The short answer is; yes, you can! When first making the switch from sugar to honey as your main sweetener, it might be slightly frustrating. How do you convert your favorite sugar-laden sweet treat to one with honey? Does the type of honey make any difference? Is there any way to make honey less messy? What about candy and frosting?
First, you need to know that heating the honey kills the enzymes in it, removing antimicrobial properties. Other nutrients are also removed, making the honey less nutritious and less effective medicinally than in its raw state. The trace minerals that are in it (whether heated or not) still make it a healthier option than refined sugar, however. As an occasional treat, honey will enhance the flavor of baked goods, tea, fruits, and meats. Plan to use honey or any other natural sweetener (maple syrup, molasses, rice syrup, agave nectar) sparingly, since too much of any kind of sugar, even natural and unrefined ones, can contribute to obesity and inflammatory problems.
How to Convert Recipes from Sugar to Honey
Substituting honey for refined sugar adds moisture and a variety of wonderful flavors to baked goods. Baking with honey is fairly simple, yet so foreign to most of us who were raised on refined foods. With the following tips, most sugar-laden recipes can be deliciously converted to honey.
- Substitute about ½ cup of honey for each cup of sugar. Most modern recipes already use too much sugar. Additionally, honey is about 1.5 times sweeter than sugar.
- For each cup added, either remove 3 tablespoons of other liquid or add 3 tablespoons of flour.
- Honey is slightly acidic. Add ¼ teaspoon of baking soda for each cup of honey added (don’t add any baking soda to yeast breads).
- Because honey browns easier than refined sugar, decrease oven temperature by 25°. It’s also helpful to use a good-quality heavy pan. Watch the cooking time closely.
What Type of Honey to Use
You can bake with any type of honey, including the run-of-the-mill processed clover honey found at the grocery store. Experimenting with other types of honey will easily bring your foods to a gourmet level. Here are some general guidelines to get you started:
- Highlight the stereotypical taste of honey by using a clover or alfalfa honey.
- Raspberry, cranberry and citrus honeys work very well baked with all fruit and added to fruit dips and dressings. You will love them on grapefruit and in lemonade.
- Blackberry honey is buttery.
- Floral honeys such as fireweed, safflower, star thistle, sunflower or wildflower work their wonders in refreshing drinks, including cold tea.
- Tupelo honey may be a good choice to combine with chocolate.
- Herbal honeys are less sweet and keep some of the qualities of the flower. Try avocado, basswood, eucalyptus, rosemary or sage honey in savory sauces, dressings and marinades.
- Spice honeys taste like some of the spices we use. Use them as you would the spices!
- Gallberry: cinnamon, smoke and mint.
- Kiawe: buttery and creamy with a hint of vanilla
- Linden: citrus, mint and cinnamon
- Pumpkin blossom: It perfects the pumpkin pie.
- Tulip Poplar: cinnamon. Great as a syrup, an ice cream topping or in hot tea.
- Earthy honeys are strong-flavored honeys. Generally speaking, they are darker than other honeys, indicating more mineral content. They may taste a little more like molasses. They combine well with strong cheeses and in savory dishes. Some honey in this category include blueberry, buckwheat, Manzanita, mesquite and pine.
The best tip I ever read for baking with honey was to rub a little of your favorite oil onto the measuring cup. The honey will easily slip out of the cup, decreasing your prep time. To make cleanup even easier, oil the beater, bowl, and rubber spatulas. Another tip I have read (but haven’t tried) is to use creamed honey (crystallized, or “sugared” honey), which can be scooped and leveled much the same as shortening.
Candy and Frosting
Honey works best when it’s not heated above 260° F (hard-ball stage). It burns easily and is difficult to manipulate. Honey isn’t nearly as artistic as refined sugar. My thought is that you should use honey for taste, and use sugar for art–look at it, but don’t eat it.
A simple, yet delicious frosting can be created by combining two parts cream cheese with one part honey. This frosting tastes great (especially with other flavors added such as orange or lemon zest), but is difficult to use for traditional cake decorating. Again, artists unconcerned with either taste or health will want to use the traditional buttercream frosting made with fine powdered sugar. If you have found a way to make buttercream frosting healthier (and taste better!), please share it with us!
What recipes will you convert to honey? As you experiment and as you find varietal honeys at the local farmers’ market, natural food store or online, tell us of your experiences! What honey recipes do you enjoy? Which types of honey are your favorite?