A Buzz in the Kitchen
Marie Simmons extolls the sweet virtues of Pooh’s favorite treat.
What’s the difference between honey and high-fructose corn syrup?
“One is a gift to us,” says Marie Simmons, author of Taste of Honey. “The other comes from the evil wizard.”
Simmons, who has written and researched a half dozen award-winning cookbooks in her Richmond kitchen, is not a crusader. She just likes to cook. But in following her passion, she naturally sparks a humble and grateful attitude in her readers.
The hundreds of varieties of honey, and the bees that produce them, are a resource we must cultivate, she says. There’s national alarm over how neonicotinoids—a kind of insecticide chemically similar to nicotine—are putting bees and human agriculture in grave danger. Rather than motivating people through fear, however, “I like to concentrate on the romance,” says Simmons. “Listen to them in the hive. They sound incredibly happy.”
Where bees gather their nectar dictates whether the honey will have aromas of vanilla, cinnamon, or even a barnyard floor. Each variety has its own character and place in the kitchen.
Simmons says creamy goat cheese drizzled with lemon blossom honey is “like lemon meringue pie” while a big, dark chestnut honey pairs naturally with blue-vein cheese. One of her favorite party plates is Parmigiano-Reggiano drizzled with wild honey. But what could be easier or more satisfying than morning toast slathered with orange blossom honey?
“It’s the best,” says Simmons, who also loves using it as a finishing touch for stir-fry.
Much of our love of honey is nostalgic, like a squeeze from that iconic plastic bear that began appearing when Yogi the Bear hit the scene. Simmons, however, credits Winnie the Pooh.
Winnie’s “hunny” pot would never contain supermarket honey, which Simmons calls unremarkable. (Think of pasteurized orange juice.)
She suggests heading to a farmers or community market for local and unusual honeys. Then, crack open Taste of Honey, and start cooking—or just drizzling.
Simmons’ recipes for French toast, panna cotta, and flatbread oozing with cheese and glistening with honey can be found below.
Honey Panna Cotta
Panna cotta is the perfect canvas for your most delicious and precious honey. I like a mild, not overly sweet honey with floral notes such as orange or lemon blossom, lavender, star thistle, tupelo, or fireweed. Serves 4–6.
1 cup half-and-half
1 cup heavy cream
3 whole cloves
2 cinnamon sticks
1 strip orange zest
2 tablespoons water
2 teaspoons unflavored gelatin
¼ cup honey, plus more for serving
Honey-Sweetened Fruit (recipe follows), for serving
1. Place the half-and-half, cream, cloves, cinnamon sticks, and orange zest in a medium saucepan and heat over medium-low, stirring constantly, until small bubbles appear around the edges. Cover and let stand off the heat for 15 minutes.
2. Place 2 tablespoons of water in a small bowl or cup and sprinkle the gelatin evenly on the surface. Let stand for about 5 minutes, or until softened.
3. Lift the solids (spices and zest) from the warm cream mixture with a slotted spoon.
Add the honey and softened gelatin to the cream mixture and stir gently until the gelatin is dissolved.
4. Pour into a shallow bowl, cover, and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours, until set. For a delicate texture, serve panna cotta the same day. As it stands the texture will stiffen slightly.
5. To serve, place a large spoon of panna cotta on a dessert plate and drizzle with about 1 tablespoon of honey. Surround with sliced peaches, strawberries, or Honey-Sweetened Fruit.
Combine 1 to 2 cups of sliced strawberries; a mixture of sliced strawberries, blueberries, and raspberries; or peeled and sliced ripe peaches or nectarines with 1 tablespoon of honey. Gently fold to blend and let stand at room temperature until ready to serve.
From A Taste of Honey by Marie Simmons/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
Manchego Flatbread with Honey
Choose a honey that goes well with the cheese you intend to use. With Manchego, I use a slightly tannic dark thyme or rosemary blossom honey. If you choose a soft, mild cheese such as fresh goat cheese, select a floral varietal such as orange, lemon, or star thistle. With feta cheese, use Greek thyme, eucalyptus, or pine honey. The combinations are endless. Makes 6 flatbreads.
2 pounds store-bought fresh or frozen pizza dough, proofed according to package directions
Extra-virgin olive oil
6 ounces Manchego, or another semihard cheese with good melting properties, cut into slivers or curls with a cheese plane or vegetable peeler
1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary
½ cup honey
1. Sprinkle 2 baking sheets lightly with cornmeal.
2. Prepare Pizza Dough through step 4. Punch the dough down and let it stand for 10 minutes. Divide the dough equally into 6 portions. On a lightly floured surface, flatten each portion with the heel of your hand and gently stretch from the outside edges into an oval 6 to 8 inches long and about 5 inches wide. Brush olive oil liberally onto both sides. Using a long, flat spatula, transfer the ovals of dough to the baking sheets. Cover them with a towel and let them stand for about 30 minutes.
3. Arrange the oven racks in the lower half of the oven. Preheat the oven to 450°F.
4. Bake the flatbreads for about 10 minutes, or until lightly browned on the bottom.
Remove the baking sheets from the oven and carefully turn over the flatbreads. Arrange the cheese on the top (the browned sides) and return the sheet pans, reversing the placement, to the oven and bake for about 5 minutes, or until the cheese is melted.
5. Sprinkle the melted cheese with the rosemary. Serve the flatbreads warm with about 1 tablespoon of honey, or to taste, drizzled on each.
From Taste of Honey by Marie Simmons/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC
Honey French Toast
Once honey is caramelized it is difficult to pick out the subtle nuances that are present in uncooked honey, so for this recipe I stick with a mild table variety such as clover, alfalfa, or orange blossom. Serves 4.
6 thick slices white or wholegrain bread cut from an oval rustic loaf
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Ground cinnamon, to taste (optional)
1 to 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
⅓ cup honey, or more to taste
1. Place the bread in a single layer in a large, shallow roasting pan or baking dish.
2. In a bowl, whisk the milk, eggs, honey, and vanilla. Pour evenly over the bread. Soak for about 30 minutes, tilting the pan often and using a spoon to distribute the milk mixture over the bread. Press the bread lightly with the back of the spoon to encourage it to absorb all of the liquid. Sprinkle with the cinnamon.
3. Heat a heavy skillet large enough to hold the bread in a single layer, over medium heat. Add the butter and tilt the pan until the butter melts and evenly coats the bottom. Add the soaked bread and cook for about 3 minutes, or until browned on the bottom, adjusting the heat to maintain a steady but gentle sizzle. Turn the bread with a wide spatula and brown the other side for about 3 minutes. Drizzle the honey evenly over the tops and cook for about 1 minute, or until the honey begins to bubble. Turn the bread over and brown the other side, spooning the bubbling honey over the top.
4. Transfer the French toast to a platter and serve plain or topping of choice.
From A Taste of Honey by Marie Simmons/Andrews McMeel Publishing, LLC