Meeting the bee keepers
Known for both its culinary and health benefits, honey is one of nature’s true gifts. I wanted to find out more about how honey gets from the flower to our toast, so I headed off to a local honey producer in Charente Maritime, SW France where three generations of the same family have been producing honey for more than 50 years. Christian Robert along with his son and grandson were delighted to share their knowledge with me.
‘Preparation begins in the winter’ he told me ‘whilst the bees are dormant’. Bees begin foraging for nectar in early spring as the first flowers begin to appear. They transform the pollen to honey in the combs and then cap it with a layer of wax where it remains until collected by the beekeeper. Once full the combs are removed for processing and replaced by new frames and the cycle continues throughout summer. Once collected the beekeeper removes the outer wax coating revealing the liquid honey beneath. It is filtered in an extraction machine, stored in barrels to separate off the sediment before being heated gently (below 40c) and poured into jars for selling.
So what is honey exactly
It is a highly concentrated sugar solution made up of 70% sugar (fructose and glucose) and less than 20% water plus vitamins, minerals and antioxidants. Extracted honey can be liquid, crystalized (set honey) or partially crystalized and this crystallization is a natural occurrence that takes place when the percentage of glucose is higher than that of fructose.
Honey is categorised by the type of flowers from which the nectar is sourced. This is also what gives honey its flavour. The darker the honey the more intense the flavour.
Different honey varieties
Monofloral honey, considered a premium honey, is produced by nectar collected from just one flower source such as acacia, leatherwood, manuka, heather, orange blossom and other single flower varieties. It can be runny or set, light, dark, creamy or crystalline.
Polyfloral honey is made from the nectar of different flowers and is likely to be labelled simply as honey and again the colour and texture varies. Blended honey, also labelled just honey, is made by combining different flavoured honeys together and is usually the cheapest of all the types sold. The flavour of these is milder and I think, inferior. These honeys will have been heat-treated and possibly pasteurised.
Then we have ‘raw’ honey, so called due to the method of processing and must be 100% unprocessed, so once extracted it is warmed only enough to pour into jars and not enough to change it’s structure. Often sold directly from producers ‘raw’ honey is perhaps the most desirable of all honey, especially as there is now a growing demand by consumers for locally sourced honey.
The taste test
The best way to decide which type of honey you prefer is by tasting different ones, see what you like and what you don’t. As well as colour, the texture of honey differs too and is classified as creamy honey, set honey or a thin honey. Set honey is crystalline but this doesn’t mean that the honey is old or has ‘gone off’ it is just that the glucose content is higher than the fructose content. The flavour will remain the same.
In cooking stick to runny honeys for salad dressings and marinades, as they are easier to combine with other ingredients. A thicker, darker honey is great in cake baking as this will add both flavour and moisture.
Over time all honey will set and crystalize, but it can easily be softened by warming it in a water bath or microwave. Honey will remain in the same state for up to 2 years but must be stored in a cool, dark place (not refrigerated) even once its been opened.
The health benefits
Of course honey is not only used in cooking it is also prized for its apparent health benefits. There has been much written and reported over the years to suggest honey can cure or aid everything from the common cold, sore throats, help with digestion, combat ulcers and more recently help prevent hay fever. ‘Raw’ locally produced honey is thought to be beneficial as it will contain minute quantities of the very flowers that give you the sniffles, gradually building up immunity.
It is a fact that ‘raw’ untreated honey retains all it’s original enzymes and antioxidants and has antibiotic and antimicrobial properties and protects against bacteria. Of all honeys, manuka honey is generally accepted as having the most health benefits due to a higher percentage of certain components it contains. In fact medical grade manuka honey is used to help heal wounds.
Because honey contains natural fruit sugars it means that our bodies absorb the energy they provide more quickly than other sugars, making them an ideal quick ‘energy fix’. It is important to remember though that any sugar should be consumed in moderation but if you are only going to eat one type of sugar today, make it honey on your toast.
Honey facts – things you never knew about honey and honeybees
- Honeybees are the only insects that produce food for humans
- They visit anywhere between 50 and 100 flowers on each trip
- Honey is more than 1 to1.5 times sweeter than sugar therefore you need less in order to sweeten something
- Honey is a natural antibiotic used for thousands of years to help soothe burns. The World Health Organisation lists it as a sore throat aid.
- Honeybees communicate with each other by dancing
Honeybees only sting when they are protecting their colony and not when they are foraging for nectar
Rosewater and pistachio baklava pave
100 g shelled pistachio nuts
50 g almonds
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons soft brown sugar
8 sheets filo pastry
50 g unsalted butter
grated zest and juice 1/2 lemon
200 g clear honey
2 tablespoons rose water
1 litre vanilla ice cream, softened
dried rose petals buds, to serve
Make the baklava. Preheat the oven to 180c/fan-forced 160c. Place the pistachio nuts, almonds and cinnamon in a food processor and blend until the nuts are coarsely ground. Stir in the sugar and reserve 4 tablespoons for serving.
Lightly oil 23cm square tin. Cut each pastry sheet in half and trim to fit into the tin. Brush each sheet with butter and press into the prepared tin to make 8 layers. Scatter over the nut mixture and then top with the remaining sheets of pastry, brushing with melted butter each time.
Brush over any remaining butter and bake at for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 160c/fan-forced140c and bake for a further 20-25 minutes until pastry is crisp and golden. Remove from the oven and using a skewer prick the surface all over the pastry.
Meanwhile, prepare the syrup. Place the lemon zest, juice, honey and 100ml water in a saucepan and heat gently until boiling. Simmer for 5 minutes, remove from heat and stir in the rose water. Immediately pour three quarters of the honey syrup over the baklava and leave to go cold in the tin.
Assemble the pavé. Turn the pastry out of the tin and cut in half. Spread a third of the ice cream into the base of a lightly oil 12×22 cm loaf tin and place one half of baklava on top. Repeat with the ice cream and remaining baklava and finally the remaining ice cream. Smooth the top and cover with cling film. Freeze overnight. Turn out cut into slices, drizzle over the remaining syrup and decorate with dried rose petals and reserved chopped nut
Coconut sesame prawns with honey sauce
100 g dried thin egg noodles
24 large raw prawns
2 tablespoons clear honey
2 tablespoons Shaoxing rice wine
2 cloves garlic, crushed
11/2 tablespoons light soy sauce
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1 tablespoon toasted sesame seeds
a few coriander sprigs
vegetable oil, for deep frying
Place the noodles in a bowl and add boiling water to cover. Leave to soak for 20 minutes, drain well and pat dry on kitchen paper. Peel and de-vein the prawns and wrap 8-10 noodles around each. Deep-fry in 5 cm vegetable oil for 3-4 minutes until crisp and golden, turning half way through. Drain on kitchen paper and transfer to a warmed platter.
Make the sauce. Place honey, rice wine, garlic, soy sauce and sesame oil in a small saucepan and bring to the boil. Simmer for 2 minutes and pour over the prawns. Garnish with sesame seeds and coriander.
Roasted chicken salad with warm honey dressing
2 kg free range chicken, butterflied
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tbsp quatre epices (or mixed ground spice)
a drizzle honey
500 g sweet potatoes, peeled cut into cubes
1/2 red onion
parsley, mint, coriander
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon clear honey
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, diced
1 tablespoon chopped fresh coriander
1small red chilli, seeded and diced
salt and pepper
Preheat the oven to 200c. Place chicken in a large bowl and rub. Combine the oil quatre epices, salt and pepper in a bowl and rub all over the chicken. Cook on a barbecue or grill pan for 20-25 minutes each side until cooked through, brushing over a little honey about 5 minutes before finished cooking (skin side only).
While the chicken is cooking, place the sweet potatoes in a roasting tin with a little oil, salt and pepper and roast for 45 minutes, stirring half way through until charred and tender.
Meanwhile, make the dressing. Blitz together the oil, honey, lemon juice, preserved lemon and coriander and stir in the chilli and some salt and pepper to taste.
Cut chicken into pieces and toss with the dressing. Combine the sweet potatoes, spinach leaves, red onion and herbs in a bowl and toss well. Transfer to a platter. Pile the chicken in the middle drizzling any pan juices over the salad. Serve at once.
Herb infused honey pots – to give as gifts, small pots of honey flavoured with herbs such as fennel flowers, lavender, rosemary etc. Simply stir in your favourite flavours, seal and store until required.
All images © Ian Wallace
All recipes © Louise Pickford
Taken from my article first published by Food & Travel Magazine, August/September 2105
I am really excited to announce a 3 day / 4 night cookery workshop next June, to be held in one of the most beautiful locations in the region. I have recently begun collaborating with Katie and Mike Armitage of Les Soeurs Anglaises in the Dordogne, where together we host pop up dinners and have formed a private dining club we call La Tablée (the sharing table) for local residents.
Katie has been hosting creative workshops at L’Espace, a superb barn conversion turned workshop venue, so it is the ideal place for me to run my first residential course.
The long weekend will kick off with an evening meal, prepared and cooked by me, welcoming you all to the course. On the first morning you can accompany me to the largest weekly market in the region to discover the season’s best local produce. If you like, this could include a pastry and coffee at the market rather than breakfast at the accommodation.
Light lunches will be provided each day.
After breakfast, on mornings two and three you are free to relax and spoil yourself in the beautiful surroundings, by one of the two pools, or take a walk through the stunning countryside. Extra cookery classes can also be arranged as can visits to local producers or food stores.
All three afternoons will be spent with hands on cooking, where we will prepare our evening meal. I will demonstrate some of the more complex dishes teaching you how to prepare meat, fish, seafood and vegetables. It will be all hands on deck, slicing, chopping, searing and roasting.
Each evening we will sit down to share the wonderful meal prepared together, accompanied of course with complimentary wines.
The workshop includes
- 4 nights accommodation
- 3 days of L’Espace workshop with me
- All breakfasts, lunches, dinners (served with wine) and refreshments
- Snacks and beverages throughout your stay
- A morning visit to local market
- Pick-up and drop-off at arrival airport Bergerac / train station Angouleme (at allocated times)*
- *Air and train fares to and from collection points in France are not included.
Pricing for this 3 night/4 day workshop varies depending on your choice of accommodation. Please see prices below or click here to see our accommodation photo gallery.
A: Single occupancy of Superior double bedroom with en suite: 930€ per person
B: Single occupancy of Twin bedroom shared bathroom 750€ per person
C: Shared Twin bedrrom / shared bathroom: 620€ per person
In order to secure your place on this course we require a 170€ non-refundable deposit to secure a booking, the full balance being payable two months prior to the start of the workshop.
Limited to 10 places
For further information or to book your place on this exciting weekend of cooking, please visit http://www.lessoeursanglaises.com/food-styling-photography
Hello friends and followers of A Food Stylist’s Blog, I am back on WordPress, the only slight change is my site title is Come Cook in France (just so I can get all the i’s dotted) but otherwise my content will remain the same.
So with this piece of news comes my favourite recipe of the moment.
and for any of you who missed my latest posts on my website, please click on the link Come Cook In France
Margarita cheesecake with salted lime crackle
200g white chocolate, melted
50g butter, melted
175g digestive biscuits, crushed
grated zest and juice 3 limes
250g caster sugar
600g soft cheese
1 teaspoon sea salt
Finely grate 50g of the white chocolate into a shallow bowl. Take 8 martini or margarita glasses, dip the rims into cold water and then into the grated chocolate to coat the rims. Set aside for 5 minutes.
Melt the butter in a small saucepan and pour into a bowl. Add the digestives and stir well until evenly coated. Divide between the glasses pressing them down lightly using the end of a rolling pin. Chill until required.
Combine the lime juice, tequila and half the sugar in a small saucepan and heat gently, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Bring to the boil and then remove from the heat. Leave to cool completely.
Melt the remaining chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of gently simmering water (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water), stirring until the chocolate is melted. Allow to cool for 5 minutes.
Place the cheese in a food processor with the tequila lime mixture and blitz until smooth. Then stir in the melted chocolate and cream and blend again. Using a piping bag with a large lain nozzle divide the mixture between the glasses. Chill for at least 2 hours.
Make praline. Line a baking sheet with baking paper. Combine the remaining sugar with 2 tablespoons water in a small saucepan and heat very gently, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook without stirring for a further 5-6 mins until the liquid turns golden brown. Pour the caramel onto the prepared tray and leave to go cold.
Roughly crumble the praline and place in a food processor with the lime zest and salt and blitz to make a slightly chunky crumb mixture. Spoon onto the set creams and serve at once.
I don’t know why but I can’t stop thinking about chocolate today, must be feeling the need to indulge I guess. Anyway, I decided to take a look back at some of the chocolate features I have done in the past and came across this rather romantic shoot with a kinda glam/vintage/gold look – a bit kitsch I suppose. Well to be honest, the food is the hero and I know they all tasted fantastic.
Whether you call them churros (Spain) doughnuts (UK) or beignets (France) this deep fried pastries are 100% delicious especially when drizzled with a rich chocolate sauce.
Cinnamon spiced churros with chocolate Grand Marnier sauce
250 ml water
120 g butter
180 g plain flour, twice sifted
3 medium eggs (size 3)
75 g caster sugar
2 tsp ground cinnamon
chocolate Grand Marnier sauce
125 g dark chocolate
100 ml single cream
2 tbsp Grand Marnier
vegetable oil for frying
Heat the water and butter in a saucepan over low heat, stirring until the butter melts. Tip in the flour and salt and beat well with a wooden spoon until the mixture comes away from the pan edges (this will be almost immediate). Leave to cool for 5 minutes.
Using an electric whisk beat the eggs into the dough one at a time until smooth and slightly glossy. Spoon the dough into a piping bag fitted with a 1cm star nozzle.
Heat vegetable oil in a large, heavy-based saucepan to a depth of 7 cm until it reaches 170c/330f on a sugar thermometer (or until a small amount of the dough sizzles as soon as it is dropped into the oil). Carefully pipe approximately 15 cm lengths of the dough straight into the hot oil, using a knife to cut the dough off at the nozzle. Fry 3 at a time for 3 minutes until crisp and golden, turning half way through using metal tongs. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen towel. Keep warm in a moderate oven while cooking the rest.
Combine the sugar and cinnamon on a plate and roll the churros in the mixture until coated.
Meanwhile, heat the chocolate and cream together in a small saucepan over a low heat, stirring, until the chocolate melts. Remove from the heat Grand Marnier. Arrange the churros on a platter and serve with the chocolate sauce for dipping.
Chocolate pecan tartlets
200 g plain flour, sifted
1/2 tsp salt
100 g chilled butter, diced
50 g caster sugar
2 egg yolks
2-3 tbsp iced water
100 g dark chocolate
20 g butter
80 g light soft brown sugar
2 medium eggs
100 ml golden syrup
1 tsp vanilla essence
200 g pecan halves
icing sugar, to dust
vanilla ice cream, to serve
Heat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6. Make the pastry. Sift the flour into a bowl and stir in the salt. Rub in the butter until the mixture resembles fine crumbs and stir in the sugar. Make a well in the middle and work in the egg yolks and enough water to just bring the dough together.
Gently work the dough into a ball, flatten to a disc and wrap in cling film. Chill the dough for 30 minutes. Divide the dough equally into 6 and roll each one out to an 18 cm disc. Press into 6 x 12 cm tartlet tins.
Prick the bases with a fork and chill for a further 20 minutes.
Line the pastry cases with baking paper and baking beans and bake blind for 12 minutes. Remove the paper and beans and bake for a further 5 minutes or until pastry is crisp and lightly golden. Leave to go cold. Reduce oven temperature to 170c/325f/gas mark 3.
Melt the chocolate and butter together in a small saucepan, stirring until smooth. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar. Whisk the eggs, golden syrup and vanilla essence together until smooth and then stir in the chocolate mixture.
Place the pastry cases on a baking tray and divide the nuts between each one. Carefully pour in the filling. Bake the tartlets for 20 minutes or until just firm in the centre, remove from the oven and set aside to cool for 30 minutes. Dust with icing sugar and serve with ice cream.
Triple layer chocolate and Tia Maria mousse
60 g dark chocolate
2 medium eggs, separated
55 g caster sugar
2 tbsp cocoa powder, sifted
4 gelatine leaves (200 bloom)
50 ml Tia Maria
300 g dark chocolate
3 medium egg, separated
250 ml double cream
150 g dark chocolate
60 g unsalted butter
90 thickened cream
1 tbsp liquid glucose
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4 and oil and line the base of a 22 cm cake tin baking paper. Make the cake base. Melt the chocolate in a bowl set of a pan of just simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) and stir until melted. Cool for 5 minutes. Whisk the egg whites and sugar together for 3 minutes until thick and glossy and then stir in the egg yolks, cocoa powder and finally the melted chocolate until evenly combined. Pour into the prepared tin and bake for 12 minutes. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tin for 5 minutes and then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
Oil and line the base and sides of a deep 20 cm loose bottom cake tin. Press the cooled cake into the base of the tin so it fits as snuggly as possible. Set aside.
Make the mousse. Place the gelatine leaves in a bowl and cover with cold water, leave to soak for 5 minutes until the leaves soften. Squeeze the water from the gelatine and place in a small saucepan with the Tia Maria. Heat very gently, stirring until the gelatine is completely dissolved.
Melt the chocolate in a bowl set over a pan of just simmering water (do not let the base of the bowl touch the water) stirring until smooth. Let cool for 5 minutes, then beat in the egg yolks and cream and stir in the gelatine mixture. Whisk the egg whites in a clean bowl until stiff and carefully fold through the chocolate mixture until evenly combined. Pour over the cake base and chill for 4 hours or until firm.
Make the glaze. Place the chocolate, butter, cream and liquid glucose in a small saucepan and stir over a gentle heat until smooth. Cool for 5 minutes and then very carefully pour over the top of the set mousse. Chill for a further 1 hour until set.
Carefully remove the mousse cake from the tin and peel away the paper. Decorate the top with your preferred decorations. To serve use a knife dipped into hot water to help cut smoothly through the three layers.
Divine chocolate cups with salted cocoa nib caramel shards
Cocoa nib are lightly crushed cocoa beans. They are readily available from larger supermarkets, health food stores or online.
250 ml double cream
1/2 vanilla pod
125 g dark chocolate
2 egg yolks
1 tbsp caster sugar
salted cocoa nib caramel shards
125 g caster sugar
3 tbsp water
2 tbsp cocoa nibs
1 tsp sea salt
Preheat the oven to 140c/275f/gas mark 1 and place 6 x 100 ml cups or ramekin dishes in a baking tin. Place 175 ml of cream in a small saucepan and scrape in the seeds from the vanilla pod. Heat gently until the cream just starts to simmer, but do not allow the mixture to boil. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for 20 minutes.
Melt the remaining cream and chocolate together in a bowl set over a pan of just simmering water (do not let the bowl touch the water) stirring until smooth. Beat the egg yolks and sugar together and stir in the chocolate cream and vanilla cream until combined.
Divide the mixture between the cups and pour in enough boiling water to come half way up the sides. Transfer to the oven and bake for about 30-35 minutes until they are just firm in the middle. Cool and then refrigerate over night.
Make the caramel about 30 minutes before serving. Place the sugar and water in a saucepan and heat very gently without stirring until the sugar is completely dissolved. Bring to the boil and cook for about 5 minutes until the liquid turns a golden caramel colour.
Meanwhile, place a sheet of baking paper on a baking tray and have the cocoa nibs and sea salt to hand. As soon as the caramel is ready pour onto the prepared paper and allow it to form a thin pool. Immediately scatter over the coco nibs and sea salt and set aside to cool and set. Break the toffee into shards and serve a few shards on top of each chocolate cup.
Molten chocolate and dulce de leche puddings
100 g unsalted butter, plus extra for greasing
100g dark chocolate
2 eggs, plus 2 egg yolks
1 tsp vanilla essence
125 g caster sugar
100 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
4 tsp salted caramel sauce
cocoa powder, to dust
double cream, to serve
Preheat the oven to 180c/350f/gas mark 4. Line the bases and brush the insides of 4 x 150 ml metal dariole molds with melted butter and chill for 10 minutes. Arrange the molds on a baking tin.
Meanwhile, melt the butter and chocolate together in a saucepan, stirring until melted. Remove from the heat and leave to cool for 5 minutes.
Beat the eggs, egg yolks, vanilla essence and sugar in a bowl, using an electric whisk, for 3-4 minutes until thick and fluffy. Sift over the flour and carefully fold in along with the chocolate mixture until smooth.
Spoon half the mix into the prepared molds, add 1 teaspoon of salted caramel sauce to the middle of each one and cover with the remaining chocolate mixture to about 5 mm from the top. Bake for 15 minutes until the tops are set and slightly cracked. Remove from the oven but let cool in the tins for 5 minutes.
Invert the puddings onto serving plates tapping the bases lightly if necessary. Remove the paper from the bases. Dust with cocoa powder and serve immediately with cream.
Pork with spring greens
A lovely combination of tender pork fillet and mixed spring greens in a light buttery stock. Delicious with or without crème fraiche.
4 large slices Parma ham
2 x 350g pork tenderloin fillet
2 shallots, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
2 teaspoons chopped fresh thyme
1 leek, sliced
250g cabbage hearts
100g broccoli florets
250ml chicken stock
150g frozen peas
2 tablespoons chopped fresh herbs such as mint, chives and parsley
salt and pepper
crème fraiche, to serve (optional)
Preheat the oven to 200c/400f/gas mark 6. Lay the Parma ham slices flat on a board. Cut each pork tenderloin in half crossways to give 4 x 175g pieces. Season lightly with salt and pepper and wrap each one with the ham, securing in place with cocktail sticks.
Heat the oil in a large frying pan and once hot, sear the pork fillets for 3-4 minutes until evenly browned. Transfer to a roasting tin and roast for 15 minutes. Remove from the oven and rest, covered for 5 minutes.
Meanwhile, melt half the butter and gently fry the shallots, garlic, thyme and a little salt and pepper over a low heat for 5 minutes. Add the leeks, cabbage and broccoli and stir well then add the stock. Simmer gently, covered for 5 minutes. Add the peas and cook for a further 2 minutes.
Stir in the remaining butter and any pork juices, cover and let sit for 1 minute. Serve the pork with the vegetables and pan juices, with a little crème fraiche, if wished.
Introducing a brand new collaboration between Come Cook In France’s food styling and photography workshops and Les Soeurs Anglaises a boutique workshop and accommodation venue in the beautiful Dordogne department in SW France.
Learn the secrets of how to choose, assemble and cook beautiful and memorable food images with myself and husband, food and lifestyle photographer Ian Wallace. Together we will guide you through a 5 day course, enabling you to gain vital knowledge, experience and the confidence to create your own publication ready images, as well as enjoying the lifestyle and food of SW France. For prices and more details of the next course, please clink on the following link Les Soeurs Anglaises
The course runs from 6th-12th June 2018.