a baked goods recipe should be designed to use honey from the get-go. Conversions are tricky with many issues that can affect recipes in multiple ways. For example:

  • Honey is 17-18% water. This affects the measurements of both the sweetener and the liquid portions of a recipe.
  • To most of us honey tastes sweeter than sugar. This will affect the flavor in positive or negative ways.
  • Honey sometimes has strong flavors that can result in a good or not so good product.
  • Honey is more acidic than sugar, a property that may affect how the other ingredients react with each other.
  • Honey tends to burn easier than table sugar, so the heat must be lowered and, perhaps, the baking time increased.
  • Some recipes depend on the rough edges of granulated sugar to cut through fat molecules and create air pockets. As the King Arthur Flour site explains it, “[Creaming is] where sugar and fat are beaten together to form and capture air bubbles, bubbles that form when the edges of sugar crystals cut into fat molecules to make an air pocket.” Since there are no rough edges in honey, you may get baked goods that are lifeless and dense.
  • Honey is hygroscopic, meaning it absorbs moisture from the atmosphere. This makes some baked products moist, but it can make others mushy.

When I went in search of conversions, I found many sites that recommend using ¾ cup of honey for every cup of granulated sugar. However, no one seems to agree on how much to reduce the liquid. The recommendations were all over the map—anywhere from 2 tablespoons to ¼ cup (4 tablespoons) per cup of honey used.

I like to think of it this way: honey is 17-18% water (let’s say 17.5%). If that is true I should decrease the amount of liquid by 16 x 0.175 tablespoons or 2.8 tablespoons or 8.4 teaspoons for every cup of honey I use. That’s the easy part. The rest is iffy. For example, a cup of granulated sugar weighs about 7.1 ounces and a cup of honey weighs about 12 ounces. If you remove 17.5 % of the weight (due to water) the dry honey weighs 9.9 ounces, which is still a lot more than the 7.1-ounce cup of sugar. Because honey packs differently than granulated sugar, these ingredients should be calculated by weight not volume when you are doing conversions.

Some bakers add ½ teaspoon of baking soda for every cup of honey to neutralize some of the acidity and to help with leavening since there are no sharp sugar edges. Some bakers reduce the oven temperature by 25°F when baking to prevent over-browning. Then again, some bakers recommend forgetting the conversions and looking for recipes that were written with honey in mind—an idea that makes eminently good sense to me.