North America has thousands of kinds of native bees, but honeybees were not among them until European settlers imported hives from the Old World. It’s easy to see why these colonists went to the trouble of shipping bees across the Atlantic some 400 years ago: Honey is a perfect natural sweetener that needs no processing and never spoils — even after thousands of years in an Egyptian tomb, as archaeologists have discovered.
More reasons to love honey include the fact that it’s a fat-free source of quick energy, needs no special storage and tastes delicious.
Today, there are more than 300 unique types of honey being produced in the United States, according to the National Honey Board. Varietal honeys come from bees that feed on a single flower crop, such as star thistle, lavender, sage or orange blossoms. Other honeys are made by bees that gather pollen more widely.
What color should your honey be? Almost any shade, from nearly clear to dark amber, is acceptable. Darker-colored honeys tend to be more strongly flavored than lighter ones, which are more likely to taste mild.
The culinary applications for honey are just about as vast as the variety. Honey adds moist sweetness to breads, cakes and cookies and provides dimension to sauces, marinades and delicious dressings.
Honey makes a delightful spread on toast and a flavorful alternative to sugar in hot and cold beverages — including cocktails, such as honey gimlets and honey rums.
You can use any kind of honey in this simple cake recipe. The proportions below will give you a tender cake that is not overwhelmingly sweet, making it a good choice for a midmorning snack with coffee or tea. A little whipped cream or crème fràiche adds a nice touch.
Spiced Honey Cake with Black Tea and Almonds
Makes 1 cake
1 1/2 cups flour
1/4 tsp. baking powder
1/4 tsp. baking soda
pinch of salt
1 tsp. Saigon cinnamon powder
1/4 tsp. ground cloves
1/4 tsp. nutmeg powder or grated whole nutmeg
1/4 tsp. ginger powder
1/2 cup sugar
1 tsp. vanilla extract
1/4 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup honey
1/2 cup black tea, freshly brewed (1 tsp. of black tea or a tea bag + ½ cup warm water)
1/4 cup chopped almonds (roasted & unsalted)
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Whisk together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger.
Whisk the honey and black tea in another bowl.
In a large bowl, beat together eggs, sugar and vanilla extract with an electric mixer at high speed for 3 minutes.
Reduce speed to low, and gradually add the oil.
Then add the honey and tea mixture and mix for an additional minute.
Add flour mixture and mix until nearly combined.
Add chopped almonds and finish mixing the batter with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom of bowl.
Pour into a cake pan that has been lightly sprayed with oil, and bake in the center rack of the oven for 25 minutes.
Cool completely (about 30 minutes) before cutting.
Serve with a dollop of whipped cream or a spoonful of crème fraîche.