Is honey and invert sugar?

…asks reader Ed. The answer is that while some people commonly refer to honey as an invert sugar, it’s more accurate to say that honey contains invert sugar. Though it looks like a homogenous liquid, honey is really a hodgepodge of all sorts of stuff: sugars (some invert, some not), proteins, bits of wax, pollens of all sorts, the list goes on. That only makes sense. Bees forage so widely, they harvest nectar from all sorts of sources, and that introduces quite a bit of random…stuff…into honey….

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In Praise of City Honey

I’ll say unreservedly that the honey that Mrs. Pastry and I harvested from our Chicago rooftop hives was the best I’d ever tasted. Not because it was fresh, not because it was ours, but because it had a character unlike any honey I’d eaten before. No, that’s not because it was made from sugars collected from street corner trash cans or city dumpsters (though that’s been known to happen), it’s because it was made from an extremely wide variety of flower nectars. Allow me to explain….

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Kindly place the money in the bag.

The nuns at my Catholic grade school were always fond of saying that there’s no such thing as a circumstance in which good grammar isn’t appreciated. This new story is the perfect illustration of the point. Evidently there’s a bank robber in Colorado who grasps that just because you happen to be pointing a gun at someone and demanding all their money, it doesn’t mean you were brought up in a barn. There’s always a place for the little niceties like good punctuation and proper verb use. It may be armed robbery, but it can also be civilized, yes?…

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Honey Madness

Reader Erica wonders why, if bees have evolved such an effective defense against microscpoic honey thieves, they couldn’t have evolved a more effective defense against larger ones like beekeepers. You know, Erica, I’m not entirely convinced that they aren’t working on that very thing right now. Since antiquity, honeys harvested from parts of northern Turkey have been notorious for their toxic effects. The reason, because they’re produced from the nectar either of of two species of rhododendron, R. luteum and R. ponticum which is known to contain compounds known as grayanotoxins….

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What, you kept bees?

Yes, Mrs. Pastry saw the movie Ulee’s Gold a few too many times and before I knew it I was at the University of Illinois taking a weekend bee husbandry course. We don’t keep them anymore (Mrs. Pastry eventually developed an allergy to stings) but it was one of the most interesting hobbies I’ve had. Bees are endlessly diverting as pets. You never know what those little suckers are going to do or why. Sting you, sure. But over time, as you start falling in love with your hives, you come to regard the stinging as nearly pleasurable. …

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Bee Syrup

You can’t talk bee sting cake without talking honey and bees, now can you? Bees are hands down the world’s premier syrup manufacturers. It’s little wonder why, they’ve been refining their technique for about a hundred million years. The process they use is the same one we employ for making syrup out of tree sap or sugar cane: reduction. They start with a thin 80% water-to-sugar solution that they extract from flowers, then slowly reduce it down until it has a moisture content of right around 18%. At that point they deposit the syrup in a cell in the honey comb, cap it off with wax and await the winter (or the beekeeper).


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What about single-acting baking powder?

I’ve received a couple of questions on the subject this week. Honestly I didn’t know single-acting powder was still out there for anything other than commercial/industrial use. As I mentioned below, double acting baking powders deliver two “actions”, one that happens fast when the batter is being mixed, and another that happens slowly as the batter gets hot. The effect is achieved by combining two different acids with a specific quantity of baking soda (plus a little corn starch to keep the chemicals from reacting in the can). For the fast reaction baking powder manufacturers either use …

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Madeleines With a Humpback

I’ve had several requests to show how madeleines can be made with a hump on the back of them, a shape which many consider to be more authentic (whatever that means) than simple, symmetrical clamshell-shaped ones. I personally like those, but who am I to deny my readers? …

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What about baking soda?

Reader Liam writes to ask whether a baking soda-leavened batter needs to be rushed into the oven as soon as it’s mixed, since that’s what he’s always heard. Another fabulous question. The answer is a rather unsatisfying “it depends”, Liam. A lot of bakers consider baking soda to be something of a chemical one-trick pony. You add it to a wet batter and it reacts, end of story. But that’s not the whole of it. True, if you combine baking soda with plenty of acid à la a baking soda volcano you are going to get a big chemical reaction that will be over almost immediately. However reacting baking soda with acid isn’t the only way to get it to leaven. You can also degrade it by applying heat. Those are two different processes and both …

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Bienenstich Recipe

Lovers of pastry will notice that bee sting cake bears a striking resemblance to tarte Tropézienne. That makes sense since tarte Tropézienne is really a German cake adapted to French resort town living. What are the differences? The bee sting cake filling isn’t as rich, being more custard-y than buttercream-y. Then there’s the matter of the topping: a caramel and sliced almond combo that gives the appearance of a mass of bees on a honeycomb. Here’s what you need:


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Filed under:  Bee Sting Cake (Bienenstich), Pastry | 19 Comments