homegrown honey

you’ve heard me mention our bees, here is the honey we harvested this year.  we have absolutely no idea what plants they gather nectar from or where they go but boy did they do a beautiful job!

busy bees.  the outer area of the comb is actually capped honey.  the center area, the part-the raised domes, is a group of crone brood.  the open cells, larvae that they are tending to.

always working-never time for rest or play

always coming and going!  just remember, never stand in front of the hive, they interpret that as aggressive behavior on your part and when bees think you are acting aggressively, they get defensive.  that when you get stung and when one bee stings, it releases pheromones that the others detect and react to.  before you know it, you have a bunch of bees chasing you!

orange-date walnut loaf

sometimes, you just have to do something different.  generally, when i go out to the garden, i take a cake with me.  nine out of ten cakes are some configuration of a bundt; they are baked in one of the many fluted/tube pans on my kitchen shelf.  not this time.  this cake was baked in a large loaf pan.

over the years, i have baked date-nut bread many times.  it is a favorite of my husband and me for that matter.  when i realized that i had a large tub of dates in the fridge, hidden there by my husband so that he could snack on them secretly, i knew i had to make a loaf of bread.

orange date-walnut loaf 
1 (9x5x3) loaf
(a little shameless self promotion, can’t help it…)
1 cup walnut pieces
6 ounces unsalted butter, soft
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup good quality wildflower honey
1 orange-zested
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
3 cups unbleached all purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 cup chopped dates
2/3 cup sour cream
preheat the oven to 350.  grease and flour a 9x5x3 loaf pan and set it aside.  place the walnuts into a baking dish and toast them until fragrant, about 5 minutes.
in a large mixing bowl, cream the butter, sugar, honey, orange zest and salt until fluffy, about 3 minutes.  add the eggs, one at a time and continue to beat until once again light and fluffy-another 2 minutes or so.  scrape the bowl well.
sift the flour and baking soda over the batter in the bowl.  fold it in by hand a few times.  add the walnuts, dates and sour cream and fold the batter until it is evenly mixed.  scrape the batter into the loaf pan.  bake until a cake tester comes out clean, about an hour.  immediately turn the loaf out onto a rack and allow it to cool completely, if you can.  serve slices with soft butter if you like.

for the love of bees

we have a colony of bees in our front yard.  to say it is a conversation starter is an understatement.  it stops people as they drive by the house.  to hear someone ask about honey for sale is not surprising.  we started the colony last year in april and after wintering, they have built up an amazingly strong hive.  we found lots of honey both above and below the queen excluder.  we also found larvae, capped brood and drone brood.  
the girls are filling the comb with honey
look at them go…

drone brood

larvae being cared for by the girls-they will be capping them soon so that they can pupate.

yes, there is honey in our future…

fig and peach galette; tuesdays with dorie

ordinarily, i have my act together; i don’t miss appointments, i am usually early so that i am not late, i remember things.  not this week.  instead of being on the ball, i have been hit by it.  somehow, i managed to miss, and i mean completely miss, this weeks challenge for tuesdays with dorie.  i read the post, i knew it was coming.  i just assumed it was next week.  time to get my head out of my (insert the noun of your choice here) and get to work.
the challenge this week is the berry galette and it is hosted by lisa of tomato thymes in the kitchen and andrea of the kitchen lioness.  to read the full recipes, visit either of their sites and to see the entries from the other members, visit tuesdays with dorie.
i love to make galettes.  they are easy to assemble and they aren’t supposed to look picture perfect.  how can you not love that?  the dough is quickly mixed up in the food processor.  the recipe called for 1/4 cup of cornmeal and i immediately went to the freezer and pulled out the bag of blue cornmeal that i keep stashed in there.  blue cornmeal gives doughs and odd shade of grey but the nutty flavor and slight crunch it adds make it a wonderful addition to any recipe calling for cornmeal.
blue cornmeal

 the instructions for using a food processor tell you to pulse it to a consistency of moist curds and that is just what it looks like when it is properly mixed.  according to those instructions, you can use it without a resting period but are cautioned to use ample flour to prevent sticking.  that sounded like work and a set up for failure to me.  needless to say, i chilled the dough by setting it in the freezer while i made the filling.

 our fig tree was producing figs like crazy two weeks ago but it has slowed down considerably.  i found  a flat in the fridge that had been forgotten and decided to use them.  since it was only about 3/4 cups, i threw in some chopped up peaches too.  a little lemon zest, vanilla bean and cardamom finished it off.

 the chilled dough rolled out easily with absolutely not sticking.  to eliminate the flour, brush off the top of the dough.  turn it over onto the baking pan and then brush the flour off the other side-this can be done easily if the dough is chilled since it will not tear and stretch as much.
 look at the blue cornmeal flecks in the dough

 once the filling is on the dough round, you are instructed to sprinkle sugar and honey over it.  well, i skipped the sugar and used a double dip of the honey from our bees.

 ready to go into the oven…
a special thanks to our hostesses with the mostesses-truly a job well done!

mr. kenmore’s last stand; fresh fig upside down cake

my husband robbed the bees of some honey.  we have had bees in our front yard for 3 years now and this is the first time that we were able to harvest honey.  my mother never kept much in the house when i was growing up so most of my experiences with honey were the stuff from the supermarket-you know, the little bear shaped squeeze bottles.  ask a bee keeper about that stuff and they will scoff at the idea of using it.  first of all, it most likely isn’t pure honey-quite possibly it is flavored syrup mixed with honey. another concern is that the honey is processed to remove the pollen and bee parts-yes, bees can die during the harvest.  lastly, most of mass marketed honey is made from blends from all over the world and much of the flavor is lost in the process.  
several years ago, while writing my second cookbook, i had a honey epiphany.  i had the chance to taste pure wild flower honey that was produced by bees being kept by a group of menonite farmers.  knowing that these folks didn’t use many of the practices of the big commercial producers, it was an eye opening experience.  i didn’t know honey could taste that good; better than good, more like uh-may-zing!!!  that was it, no more little bears for me, just local wild flower honey from a reputable bee keeper.  
about that time, my husband and i became master gardeners and he caught the bee buzz.  we took classes, we studied, we asked questions and then we dove in feet first…honestly, the girls(what we call the bees) do the work, we just barge in on them every now and then to make sure all is well.  

 after borrowing an extractor-a hand cranked centrifuge, my husband got to work.  it didn’t go smoothly and the comb was destroyed in the process, but he learned all about the process and will do it again soon.  his efforts yielded nearly 2 quarts of honey.

 i love the way it glows when the sunlight shines through it.  knowing that i needed to make a cake for my trip to the garden, i chose to make an upside down cake just so i could include some of that honey.

 in my favorite cast iron skillet, i melted butter, sugar, brown sugar and honey.

 it is allowed to melt and then boiled a bit to thicken.  

 since this would be the last cake i could bake in my old faithful oven, mr. kenmore, i decided to go all out.  not only did i use honey from our bees, i picked figs from our tree.  for mr. kenmore’s last stand, he would bake a fig upside down cake.  the figs are cut in half and laid cut side down in the syrup.

 after baking, the cake is allowed to set for a few minutes and then it is turned out onto a serving dish.

fresh fig upside down cake
1 (10″) skillet cake that serves 8-10
adapted from my own book!
fresh figs-amount needed will depend on size, the ones from our tree are small and it took about two dozen to decorate the top and have the amount needed for the cake batter-1/3 cup, cut into chunks.  
12 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar (or 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar and 2 tablespoons granulated sugar as in the photo above-i ran out of light…)
1/4 cup pure wildflower honey
1 1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 eggs
2 1/3 cup cake flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1/3 cup buttermilk
place an empty baking sheet on the lower rack of the oven to catch drips and preheat the oven to 350.  place a cast iron skillet over low heat and melt 4 tablespoons of the butter with the brown sugar and honey.  stir to combine and when it is melted, raise the heat to medium and bring to a gentle boil.  allow it to boil, stirring continuously, until it thickens a little-about 2 minutes.  remove from the heat.
place the halved figs, cut side down, in the syrup in a random pattern that covers as much as the top as possible.  make sure there aren’t many large spaces between the figs or there will be large gaps in the design when the cake is unmolded.
to mix the cake batter, cream the remaining butter with the granulated sugar, vanilla and salt.  when it is light and fluffy, add the eggs, one at a time and be sure to scrape the bowl well.  sift the cake flour and baking powder over the batter, sprinkle the buttermilk on top and fold a few times.  add the chopped figs and fold completely.  dollop the batter over the prepared pan gently so that you do not disturb the pattern.  carefully smooth out the batter and bake until a pick inserted comes out clean, about 40 minutes.  allow the cake to stand for 5-10 minutes and carefully turn it out onto a serving dish.  
note that if you do not have a cast iron skillet, you can use any oven proof dish or pan, including standard cake pans, to make this cake.  just be sure to use one that is at least 9″ in diameter and no larger than 10″.  my cast iron skillet is 8″ in diameter on the bottom and flairs out to 10″ at the top.  if you use anything other than cast iron, be sure to keep a close eye on the cake, thinner and lighter metal pans, as well as glass and ceramic,  may bake faster.
and now, everybody join me in a moment of silence to mark poor mr. kenmore’s passing.  may he rest in pieces…

oh honey, it’s jess pie; honey chess pie, #45 of 52

this is one of my favorite secret weapons (well, as much as one can expect from a pie as a weapon) when it comes to dessert.  it doesn’t get much more southern than chess pie.  go anywhere in the south from potlucks, meat & threes (another southern staple), country markets to any place that sells desserts and you will most likely encounter a chess pie.  they are an intriguing combination of butter, eggs and sugar-lots of sugar.  always bordering on the edge of a diabetic coma, the combination is usually a little creamy and if made well, it brings even the most crotchety of folks back to their childhood and before you know it, you are listening to endless stories of mama and her chess pies.  unfortunately, most of them are just sweet and a little crumbly-not very appetizing or worth the extra roll in your middle.  but, as the pastry chef of a restaurant that is a southern dining destination-i had no choice but to include chess pies in the line up.  as a yankee pastry chef, i was at a loss for a good recipe.  i asked around but no one was willing to give up mama’s best chess pie recipe.  
my salvation came when a coworker handed me a copy of edna lewis and scott peacocks book, the gift of southern cooking.  in that book i found a recipe for lemon chess pie and so began my education of what a good chess pie is.  for one, while it is sweet, it should have a creamy texture and a balanced flavor.  i was soon the proud owner of a good plain ol’ chess pie recipe.  
not too long after that, i had a minor epiphany in the form of honey.  while measuring some wildflower honey, i was taken in by the aroma which led to my tasting it.  first of all, let’s get this straight, i am not a big fan of honey-too sweet, sometimes a little bitter, just not my choice of sweeteners.  so when i tasted this local wild flower honey-wow!!! is all i can say.  it was produced by a menonite community in kentucky and the complex flavor was amazing.  i gave it some thought and knew i needed to come up with a pie recipe to showcase that honey.  the light bulb went off and honey chess pie was born.  since honey is the predominant flavor, use a true wildflower honey and make sure it is a brand that does not filter or process the honey-that changes the flavor and can make it bitter tasting.  as a beekeeper, i suggest you look for a local beekeepers association and purchase honey from their members.  what difference does it make?  small scale beekeepers are not likely to mix their honey with corn syrup, remove the pollen, pasteurize it or subject it to any other undesirable process.  and one more thing, if a honey producer claims to be organic-put the bottle back on the shelf.  do you really think you can tell a bee to only gather honey from organic flowers?  bees can fly as far as 8 miles in one trip-they go where they want to go.  a bee will produce about 1/12 of a teaspoon of honey in a lifetime which lasts about 6 weeks.  a healthy colony will have 40,000-50,000 bees in it.  be sure to give the girls some respect and then make this pie and savor every honey packed spoonful!
honey chess pie
1 (9″) pie serving 8-10
1 (9″) pie shell, partially baked
3/4 cup wildflower honey
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
9 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons cornmeal-preferably white
2 tablespoons all purpose flour
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
4 eggs, at room temperature
3 tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice
1/3 cup heavy cream
preheat the oven to 350.  place the pie shell on a sturdy baking sheet and set aside.  place the honey, brown sugar, butter, cornmeal, flour, vanilla and cinnamon in the bowl of a food processor.  pulse until the mixture is smooth.  with the machine running, add the eggs, one at a time, processing until blended and scraping the bowl after each addition.  with the machine on, add the lemon juice and then the heavy cream through the feed tube.  scrape the filling into the pie shell.  bake in the center of the oven for about 40-45 minutes or until the edges puff up slightly and the center is firm.  let cool completely before serving.  pie will be easier to slice if it is cold, use a hot and wet knife-clean it between cuts.  however, it tastes best if closer to room temp so let it stand out at room temp after cutting.
and there you have it.  bake one, send me a photo and see it here.  bakinbabe116@aol.com