Updated: Jan 3
This New Year's Eve, we got together with a few friends for an open-air, good-bye-to- 2021 potluck. Wanting to depart from our usual tropically-themed food selection, we agreed that we would each contribute some kind of Greek culinary food item to the menu. I, of course, wanted to make something with our honey, since the Greeks are as passionate about honey as we are at Pualani Bee Farm.
A BIT OF ANCIENT HISTORY
Humans have been gathering honey from bees for millennia. The earliest found depiction of humans collecting honey from wild bees dates to about 15,000 years ago and is found in the Cave of the Spider (la Cueva de la Araña) near Valencia, Spain. However, the earliest known form of organized beekeeping, or apiculture, occurred in ancient Egypt, with twig and reed designed hives allowing beekeepers to manage colonies of the Egyptian Honeybee (Apis mellifera lamarcki). Beekeeping in pottery vessels began in North Africa around 9,000 years ago and by 1500 BCE, beekeeping had spread throughout the Nile region
Beekeeping arrived in Greece from ancient Egypt during the Archaic period (800 BC - to 480 BC) and progressed over the centuries from raising bees in hollow trees, to woven baskets, clay hives, and finally to the wooden boxes used worldwide today. The art of beekeeping in Greece is passed along in families from one generation to the next. Thus, it is not surprising that honey plays an important role in traditional Greek cuisine. In Greece, honey is known as the ‘Nectar of the Gods,’ and has been used traditionally throughout the country in desserts, to sweeten beverages, and in savory cooking.
GREEK DESSERTS WITH A HAWAIIAN FLAIR
Being a lover of all things dessert-like, I decided I would try my hand at making a Greek dessert that would work well with Pualani Bee Farm honey. For example, in Greece, orange blossom honey is used when making baklava or other desserts that call for the addition of honey and orange peels (orange zest) to the recipe, such as Greek honey cake or Greek donuts, called loukoumades (see the recipes below), which–like baklava–also get drenched in honey.
So, for our New Year's Eve soiree, I decided to make the Greek Honey Cake (also called Greek Walnut Cake) but substituting the traditionally used Orange Blossom Honey with Pualani Bee Farm's Tropical Wildflower Honey. The rich floral essence of our Wildflower honey delightfully complements the aromatic citrus zest oils found in Hawaiian-grown oranges.
ABSOLUTELY DIVINE! Indeed, honey is the Nectar of the Gods!
GREEK HONEY CAKE
For the cake:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon orange zest
¾ cup butter
¾ cup white sugar
¼ cup milk
1 cup chopped walnuts
For the honey syrup:
1 cup caster sugar
1 cup honey
¾ cup water
1 teaspoon lemon juice
Step 1: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C). Grease and flour a 9 inch square pan. Combine the flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and orange zest. Set aside.
Step 2: In a large bowl, cream together the butter and 3/4 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs one at a time. Beat in the flour mixture alternately with the milk, mixing just until incorporated. Stir in the walnuts.
Step 3: Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake in the preheated oven for 40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Allow to cool for 15 minutes.
Step 4: For the Honey Syrup: In a saucepan, combine honey, 1 cup sugar and water. Bring to a simmer and cook 5 minutes. Stir in lemon juice, bring to a boil and cook for 2 minutes. Then allow the honey syrup to cool.
Step 5: Use a skewer to spike holes into the cooled cake. The more holes, the more the syrup will seep into the cake. SLOWLY pour the honey syrup mixture over the cake, being careful not to spill it over the sides. Allow the syrup to absorb completely into the cake before carefully drizzling more over the cake--using about 1/3 to 1/2 of the syrup (depending on how sweet you want the cake to be).
Step 6: Serve with an additional splash of the honey syrup from the remaining mixture and some vanilla ice cream (or try it with orange sorbet!); sprinkled with powdered sugar and a sprig of mint; or dusted with chopped pistachios. Very easy and very yummy!
By the way, the Egyptians make a honey cake, called Namoura, but with cream of wheat. To get closer to the "real deal" try finding the ingredients to and making the ancient Egyptian Tiger Nut Honey Cake (or substituting the tiger nut with walnuts and/or almonds), a dessert recipe that dates to about 1600 BCE. So just as beekeeping arrived in Greece from ancient Egypt, perhaps the honey cake did as well! That's a topic of research for another day! In the meantime, why not try out some recipes for Ancient Egyptian Honey desserts!
GREEK DONUTS (LOUKOUMADES)
For the loukoumades
1 cup of lukewarm water
1 cup of lukewarm milk
0.5 oz. active dry yeast
3 1/4 of a cup flour
2 tbsps sugar
1 flat tsp salt
4 tbsps olive oil
vegetable oil for frying
3/4 cup honey (350g/ 13 oz.)
chopped walnuts (and/or pistachios)
Step 1: To prepare this traditional loukoumades recipe, start by making the dough. In a bowl add the water, sugar and yeast. Stir with a whisk until the yeast dissolves completely and wait for 5 minutes. In a mixer's bowl, add the yeast mixture and add the rest of the ingredients for the dough and whisk at high speed (for about 2 minutes) until the mixture becomes a smooth batter. (You could also use a hand whisk. Whisk until the mixture has no lumps).
Step 2: Cover the bowl with some plastic wrap and let the dough rest in a warm place for at least 1 hour to rise.
Step 3: Pour enough vegetable oil into a medium-sized frying pan to deep fry the loukoumades. Heat the oil using medium heat until hot. Test if the oil is hot enough by dripping in some of the dough for the loukoumades batter. If it sizzles the oil is ready. Or use a kitchen thermometer and measure the oil to be at 160C / 320F.
Step 4: Dip a tablespoon in some oil, shake it a bit to remove any excess. It is best to dip the spoon in oil and not water. Dip your hand in the dough and using your palm, squeeze out a small portion of dough between your thumb and index finger, like you are making a fist. Using the spoon, grab the dough ball off of your hand and let it drop in the hot oil. Repeat this procedure until the surface of the pan is comfortably filled. You should dip the spoon in the oil & shake off every time, so that the batter doesn’t stick to it.
Step 5: While the loukoumades are being fried, use a slotted spoon to push them into the oil and turn them on all sides until they are golden brown. Place the loukoumades on some kitchen paper to drain and remove the excess oil. Repeat with the rest of the dough.
Step 6: Serve the loukoumades on a large platter, drizzle with the honey and sprinkle with cinnamon and chopped walnuts and/or pistachios. ALTERNATIVELY, if you are in a mood for a chocolatey delight, replace the pure honey with Pualani Bee Farm's Sun-Infused Honey with Cacao Nibs and serve with vanilla ice cream drizzled with more honey.