Ever since we harvested our first jars of honey from our beehive it’s been on my mind to bake a cake or some buns using our own honey instead of refined sugar. Last week I found that my blog had made it into the finalists of the Blog Awards Ireland so no better time to look up a honey cake recipe!
We’re not big consumers of honey generally, usually only using it on Christmas hams, in cold remedies or salad dressings. Making the switch is therefore taking us slightly out of our comfort zone. However, given the bees went to so much trouble to make it, I want to do the honey justice before our 12-year-old spreads all 14 jars of it on her breakfast toast.
The gingerbread cake recipe below isn’t sugar-free but the sugars included are mostly unrefined, making it a much healthier cake than it first appears.
Sugar vs Honey
There’s been a lot of press warning us about the dangers of eating too much sugar due to its links with obesity and diabetes and sugar is now considered worse than fat in our diets, but is honey any better? Sugar is sugar right?
One of the things that surprised me during an early beekeeping lesson was that nectar contains both glucose and fructose but I hadn’t realised until we began beekeeping, that the enzymes the bees add to the nectar make honey easily digestible, allowing our bodies to absorb the natural sugars. Our digestive system finds it much harder to break down sugars extracted from sugar beet or sugar cane once they’ve been refined.
This excellent article from the University of Arizona explains the differences and processes involved in digesting honey over sugar and why, as a result, honey is better for us.
If, like me, you didn’t know the differences between the refined and unrefined sugar varieties, this Good Food article contains a glossary of sugars that you might helpful.
Molasses is a syrup that’s produced when the sugar cane plant is processed to make refined sugar and is another ingredient listed in the gingerbread cake. An article in Natural News highlights blackstrap molasses in particular as a health supplement. Containing trace minerals as well as calcium, magnesium and iron, molasses are also moderate on the glycemic scale and are apparently being used as a sugar alternative by diabetics. You can read more about blackstrap molasses here.
Molasses can also be used as a flower and fruiting enhancer in the organic horticulture world, particularly in regard to hydroponics, and can be added as a spray to increase production.
Although I’ve often used vegetables in cake recipes, I’m really keen to find natural alternatives to refined sugar in jam and cordial recipes which use pounds of the stuff. I suspect we’re going to have to be patient and leave that one to the experts to figure out and pass on to us as my culinary skills aren’t that adventurous to have a go myself.
DARK GINGERBREAD RECIPE
So onto the gingerbread recipe with honey. It took a bit of searching but eventually I came across a beautiful American website – 101 Cookbooks – who share several honey recipes, including this sticky gingerbread which I’ve adapted slightly to accommodate European measurements and ingredients. There’s a long ingredient list, it’s easy to follow as they’re fairly much split into two bowls of wet and dry ingredients before combining to make a rich, soft and moist cake.
Serves 18 if cut as described below.
120ml tepid water
180ml blackstrap molasses or treacle
180ml pure honey
155g dark brown muscovado sugar
385g plain flour
1 ½ teaspoons bread soda
½ teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground all-spice
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
3 large free range, organic eggs
1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
Pre-heat the oven to 160ºC/325ºF/Gas 3. Line a 24cm diameter spring bottom tin with parchment paper.
- Add the water, molasses, honey, butter and muscovado sugar to a saucepan over a gentle heat and stir until all the ingredients are well combined and the butter has melted. Remove from the heat, pour the mixture into a large bowl ready for the next process and allow to cool.
- Sift the dried ingredients into another bowl (flour, salt, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves and all-spice) and set aside.
- When the molasses mixture has cooled, mix one egg at a time into it then add the milk, stirring until fully combined.
- Fold the dry ingredients into the bowl of wet ones then finally add the grated ginger. Don’t worry if it looks a bit lumpy, it will even out with cooking.
- Pour the combined batter into your prepared tin and bake in the middle of the oven for about 55 mins, though check a few minutes before as ovens will vary. When the top of the cake springs back as you touch it you’ll know it’s ready.
- Allow the cake to cool on a wire rack before removing it from the baking tin. Store in an airtight container or the fridge.
If you tend to use round cake tins and have ever wondered how to cut and get the most slices out of your cakes, the following tip might help.
We really enjoyed tucking into this gingerbread cake. Although its delicious cold and doesn’t really need cream as it’s so soft, I can’t help but imagine the gingerbread warmed up with a bit of custard on a cold autumn evening after a Sunday roast. We found it sweet without being overly so, with a light, velvety texture.
If you have a favourite honey recipe you’d like to share in the comments, I’d love to hear about it.
Disclaimer: Please note that recipes, wellness tips and nutrition advice are not meant to treat or cure any medical condition or disease. I am not a nutritionist but I have endeavored to source materials for this article from reputable sources to allow you to research further. Please also note that it is NOT recommended to give infants under one year old honey or honey products. More information can be found at the National Honey Board.