Liquid Gold: Cooking with Honey

Honey, enhances the earthy sweetness of carrots in a cake and sweetens a bold dressing/dipping sauce
Carrot Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting
Carrot Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

Mette Nielsen

As the bees are zipping about from flower to flower, make sure to appreciate their efforts in bringing us delicious honey, not to mention their part in pollinating other foods we love.

Bees are one of our planet’s most important animals. Honey bees visit millions of blossoms in their lifetimes, making pollination of plants possible and collecting nectar to bring back to the hive. Lucky for us, bees make more honey than their colony needs, and beekeepers remove the excess and bottle it—just like they’ve been doing for thousands of years.

Twin Cities cookbook author Beth Dooley and photographer Mette Nielsen pay homage to honey and maple syrup in their new book, Sweet Nature: A Cook’s Guide to Using Honey and Maple SyrupThe following recipes from their book highlight how honey can work equally well in sweet treats such as carrot cake and in a bold dressing that doubles as a dipping sauce for sweet potatoes, sauce for chicken, and more.

To help do your part to support bees in our environment, add some bee-friendly plants to your garden. Dooley and Nielsen note bees are especially drawn to blue, purple, and yellow flowers (clover is a great choice and easy ground cover). You can find a complete list of bees’ favorite plants on the University of Minnesota’s Bee Lab website.

Carrot Cake with Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 14 to 18 servings

Honey enhances the earthy sweetness of carrots and makes for a dense, moist cake. Serve this flavorful cake unadorned or gild it with cream cheese frosting—or simply drizzle with honey and top with chopped nuts.

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup honey
¾ cup coconut oil, softened
3 large eggs
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
4 large carrots, shredded (about 2 2/3 cups)

Honey Cream Cheese Frosting (Recipe below)

1. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a 13×9-inch cake pan with parchment paper.

2. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and salt. In a large bowl, whisk together the honey, oil, eggs, and vanilla. Stir in the carrots. Add the flour mixture and fold together with a rubber spatula until just combined.

3. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake the cake until it is set and firm to the touch, about 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow the cake to cool in the pan for about 20 minutes. Remove the cake from the pan and spread frosting evenly over the top and sides.

Sweet Tip: You can make this as a layer cake by baking the batter in two 8-inch round or square pans.

Honey Cream Cheese Frosting

Makes 3 cups

If you have more icing than you need for the cake, store it in a covered container in the refrigerator for up to one week. It’s perfect on toasted bagels or on French toast. Do not use low-fat cream cheese or the resulting frosting will be soupy.

12 ounces cream cheese, softened
½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
6 tablespoons honey
generous pinch of salt

In a medium bowl, whip together the cream cheese, butter, vanilla, honey, and salt to taste.

Lime, Pomegranate and Honey Dressing

Lime, Pomegranate and Honey Dressing

Mette Nielsen

Lime, Pomegranate, and Honey Dressing

Makes about ¾ cup (easily doubled)

Toss this into a robust grain salad and serve over dark greens, or drizzle on roasted carrots, parsnips, and beets. It makes a terrific dipping sauce for sweet potato fries and grilled chicken. Because the flavors of this sauce are so bold, a little goes a long way!

¼ cup olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and crushed
½ teaspoon salt, or more to taste

Put all of the ingredients into a lidded jar, attach the lid, and shake vigorously. Store in the refrigerator.

Sweet Tip: Toasting the spices first draws out their aromas and deepens their complex flavors. Simply put the spices into a cold pan, set on the stove over low heat, and heat slowly so they release their scents. Watch that they brown a little but do not burn, about 3 to 5 minutes.

Recipes and photos from Sweet Nature: A Cook’s Guide to Using Honey and Maple Syrup by Beth Dooley & Mette Nielsen (University of Minnesota Press, 2019). Copyright 2019 by Beth Dooley and Mette Nielsen. All rights reserved. Used by permission of the University of Minnesota Press.


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Mary Subialka is the editor of Real Food and Drinks magazines, covering the flavorful world of food, wine, and spirits. She rarely meets a chicken she doesn’t like, and hopes that her son, who used to eat beets and Indian food as a preschooler, will one day again think of real food as more than something you need to eat before dessert and be inspired by his younger brother, who is now into trying new foods.