We have a lot of great honey in Alberta, particularly on the prairies — Alberta, Saskatchewan and Manitoba account for almost 80 per cent of our national production, and bees provide vital pollination to farmers growing other crops as well.
At the market, we’re lucky to have access to jars of honey in a range of colours and clarities, in shades from pale gold to amber to deep mahogany. Generally speaking, the darker the colour, the stronger the flavour, which is ultimately determined by the flowers on which bees feed, like clover, alfalfa or manuka. Terroir, weather conditions, and even time of year can contribute to the nuances in the taste and texture of honey — if you’re tuned into it, you can choose your honey like you might pick a specific jar of jam to spread on your morning toast.
When you’re cooking or baking with it, the subtleties in honey will come through in simpler dishes like creme brûlée or buttery cakes that are unobscured by chocolate or other ingredients. Keep in mind honey is sweeter than sugar, so you won’t need as much of it. It’s also a liquid, which can throw a recipe off when used in place of dry sugar, and it has humectant properties, meaning it draws moisture from the air — both these factors make it better suited to cakes, muffins and other baked goods that have a naturally cakey texture. And because its primary sugar is fructose, honey also browns more quickly, so whatever it is you’re baking will turn golden earlier in its baking time than if it was made with sugar. Most honey is thick, clear and pourable, but creamed honey is more solid and opaque; if you need a liquid honey, warming will transform both creamed and crystallized back to its liquid state.
If you really love honey, here are a few things to do with it: make a batch of baklava, which puts honey on a pedestal; or pour it over oats, nuts and seeds to make a batch of granola. Or if you like things sweet and spicy, add chilies and pour it generously over fried chicken and waffles.
Baklava with Alberta Honey
- 1 pkg phyllo sheets, thawed
- 4 cups walnuts, almonds and/or pistachios, finely chopped (1 litre)
- 1/2 cup sugar (125 ml)
- 1 tsp cinnamon (5 ml)
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (2.5 ml)
- 1/2 cup butter, melted (125 ml)
- 1 cup sugar (250 ml)
- 1/2 cup honey (125 ml)
- 1/2 cup water (125 ml)
- 1 cinnamon stick
- a thick strip of lemon peel (optional)
- Preheat the oven to 175 C (350 F.) In a small bowl, stir together the nuts, sugar and spices.
- Make sure your phyllo is completely thawed, and keep it covered with a tea towel or piece of plastic wrap to keep the sheets from drying out.
- To use a round pan, pullout 8-10 sheets in a stack, place a 9-inch pan over it and cut around them with a sharp knife. (Alternatively, do this with a square or rectangle pan.) Place two sheets in the bottom of the pan and brush with butter. Repeat with the remaining phyllo (save 8-10 sheets for the top), and spread the nut mixture over top. Repeat with another 8-10 sheets, placing them on top; brush the top sheet with butter as well. Tuck in any sticking-out edges.
- Cut into diamonds, wedges, or any shape you like. (This circle with the wedges around it is how they do it at Anatolia Turkish Cuisine in the Crossroads Market — they also import brilliant green pistachios, and make their own phyllo from scratch.)
- Bake for 30-40 minutes, or until deep golden. While the baklava bakes, combine the sugar, honey, water, cinnamon and lemon peel in a pan set over medium-high heat and bring to a boil. Remove from the heat and take out the cinnamon stick and lemon peel.
- When the baklava comes out of the oven, immediately pour the hot syrup evenly over top. Let the baklava stand at room temperature until completely cool. Slice through each piece completely before serving. If you like, top each piece with a sprinkle of finely chopped nuts.