The Bee Whisperer

Fact or fallacy: do bees respond to the human voice?  I’m not sure if it is the words that are spoken or the breath that speaks to them.  but there’s no doubt that our two bee colonies are calm, relaxed and reciprocating with their bounty.

We’ve managed to harvest our first honey: over 10lbs (5kg for the modern).  It was an intensely focussed activity that started the night before.  A special board that excludes bees from part of the hive is installed so that the frames of comb and honey can be removed next day without having to brush away straggling bees and risk harming them.

There’s a special tool for removing the wax caps at each end of the honeycomb cells before the frames go into the extractor.  Think of something like a handraulic spin-dryer: the frames are suspended in a cage that is whirled around to enable centrifugal force to spin the honey out.  A golden sticky mass oozed from the extractor and through two filters before resting overnight in the settling tank for the air bubbles to surface.  The filled jars are a glorious celebration of the bees and their hard work over the summer.

My great friend and frequent cooking companion, Karen, had brought five egg yolks leftover from a birthday party Pavlova.    The obvious use was lemon curd with honey rather than sugar.  Honey can be up to 21% water (23% for heather honey) and ours was 17% on the refractometer.  Just using yolks rather than the whole eggs should counterbalance the extra water.  Here’s the experimental recipe I made this morning:

zest of 3 and a half medium lemons, juice of 2 and a half.

5 egg yolks.

6 oz honey.

4 ounces butter, cubed small.

Mix the lemon juice, zest and egg yolks together in a heatproof bowl.

Add the honey, stirring again, and then the butter.

Place the bowl over a pan of simmering water, taking care that the bottom of the bowl doesn’t touch the water.

Stir the mix from time to time while it heats to just over 70C.

Allow to cool a little before pouring into sterilised jars.

Keep in the fridge and eat soon.

(I’ve just checked and it is setting perfectly).

 

 

Blind cook and pot of honey is recipe for stickiness everywhere

One of the joys of my time at the LightHouse for the Blind (who kindly provided these images) in San Francisco was cooking with Sydney.  She is their instructor chef who herself has very limited vision.  And she enthusiastically allowed me in to her immaculate training kitchen to create havoc and make the honey cake I’d learned from MasterChef champion, Steven Edwards.

By the end of the morning, I was sticky up to my elbows as was the working surface, sink taps, spoons, bowls and virtually everything down my side of the kitchen.  I had to completely change my clothes afterwards.

And the cake was very much touch and go.  Weighing the dry ingredients was easy but, even between us, achieving 200g of egg whites was a challenge.  I’m not sure if the American hens are fed on something different but their shells didn’t really crack but rather collapsed inwards.  Once opened, we were trying to drop the egg in to a separator that was far too small and that wobbled precariously on the edge of a bowl.  And then, of course, there was the honey. The electric mixer made short work of whizzing together the egg whites and dry ingredients

It took two of us huddled over the stove listening to the butter bubbling and then the smell changing to decide that it had browned.

Even once we had the cake batter mixed, we were very dubious as it seemed far too liquid so extra spoonsful of flour and ground almonds were whisked in.  As to the baking tin, there was nothing like Steven’s deep square tin so we compromised with one of those round ones with a hole in the middle to make a ring cake.  This meant that there was less surface to cook which resulted in nearly double the time in the oven.

All of this was to be dessert for a lunch for 12 and, at one stage, it was looking pretty hopeless.  I was wondering how I could make something nearly presentable with a loaf and the rest of the honey.

A cocktail stick is still the best way of testing If a cake is done - and here it came out clean after 40 minutes in the oven.Nail-biting minutes later the cake emerged: lightly golden, springy and coming away from the sides of the tin.  It flopped out perfectly and, after multiple prods with a cocktail stick, it was anointed with the honey and orange juice syrup (the Americans call this a “poke” cake for obvious reasons).  Meanwhile, I’d toasted some walnut pieces and then candied them in yet more honey so that they made a crisp and sticky topping.

Steven’s wonderful winning recipe was even more adulterated as I’d added orange zest to the batter and on the base of the baking tin – he is probably cringing!Penny stirring the small pan of honey and orange juice to make the syrup to pour over the cake.

But it all worked surprisingly well: light and full of flavour without being too sweet – it disappeared very fast.

Another time, I’ll share Sydney’s Marbella chicken – with prunes, olives and much more.  She certainly deserved one of the Baking Blind apron medals for all her patience and the clearing-up!

PennyThe ring shaped cake is golden brown on the white plate, topped with shiny and sticky walnut pieces.