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Rose Knows: The Value of Honey

Rose Levy Beranbaum - September 8th, 2014

Rose Levy Beranbaum—award–winning author of The Cake Bible, The Pie and Pastry Bible, The Bread Bible, A Passion for Chocolate, and many more—will be answering baking- and pastry-related questions in her column on, “Rose Knows.” Her latest cookbook, The Baking Bible, is due to hit the shelves in November 2014 but in the meantime, read more on her blog, Real Baking with Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Honey can serve as an excellent sweetener for baked goods. In addition to sweetness and extra flavor, it has great moisture retention and lends a lovely color to breads and cakes.

Honey is derived from the nectar of plants gathered, modified, stored, and concentrated by the honeybee. It is made up of levulose (fructose) and dextrose (glucose). Honey has innumerable sources, such as borage, buckwheat, avocado, lavender, thyme, tupelo, and clover, and its flavor varies accordingly from mild and floral to intense and leathery.

Honey has been used as a highly effective natural antibacterial and preservative through the ages, as far back as ancient Egypt. Honey is antiseptic, antibiotic, antifungal, and antibacterial and it never spoils. For this very reason, most natural honeys should not be used in bread baking as they will kill the yeast necessary to raise the bread! Pasteurized honey, however, such as those found in supermarkets works perfectly. As it doesn’t state on the label whether the honey has been pasteurized or not, if you want to experiment with the flavors of other honeys (I love blue borage from New Zealand, and lavender from Provence, for example), try proofing the yeast first by adding a little honey instead of the usual sugar. If there is no bubbling activity use the honey in cake or tea instead.

When it comes to cake and other baked goods, to substitute honey for sugar conventional wisdom recommends replacing 1 cup of sugar (200 grams) with 3/4 cup honey (252 grams). The reason is the following:

One cup of honey weighs 336 grams, of which 17.2% (57.8 grams) is residual water. So 3/4 cup of honey minus the residual water is 208 grams, which is almost the same weight as the 1 cup of sugar, which contains only 1 gram of residual water.

Because honey browns at a lower temperature than sugar, it is also recommended to lower the baking temperature by 25˚F/14˚C.

Cakes made with honey instead of sugar will retain their moisture longer, as honey is highly hygroscopic, but they also will be denser because sugar crystals capture air during the beating process and result in an airier crumb.

Honey cakes are traditional around this time of year for the celebration of the Jewish New Year on September 14. My favorite is in my upcoming The Baking Bible (available for preorder).