Honey is the official food of the month, when we all are hoping to start our year off on the sweet side and have it be filled with happy and joyous experiences. At first glance, honey seems to be a simple ingredient, requiring little thought when chosen at the supermarket. There are actually over 1,000 different kinds of honey, more than 300 varieties of honey in the U.S. alone! They vary in color, aroma, flavor, consistency, and texture. Like wine, one must try different varieties to find which fits your tastes. There are so many subtle nuances that you must discover more about this natural delectable treasure.

Appearance. Honey’s appearance varies from almost white to a dark brown color, although most honey is golden in color. The deeper the color usually signifies a stronger flavor. Most honeys on the market are a blend from different sources. There are even honeys that are pink, blue, or green, although these colors are harder to find.

Aroma and flavor. The smell of different honeys varies from a strong to more muted. Some honeys smell stronger when heated. The variations in aroma and flavor are due to the different sources of nectar, the blends, and the country. Each batch is different depending on all these variables.

Texture. Honey can also vary in texture and consistency. It can be thick or more liquidy. Some kinds of honey solidify, some crystallize, while others can become gel-like, depending on the moisture content.

Flavored honey. Honey can come with added flavors. Honey absorbs the moisture of any ingredient added to it. Hot peppers, herbs, ginger, and citrus have all been added to honey to give it another dimension of flavor.

Health benefits. For centuries, honey has been valued for its culinary and medicinal uses. It is a natural antioxidant and antiseptic, effective for burns, digestion, soothing sore throats, healing wounds, ear infections, and more! It is also used in many beauty and hair care products for its moisturizing qualities.

Storage and preparation. Honey should be stored tightly sealed in a cool, dry place. It usually lasts for up to a year. Honey can crystallize and solidify. It can still be salvaged by heating it in the microwave or by submerging it in hot water for a short time. A good trick for measuring out honey is to spray the measuring spoon or cup with nonstick spray first so it comes out easily. Honey can be used in many dishes, from drinks to desserts to savory foods. It is sweeter than sugar, so when substituting in recipes use 25% less honey than sugar.

Honey Cake With Caramelized Figs
3½ cups flour
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 tsp. baking soda
½ tsp. kosher salt
4 tsp. ground cinnamon
½ tsp. ground cloves, optional
½ tsp. ground allspice, optional
1 cup canola oil
1 cup honey
1½ cups sugar
½ cup brown sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp. vanilla
1 cup strong coffee
½ cup orange juice
For Fig Topping:
2 Tbsp. unsalted butter substitute
2 lb. fresh Mission figs, halved
1 Tbsp. honey

Heat oven to 350°F. Coat a 10-inch springform pan with nonstick spray. Whisk flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves, and allspice in large bowl. Make a well in center of dry ingredients and add oil, honey, sugars, eggs, vanilla, coffee, and orange juice. Mix with electric mixer until combined and smooth.

Pour batter into prepared pan (if there is extra batter make a smaller extra cake in a loaf pan) and bake for 55—65 minutes until golden and toothpick comes out clean from center. Do not overcook! Transfer to rack to cool completely. Meanwhile, melt butter in large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add figs cut-side down and cook until browned, about 5 minutes. Add honey and stir to coat the figs. Cook until liquid becomes syrupy and golden, about 10 minutes. Remove cake from spring form pan and top with caramelized figs. Serve or refrigerate for later.

Want to learn how to cook delicious gourmet meals right in your own kitchen? Take one-on-one cooking lessons or give a gift to an aspiring cook that you know. For more information, contact Take Home Chef personal chef services by calling 516-508-3663, writing to elke@TakeHomeChef.net, or visiting www.TakeHomeChef.net.


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