Why Cook with Honey?

Ann’s plum cake.

Until recently, I hadn’t done much baking with honey because I’d always thought that it was a waste to heat a premium product that loses subtle scent and flavour in the process. Honey retains so much more of its flavour in uncooked foods and makes a great addition to things like salad dressings, Greek yogurt, and cake icings, for example. However, it is also really nice in cakes.

I’ve been converted to cooking with honey by my lovely daughter-in-law Maayan who avoids refined sugars and uses naturally sweet foods such as honey and dates instead. Needless to say, I’ll have to keep up honey production to supply her little family too so there will not be much chance of my reducing colony numbers by many this year.

Bakers’ Honey.

Most beekeepers skim off the layer of frothy air bubbles that collect on the top of a honey settling tank or bucket and this is ideal for cooking with. You have to remember to use it fairly soon after jarring because with so much air it can start to ferment in a few months as I discovered recently. I caught mine just when there was a hint of alcohol wafting up from the jar when I opened the lid. It was the honey frothing and moving up to meet me that gave it away. However, it made for a deliciously tasty and moist plum cake which I shall tell you how to make very soon. Did you know that Baker’s honey is used in commercial bakeries?  The legal moisture content for honey sold in UK is ≤20%.  However, we can sell Bakers’ heather honey if it has a moisture content of ≤25% in UK. For other Bakers’ honey, the legal moisture content is ≤23%.

A bee farmer friend of mine in Dumfries always stops jarring honey for sale when he reaches the stage of having a few streaky white flecks of bubbles just below the surface. He jars that honey up for his family. I do the same now and I’m going to store a lot more honey for home use than I’ve done in the past.

Why Honey is Good in Baking.

Why is honey so good in cakes then? Well part of the reason is the hygroscopic nature of honey which is its ability to absorb moisture from the air. Honey is a humectant. This makes it prefect for pancakes, scones, breads, fruit loaves, and cakes because it keeps them moist and fresh for much longer. I don’t cook pies very often but honey gives pie pastry a better crust texture. At this point I should mention that I don’t have a large repertoire of recipes and my culinary accomplishments are modest. I tend to invent a lot of recipes and often use the bung method of measuring ingredients which involves bunging in a bit of this or that. I like to cook everything from scratch every day and eat only food in season when possible. It is all pretty simple fare.

Ann’s Food History.

I was a child on a remote Scottish hill farm in Argyll in the 1950’s in the days when shops were mobile vans. A grocery van called once a week with supplies so we didn’t have to shop in the nearest town, which was Campbeltown, very often. A butcher’s van and a fish van came as well, and we produced our own milk and vegetables. Those were the days of the “Onion Johnnies”. I’ll never forget the Frenchmen in their black berets, and their bicycles laden with long strings of onions dangling on all sides, making their way up the remote glen road to the farm settlement to sell their wares.

Cooking was simple and wholesome with mostly organic food produced and we never ate anything out of season. My mother didn’t have a fridge either. We had a pantry or larder in a shaded part of the house off the kitchen. The sun never reached the window which was always open, and a constant breeze kept the room cool. The perishable food stayed fresh in a large cupboard covered in mesh to keep flies and other insects out.

Advantages of Using Honey.

Now you have an idea of my cooking style, back to why honey is good for baking. When you use honey in baking you can lower the oven temperature1 and biscuits bake more quickly and with a crispier texture. Cakes made with honey colour up more quickly and are less likely to have soggy middles and burnt tops. I never cook fat-free or gluten-free recipes but apparently honey works really well for these foods, and if you like making Swiss rolls you can add honey and they are less likely to crack as you roll them. I might just try them again. I never had success in the past due to cracking.

While researching material for this blog, I opened Eva Crane’s A Book of Honey2 and got quite carried away by all the fascinating information she includes on the history of honey, beekeeping, the properties of honey, and its many uses. I’ll give you her recipe for honey and cream cheese icing for cakes in a minute. Getting honey out of the jar can be as tricky as measuring it so you can stand a jar of granulated honey in a jar of very hot water for an hour or so. You can also microwave it on the defrost setting. I read in a recent magazine article how to liquefy granulated honey in the microwave. You can heat the honey in a jar with a metal lid on if you turn the setting to defrost. I tried that today with no explosions and can testify to it working if you need to warm a small amount of honey quickly.


If you are spooning out thick honey you can place the spoon in boiling water first then dry it; the honey comes off the spoon easily. Crane suggests that greasing a spoon works well too. If you are using honey in place of sugar then getting the measurements correct might be tricky if you are following recipes to the last letter, and those from other countries where they use different methods of measuring. I don’t think that it will matter too much in the case of honey, but with other ingredients the finished product might disappoint the cook if the specific volumes or weights are not used.

In the UK we measure ingredients by weight. In a recipe, the weight is usually given in metric with imperial in brackets. In the US, ingredients are usually measured by volume and the unit is a standard cup that holds half a US pint. Since a US pint of water weighs 16 oz, a cup of water weighs 8 oz which is 225 ml. A cup of sifted flour weighs only 4 oz and a cup of sugar will weigh more because it is denser. Interestingly, in 1980, in UK, a cup of granulated sugar weighed 8 oz which was 3 oz more than it did in 1937 (5 oz). This is because sugar crystals became less refined and denser over the years. Honey is a high- density food and one of the heaviest so a US cup of honey contains about 12 oz.

There are two schools of thought about how much honey to use in a recipe. The Chain Bridge Honey Bible1 suggests that because honey is sweeter than sugar you can use less and that works for me because I don’t want to make very sweet cakes. Scientist Eva Crane on the other hand reminds us that honey contains roughly 80% sugar and 20% water, so you need to use 25% more honey than sugar by weight when substituting honey. So, for a recipe that calls for 80 g/4 oz sugar you need to use 100 g/5 oz honey.


Honey and Cream Cheese Cake Icing.

100g/ 4oz/⅔ US cup Softened granulated honey

100g/4oz/⅟2 US cup cream cheese

A drop or two lemon juice

Method: blend ingredients till smooth and add only a tiny amount of lemon juice to taste to prevent the mixture becoming too runny. Spread over any cake.

Dehydrating Food.

I swithered over getting a new chest freezer to hold the plum crop and other home- grown food then I realised that it would be less expensive to buy a small food dehydrator and store the food in jars. It has been really useful and I’ve dehydrated locally gathered mushrooms, courgettes, beetroot, strawberries, and most of the massive plum crop. I like to make cherry cakes using glace cherries but I’ve started using the dried plums in place of cherries, and honey instead of sugar. I’ll share the recipe next. To rehydrate the plum segments, I soak them overnight in a small amount of sugary water.

Plum/Cherry Cake


8 oz dried plums/glace cherries

8 oz self-raising flour

Pinch salt

6 oz butter

6 oz castor sugar/honey (I estimate the quantity of honey and add dollops till I get a good mix with the butter)

3 eggs, beaten

3 oz desiccated coconut or ground almonds

A little milk, if necessary, but not if you have soaked plums in syrup.


Grease a 7-inch cake tin and line with greaseproof paper for ease of removal from tin

Cream butter and honey till well mixed, and add beaten eggs a little at a time. Fold in the flour, coconut, and plums, with a metal spoon and turn into the tin when well mixed. It needs to be a fairly stiff mixture to keep the plums suspended, but it tastes just as nice if they sink to the bottom. I start off heating oven to 180°C and turn down to 150°C once I see the cake rise. It only needs around one hour in the oven and you can test with a skewer before removing to cool for 5 minutes before turning out on a wire tray.


1.Crane, E., (1980) A Book of Honey, Oxford University Press.

2. Ashworth, L., (2016) The Chain Bridge Honey Bible, Birlinn Limited, Edinburgh.

8 thoughts on “Why Cook with Honey?”

  1. Thank you Ann for sharing your knowledge about baking with honey, as well the lovely recipe. I’m encouraged do bake more with honey in the future! ❤️

  2. I really enjoyed this piece, Ann, because you share a bit of your family background (e.g. growing up on a farm without a refrigerator) and you have provided measurements in both weights and volumes. Thank you, too, for the tip of greasing a measuring cup before filling it with honey. A fun read!


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