Orange, honey and poppy seed roulade. A little less January

Today I wanted to cheer up a January day, and thought I’d have a go at improving a recipe I first came across when I was writing my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, at a time when I was hungry for any Kosovan recipe where I could use my honey. I included this roulade as one of the recipes in my book, though it wasn’t one of my favourites – it called for rum and walnuts, which aren’t ingredients I particularly enjoy (in fact when I made it the first time, for Women’s Day as I describe in my book, I had to go out and buy the rum specially, and the rest of the bottle sat in our drinks cupboard, gathering dust like the Estonian mint liquor and the raki-with-a-wooden-cross-inside-the-bottle until the day we cleared out our house.)

This time I thought I’d improvise Muscat pudding wine in place of rum, and mix some poppy seeds with the walnuts. It was a chance to use my new electric whisk too, and turned out to be good activity to perk me up – grating orange rind is an aromatherapy pick-me-up experience in itself, and there’s nothing like feeling you’ve improved on a design. I put some Charlie Parker on and shimmied a bit as I stirred the melted butter and folded the rich mixture and altogether felt a little less January.

The poppy seed gave a fabulous texture. If I was making it again, with the more subtle flavours of the poppy seeds I’d add rather more honey, pudding wine and orange juice – and skip the vanilla (but it’s considered unthinkable to make a Kosovan dessert without vanilla sugar, so maybe this won’t do).

Ingredients

10g yeast

165ml milk

35g sugar

450g plain flour

1 egg plus 1 egg yolk

35g melted butter

35ml pudding wine

the juice and rind of an orange

a pinch of salt

165g poppy seeds mixed with ground walnuts

1 tbsp vanilla sugar

1tbsp honey

 

Mix yeast with 15ml lukewarm milk and a pinch of sugar and flour.  Leave in a warm place until the mixture starts to ferment.

Meanwhile, sift the flour and make a well in the centre.

Add the egg yolk, sugar, butter, wine, 80 ml of milk, the orange juice and rind, and the salt.

Mix, adding the fermented yeast.

Place the resulting dough in a warm place for 25 minutes.

Meanwhile, warm the poppy seeds/ walnuts in 70 ml milk.

Whisk the white of the egg until it is firm.

When the walnut mixture is cool, fold in the egg white and the yolk, the vanilla, and honey.

When the dough has had 25 minutes to prove, roll it to a thickness of 1 cm on baking paper. (It’s clearly classier if you can roll it out in a neat rectangle, but since I can never manage this, I rolled it out into a circle, followed the directions below, and then chopped off the uneven ends once the strudel had been rolled up)

Spread the walnut mixture over the dough, leaving a 2cm margin at each edge.

Roll the dough like a Swiss roll and turn out on a greased baking sheet. (If you rolled it out the untidy way like me, now cut off the ragged ends, and you can lay them, with any loose poppy seed mixture sprinkled on top, like little Danish pastries, flat on the baking tray. They will cook more quickly, so check them in the oven as they will probably be ready after about 10 minutes)

Leave for 10 minutes and then put in a 200 degree oven. Turn the oven down after 10 minutes and bake for a total of 25 minutes.

Serves 6

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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The Neighbourhood 29 beekeeper; the honey of hope

girl stands in a road of mud and snow by fences of old oil drums

The Ideas Partnership, the charity I co-founded and volunteer with in Kosovo, does much of its work in Neighbourhood 29, a Roma, Ashkali and Egyptian community in a suburb of Pristina. The families we work with scrabble out an existence from begging in the city (women – and children) or from going through the garbage bins (men – and children) looking for recyclable, resellable or edible scrap. Though it’s a hive of activity, it’s not a natural haven for bees*

But there is nevertheless a house (one of the smarter homes, on the edge of the community – with a real fence, not just surrounded with old car doors and flattened oil drums) where I spotted a sign in Albanian announcing We sell honey. It seemed unlikely – the house looks out at the barbed wire fence of the salt factory which is built on the cheap land this side of the tracks, and backs on to the rubbish heap where the children we support into school can sometimes be seen playing. Where is the honey here? Where are the blooms?

Today, on the way back from taking one of the children we work with to the doctor,  paying the women in our micro-finance soapmaking project, and sorting out adult literacy classes which start this week, I stopped off to see whether this miracle of advertised abundance could really be true. Or was it just a sales point for some shoddy product? (After all, the sign didn’t claim that the honey was made there. I once rented a house in a village in England where a man had a nice little business going to Lidl and buying economy jams which he decanted into reused jars with a handwritten label, and sold in his front garden for three times the Lidl price; and not a word of a lie – or indeed any claim at all – as to where the jam was made).

When I rang the bell today, a man came out and smiled when he heard that I was here for honey. Yes, yes, that would be no problem – he ushered me inside. As if the question had just occurred to me, I asked him, ‘and is it made here?’ Oh yes, he assured me again, and pointed to the corner of the yard. To my amazement I saw there a neat line of six or seven wooden box hives.

I still can’t guess what the bees find to forage on. Sampling the honey (a mellow, rich scent; a great liquid consistency, an amber colour, the same shade as a rusty oil drum) gives me no clue either. It’s tasty though – not just the sugary drool of glucose syrup, but something citrussy with caramel aftertaste.

And even more than being a flavoursome jar of sweetness, I take this as a metaphor; the honey of hope. Those bees can find enough material here to produce a healthy high-quality product, so we humans should be able to do something equally transformational. I think about the kids I saw today on their way home from school, the women working to make a living from the soapmaking project, the teenagers taking a second chance to learn their alphabet. Nobody doubts the effort required, but what the colonies of bees reminded me today is that – little by little – sweet, sticky miracles are possible.

For more honey tasting notes, stories behind extraordinary honeys, and recipes, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

 

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*you can get an idea of what the neighbourhood looks like from the photographs produced by the children who took part in our summer programme taking stunning pictures to present their community at http://www.neighbourhood29.com

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Honey bircher muesli – ‘food of the sunlight’

I’ve always connected bircher muesli with good health of the self-flagellating kind, and it’s only while writing this today that I’ve realised that that’s because of the subliminal connection with birch rods. Which have nothing really to do with its name, which comes from a nineteenth century Swiss physician, Dr Bircher, a believer in the power of what he called ‘food of the sunlight’ (fruit and vegetables rather than meat) for health.

His trademark breakfast ‘of the sunlight’ is one of my favourite, and depends on soaking oats in fruit juice and honey for 24 hours to make them moist and lovely, before mixing them with cream and fruit. Tempting? Well, if you make it now it will be ready for a brilliant start to Monday morning, so here’s the recipe…

(makes 2 portions)

100g oats

40g coarse ground mixed nuts (I used almonds and walnuts)

1 apple, peeled and coarsely grated

165ml orange juice

30g dried fruit (I used raisins and dates)

50g honey

Mix the ingredients together and leave for 24 hours

Then mix with 30ml creme fraiche, 50g yoghurt and seeds of one pomegranate (or equivalent amount of other fruit).

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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Raspberry blossom honey from Romania

I bought this honey in a market in Cluj Napoca in the autumn. It’s a fine, straw-coloured liquid honey with a powerful butterscotch scent. This really could be Werther’s Original Honey.

 

The taste is more complex, though still delicious. Surprisingly, given that candied fragrance, it’s less sweet than other honeys, and it has a mellow fruitiness like stewed quince. It would work well with fruity desserts like my favourite theatrical fruit recipe, pears en papillote, with stewed apple and ginger or as part of my cheat’s honey pastry for apple pie. Alternatively, it would team deliciously with nuts in Russian dessert or in the Irish oaten honeycomb recipe, or soaking loukoumades.

 

You get the idea – I’m enthusiastic about this honey. Just need to find a way to get back to Romania now, since the jar I bought there is emptying fast.

 

For more honey tasting notes, stories behind extraordinary honeys, and recipes, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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Honey syllabub for book group

My book group meets tonight and as usual we are hosted at a member’s home and all encouraged to bring some food to share. What’s more, we’re asked to confirm with our hostess in advance what we’ll be bringing. It’s one thing to turn up with a spontaneous bag of crisps and a bottle of wine, but it’s quite another to email ahead, with malice aforethought and announce that that’s what you’ll be contributing. The pre-announced pot ‘luck’ raises the stakes a bit, especially as this is a discerning audience – last month we spent at least as long discussing chickpeas as we did talking about Khaled Hosseini.
So I have risen to the challenge. I dropped a casual-sounding email to the hostess for this evening announcing I would ‘probably be bringing honey syllabub’. You know, as if I was just tossing up between that and homemade pate de canard en croute.
Actually, it looked like honey syllabub was a pretty easy thing to make – I’d seen a recipe in the Bees Online Recipe Collection book, and thought that this would be an opportunity to test it. It has just four ingredients (and one of these – lemon juice – isn’t included in most recipes): 500ml cream, 5 tablespoons runny honey, 150ml white wine and 2 tablespoons lemon juice.  You mix all together and then chill the mixture.
I was using sour cream because you can’t get any other cream – other than revolting UHT stuff – in Kosovo, I don’t know whether this made a difference, but once I’d mixed everything together the consistency wasn’t right at all. I tried adding another 100ml cream and I tried chilling it but nothing seemed to make the syllabub any thicker.
What would the book group say? I remembered the humiliation of the time I’d made rice pudding to take along, and everyone had doggedly chewed their way through it. ‘Mmm, interesting,’ one of my fellow readers said. ‘Does it have nuts in it?’
No, that was just the burned bits. But I told her (truthfully) that it was an Armenian recipe and everyone nodded sagely and swallowed hard.
This time it wasn’t the Armenians but the internet that saved me – with a bit of googling I discovered from the Oxford Food and Nutrition Dictionary that although the thicker version of syllabub is served as a dessert, the thinner version is a drink. I tried pouring out a glass of my exotic liquid and drinking it, and it was really delicious. Too rich for you to drink very much, but as a kind of ayran with bells on it was quite successful. I’m going to mention this fact to the book group tonight…  I’m also going to stop off on the way and buy some more cream to stir in.
I don’t think they’ll complain, and just in case they do, I’ll be mentioning what I’ve discovered about syllabub’s literary credentials too – it’s originally an Elizabethan dish, which Pepys refers to in his diaries, and as if that wasn’t sophisticated enough, John Wesley once apparently likened all English literature to ‘whipped syllabub’. I think he was using it as an insult, in comparison to the chewier rice pudding that is Greek and Roman literature. But I shan’t allow anyone else to use my syllabub as a term of abuse this evening. If they do, next month.it will be crisps and wine, without apology.
 

 

For more honey recipes, honey tasting notes, and stories behind extraordinary honeys, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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Port Isaac honey and summer nostalgia

When someone gives you some of the honey from their bees, it’s not just a kind thought, a lick of sweetness, a funky (in this case) earthenware jar; it’s as if they’ve bottled for you all that’s best of their summer. As if they’d mixed together the lazy buzzing of a bee around a mallow bloom, the scent of elderflower, the feel of grass and dandelion and daisy between your toes, the sound (in this case) of the sea…

The honey I’m treating myself today has been stored in my cupboard since Caroline gave it to me, back in the days when summer was a recent memory, not an apparently unattainable concept. It offers a trip in place as well as time (and maybe thyme) as it comes from the village in Cornwall where we have our UK home – Port Isaac.

And I’m not currently in Port Isaac – I’m sitting in that other home of ours huddled by a storage heater in the Balkans, dreaming of things like sunshine. Caroline’s little capsule holds the scents (it’s a fragrant, herbal honey) and tastes (citrussy) her bees gathered painstakingly in droplets of nectar from the wild flowers of Port Isaac valley. Dipping my finger again and again into the complex flavours is sweet but not sickly – just ever so slightly homesickly.

I think of all those bees now huddled, like me – near their version of a storage heater, which is the massed ball of bee bodies that generate a temperature in the hive almost exactly the same as the human body. During winter the bees take turns to be in the cosy middle section, and then do duty on the cold outer layer, so the bee ball is constantly in flux, pulsating like a human heart. They’re also feeding themselves on the stocks of this honey that they had put by for the lean months, and though I’m sorry that some of results of their hard work have been taken from them, I’m happy that through Caroline’s careful harvesting and generous gifting of the honey I can join them, on the opposite side of Europe, in being comforted by these delicious mouthfuls.

For more honey tasting notes, stories behind extraordinary honeys, and recipes, see my recently published Little Book of Honey.

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Honey scones at Sunday teatime

Image

Nothing beats Sunday evening blues like baking up an afternoon tea with good friends. While outside it’s snowy and all I could see was variations on black and white, inside it was warm and buttery with pools of rich jewel-coloured jam, and Monday morning seemed a long way off.

As my first baking – and my first post – of the year I decided to experiment with a new way of making scones. After all, it’s good to push yourself just a little beyond your comfort zone…

I’ve been baking scones to the same essential recipe for 18 years so it was all very unsettling to try a recipe which uses honey and also included an egg. I read the recipe in Maureen Maxwell’s Bees Online Recipe Collection book and the version below is adapted from hers in the light of my experience. She says that including an egg increases the scone’s lifespan, but actually these came out rather drier than my favourite Prue Leith recipe, so I think that’s quite enough of dangerous January experimentation.

Nevertheless, we had crème fraiche and Bekim’s mum’s fabulous homemade jam from mountain raspberries, as well as some Romanian honey (you’ll have to wait for another post to hear about that) to slather over the scones, so it ended up being a rather delicious tea. And there were a few left this morning so we had scones for breakfast too, which made Monday morning seem pretty special as well.

 

3.5 cups plain flour

4.5 teaspoons baking powder

0.25 teaspoon salt

75g butter, melted

2 tbsp warmed honey

1 egg

1 cup full-cream milk

Preheat the oven to 230 degrees centigrade. Sift the dry ingredients together and mix in the melted butter*. Make a well in the centre of the mixture and add the honey. Blend the milk and egg and pour into the well and mix the ingredients until a soft dough is formed.

Turn onto a floured board and form into shape – approximately 2.5cm thick. Cut out the scones and place on an oven tray. Glaze with milk and bake until the scones are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped (about 15 minutes).

 

For more recipes, honey tasting notes and the stories behind honey that changes lives, see my Little Book of Honey, just out and available for £6 + P&P from www.thelittlebookofhoney.co.uk.

 

*This is my innovation, fed up of all those ‘fine breadcrumbs’. Every muffin recipe I’ve ever made uses melted butter as a much more efficient way of combining butter and flour than the rubbing in. I haven’t yet found a reason why you shouldn’t use it for scone-making too. You see, not such a scone traditionalist after all. My scones are actually quite edgy and radical (but Prue Leith’s recipe is the best)

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Lime-flower honey in Transylvania

I arrived in Transylvania this morning, and the only thing I knew about honey here wasn’t really a recommendation: Vlad the Impaler’s head was preserved in honey on its way to the Sultan in Istanbul where it was then displayed on a stake as proof that the enemy had finally been conquered, the impaler impaled.

Whether the honey in question was a lightly floral acacia, or the rich sunflower honey or simply a wildflower honey from the bountiful Transylvanian meadows is not recorded. And perhaps it’s best not to know details: it means that when I sat down to clear my headache with a pot of  green tea and mint at a cafe this afternoon in the medieval town of Sigisoara, and was offered a cute little jug of honey to mix with the tea, I didn’t linger on uncomfortable history. And when I found myself in a little shop offering local delicacies my enthusiasm was still intact for lime-flower honey.

This is a clear golden honey with a scent hinting at apricots and the lime you might expect to find, zinging round the edges. In the taste, the lime is more pronounced, making the honey almost as bitter as it is sweet. It will go brilliantly with stewed quince, in a fruit smoothie, or with honey ice-cream. Indeed it will go better with anything than with the severed head of a Romanian despot.

For more honey tasting and honey preparation adventures, see The Little Book of Honey, written by me with glorious woodcut-style illustrations by Su Jones and Paddy McEntaggart

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Honey and chocolate cake

Why does cake mixture always taste better than the finished cooked cake? (and while we’re on the subject of taste conundrums, how about the way that realising that parmesan cheese tastes of pineapple – and that red peppers taste like diesel – spoils your enjoyment. And why does herbal tea always smell better than it tastes???).

Today I made a truly delicious honey and chocolate cake. But lovely though the finished cake was, and moist as was its texture, and honeyed its undertones, it was no way near as nice as the fingerfuls of mixture I helped myself to along the way. I can’t explain this, and I wish I knew a way to preserve the experience of stolen licks of the spoon. Or can I just be bold the next time we have people round to dinner, and pass one of them a whisk, one a wooden spoon, one a mixing bowl, each dripping mixture, and offer them this instead of dessert?

Anyway, you want to know about the cake? I got the recipe from my friend, Sally, who writes an inspiring blog (along with glorious photographs) called ‘Feeding the lions’ where she featured this cake and her modifications to make Nigella’s recipe gluten-free. You can see the recipe on her site.

She used heather honey, where I used a light acacia I got from Geneva. I was worried that the cake might be too rich and dark with all that cocoa and dark chocolate, but the honey taste makes it a sweet but still complex flavoured cake. I loved it.

For more recipes using honey, see my Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published in 2011 by Signal Books

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Fortnum and Mason’s ‘superior honey’ from their rooftop hives

four eau-de-nil beehives with gold finials in a field

The bespoke Fortnum’s beehives before their arrival on the store’s rooftop in London

City honey is frequently judged to be better than country honey. This is because of the lush, varied herbaceous borders the bees can forage on, in contrast to the fields of rape or other monocultures – which are all that are available to some bees in a countryside where wildflower meadows and hedgerows have dwindled and died.

Bees with a classy address on Piccadilly are going to have access to some particularly great nectar, including the gardens of Buckingham Palace, Green Park and St James Park. Since 2008 Fortnum and Mason have kept bees in hives on the roof of their London store and the honey is then sold downstairs, offering what must be the lowest food miles on any product in W1. From February next year you’ll even be able to see the bees, and their bees’ eye view of London through ‘bee-cams’ on the roof – or visit the hives yourself, and see their bespoke elegant Georgian design with gold finials.

Thinking of these bees’ cosmopolitan feeding, I wondered what I would taste inside this elegant little pot with its trademark gold-and-eau-de-nil packaging. The honey looks great – liquid in consistency and the colour of the golden railing tips around St James’ smartest houses. The initial aroma is citrusy with bass notes of burnt wool. The taste is more strongly lemony, with a bitterness round the edges, almost like marmalade.

Perhaps the most typical way to eat this honey, in keeping with its terroir, would be over afternoon tea, to the tinkling of a light piano. Instead, I drizzled the honey over yoghurt for breakfast this morning, but it would also go well in dishes from well beyond Piccadilly that use citrus (my carob flour, honey and orange muffins, for example, or sfratti, baklava or loukoumades).

For other adventures in honey-eating and –harvesting, see my book, Travels in Blood and Honey; becoming a beekeeper in Kosovo, published by Signal Books last year.

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