11 July 2008

Honey Bees


Photogenic Bees

Another thing I discovered in California was a mild obsession with bees. As I lingered around the pool enjoying the sunshine and pleasant temperatures I couldn't help but notice the steady activity of the honeybees tending the abundant white lavender plants nearby. With my camera in hand I moved closer to investigate. Before I knew it I was spellbound by the perfectly photogenic nature of bees. These lovely honeybees, so busily combing the lavender blossoms, resembled little winged lions with rough and bushy manes.


They would lightly settle on the small lavender blossoms for a moment, put their face in the center and pull the soft fragrant petals up around themselves with their arms in a fervent embrace. A moment later they would move on to another blossom nearby. They seemed so rash and amorous and determined they began to remind me of Pepe Le Pew of Looney Tunes fame. What gorgeous and attentive creatures! They persisted throughout the afternoon. If they were shooed away they hovered at a safe distance for a short time then gradually returned to continue their pursuit.

There were so many honeybees on the lavender flowers, and they were so appealing, that I began to take their picture. Having learned a bit about macro photography from taking pictures of food I tried to get close and capture the same particular detail as I photographed the bees. At first I was a little nervous as their buzzing drew close to my ears, but then, finding that these bees were rather difficult to deter from the object of their desire, I began to relax.

As I settled in among the bees I marveled at just how amazing compact digital cameras are. Sometimes I dream of a more sophisticated Digital SLR camera but I am still surprised and thrilled by what my Canon Powershot 1100 Digital Elph can do without being any trouble at all to lug about. It just slips into my pocket or rests in my palm. It is light weight, easy to keep close by and there when I want it. I sat there, close to the lavender watching and snapping photos. Some of the bees were skittish and hurried away while others were fabulous models, indifferent to and undeterred by the proximity of my lens. I ended up capturing some wonderful images.


Comb Honey and Bee Cake

Enchanted as I was by those energetic little honeybees, when we decided to make a cake that afternoon we chose to make a Honey Chocolate Cake from Nigella's "Feast" cookbook. This choice was totally colored not only by the fact that Nigella's chocolate cakes are delicious but also by the cute little bees she decorates the cake with and tells you how to make.

Of course, to make this cake, we needed honey. Just like me, my sister-in-law had several different half used containers of honey in her pantry, each in a different stage of crystallization. One jar contained comb honey. I had never eaten comb honey before and this seemed like a great time to try it. As she removed the comb from the jar, to pour what remained into a measuring cup, I broke off a piece and let it settle on my tongue. Mmmm! Naturally it tasted like rich sweet honey but with more substance. As it began to dissolve in my mouth, I chewed the comb. Soon, all that remained was a small bit of soft beeswax. I understand that this wax is perfectly fine to eat (but, if you have a way to discretely dispose of it, that's okay too.)



Different Shades of Honey

As we continued to explore the honey on hand my sister-in-law took a container of dark honey from another cabinet. This honey had a different sort of comb settled in it, one with an irregular shape. This honey , she told me, had been given to her by a neighbor. The neighbor had a bee infestation and when she called a professional to remove the bees they did the job competently but then told her that the honey and comb was no good and offered to dispose of it for her. Skeptical, she said no, thank you, she would keep it. When she tried it she declared it to be the best honey she had ever tasted. So I tasted it too and it was good. Very good. The flavor was more complex and vibrant than that of the other honey I had tasted.

When you think about it, honey is a truly amazing substance! It has been valued throughout history for its sweetness, is mentioned a number of times in the Bible as it is compared to the sweetness of God's word and is now believed to have many healthful and even medicinal qualities. So why haven't I ever thought to make a honey cake before? Yet as my Writing Encourager tells me, yesterdays don't count. You can always "just start today".

Something Worth Celebrating

We baked the cake but had to wait until later to decorate it. We had plans to go shopping and eat gelato and then spend the evening in San Francisco. We had tickets to see "Beach Blanket Babylon" at Club Fugazi and wanted to eat dinner at Pacific Cafe. Our plans began to crowd our efforts in the kitchen but we remained undiscouraged. All would be well. We would simply finish and eat our Honey Chocolate Cake when we got home.

It was a blast! We had a wonderful evening out. Dinner was delicious and Beach Blanket Babylon turned out to be a wonderfully funny musical review. At the end of the evening we felt that we had experienced at least a small taste of San Francisco.

When we got back to the house we found that we were still surprisingly energetic. We got out the cookbook and made the little marzipan bees according to Nigella's instructions. We then nestled them on the top of the cake, poured champagne and cut into our creation. It was wonderful! Rich, chocolaty, lusciously sweet and moist. It was a success in so many ways. It isn't every day we take the opportunity to notice, explore, shape and appreciate the small wonders of life: bees, honey, lavender blossoms, neighbors, family, the opportunity to travel, a night out on the town or even a small piece of marzipan. When we do, well that is something worth celebrating!


Honey Chocolate Cake
from Nigella Lawson's "Feast, Food to Celebrate Life"

Cake

4 oz semisweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces
1 1/3 cups light brown sugar
2 sticks butter, softened
1/2 cup honey
2 egg, at room temperature
1 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 Tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder, sifted
1 cup boiling water

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Prepare a 9-inch springform pan by buttering the sides and bottom and lining it with parchment paper.

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or using a double boiler. Set aside to cool.

Beat the sugar and butter together until fluffy.

Add the honey and continue beating as you add the eggs, one at a time, beating in a tablespoon of the flour with each addition.

Fold the melted chocolate into the batter.

Sift together the remaining flour, baking soda and cocoa powder and stir it into the batter.

Beat in the boiling water.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake at 350 degrees for approximately one hour. (Check after 45 minutes. Cover loosely with foil, if necessary, until the cake tests done.)

Place the cake on a wire rack to cool. When the cake is cool remove it from the pan and settle it onto a serving plate.

Cover with Honey Glaze and candy Bees.

Honey Glaze

1/4 cup water
1/2 cup runny honey
6 oz semisweet chocolate chips or chopped chocolate
1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons confectioners' sugar, sifted

Combine water and honey in a small saucepan and bring to a boil. Turn the heat off and add the chocolate. Let it sit for a few minutes and then whisk until combined.

Add the confectioners' sugar, then whisk again until smooth.

Pour the frosting over the cold honey cake, smoothing it over the top and around the sides. It will drip and puddle. (Put strips of waxed paper or parchment paper under the edges of the cake to catch the drips if you desire.) When the glaze is set (this will take a while) remove the strips and discard.

Bees

1 oz yellow marzipan
12 slivered almond

(Tint white marzipan with food coloring, if necessary, to get bee-colored marzipan.)

Pinch off fingertip sized portions of the marzipan and roll each into a jelly bean shaped bee body.

Cut tiny slits with a thin knife on both sides of the body.

Pipe the chocolate honey glaze onto the bee bodies to add detail. (To do this, spoon a bit of the Honey Glaze into a Ziploc sandwich bag and snip off a tiny bit of the corner. Using it like a pastry bag, draw three lines across the bee bodies and dot on the eyes as desired.)

Insert a sliced almond piece into each slit to resemble wings.

Nestle the bees into the honey glaze across the top of the cake.

Note: I have made this cake again since getting home from California. It was a wonderful chocolate cake! The second time I considered other ways to form the bees. I took butterscotch chips and carefully melted them in the microwave, stirring until smooth. When the butterscotch became somewhat firmer, I spooned out half teaspoonfuls and rolled them into jellybean sized bee shapes. I set them aside to firm up, rolling them once more in my palms to smooth the surface. With a thin knife I cut slits in the top. Then I piped details with the Honey Glaze, as described above, and added the almond wings.


This worked well enough. Still there are other possibilities. Next time I might try making Peanut Butter Fudge Bees by making Peanut Butter Fudge as directed, but instead of pouring all of it into the pan after beating, I would spoon some of it out into bee shaped portions. After it cools completely it can be decorated as above, to resemble honeybees, and placed on the cake or even eaten as individual candies.

18 comments:

Ricki said...

What a gorgeous cake, and such an interesting post! I have to admit I'd never get that close to a real bee, excellent camera or not--but the cake, well, that's another story.

Paula said...

Great photos of both the real and confection bees! That cake is absolutely lovely! I've never actually tasted the comb before, next time I see one, I'll give it a try! Glad you saw the bees; we were just commenting that we don't seem to see as many before and my garden needs them!

Ivy said...

I ABSOLUTELY LOVE THIS CAKE.
It's so cute yet sophisticated.
:)

Stef said...

Great post as always! I love that she kept the supposedly bad honey. I love all honey!

Grace said...

very spectacular cake! i can't tell you how much i prefer your marzipan bees to the real thing. i hate bees, but i'm willing to put up with them for the honey. :)

noble pig said...

Those bees are just adorable! What a beautiful cake!

Karen said...

That cake is a work of art.
And the bees look so cute (both the real and edible).

My lavender plants are full of bumble bees right now. I love how busy they are!

bb said...

The cake does look amazing, and your photo work was awesome! Very National Geographic of you. How'd you get the bees to pose like that? Oh, wait, you didn't, did you.......

Michelle said...

I love the bees!!! OH your cake is too cute!

Leslie said...

Oh honey..how I love honey!! LOL
I love the bee photos!
Your cake looks wonderous!
Thanks for your visit to my blog and leaving a kind comment about my pancakes! Stop by for a visit anytime!

Christie @ fig & cherry said...

Oooh, those bees are gorgeous! The almond wings wouldn't last two seconds in my house... yum!

Lisa said...

Ricki -Thanks! A friend told me that lavender is a relaxant and that one is seldom ever stung by a bee on a lavender farm. So maybe the bees I was photographing were just under the influence.

Paula - Thank you! And do try the comb sometime. It was really great.

Ivy - Nice compliment. Thanks!

Stef - Honey is oh so delicious. The more I work with it the more I wonder why I let those jars sit around with the honey crystallizing instead of just eating a bit of it in some form every day.

Grace - Well bees are certainly no fun if they're mad but as long as they aren't chasing me, and I'm being careful not to step on them barefoot, they're really not so bad.

Glad you liked the marzipan bees anyway!

Noble Pig - Thank you. You can hardly go wrong with a recipe from Nigella!

Karen - You are so kind! I would love to take photos of those bumble bees too. I have only seen a few of those hanging around this year.

bb- Thanks! Some of those bees were pretty cooperative. I could almost swear they were posing but it was probably just the lavender effect. (See above.)

Michelle -Thanks for stopping by!

Leslie - It really was a delicious cake. If you like honey and chocolate I think you'd love it!

Christie - Thanks! To me even the almond wings didn't make the marzipan bees all that yummy. The butterscotch bees tasted better and I think peanut butter fudge bees would be well worth eating on their own!

nicisme said...

Fabulous cake and the bees are adorable!

Kristen said...

You have such an incredible talent with words.
What a great cake, love the bees and I LOVE honeycomb.

Lo said...

That bee is the most adorable little guy! Love it.

And chocolate honey cake. What ISN'T made better with the addition of chocolate... not to mention honey?!

How To Eat A Cupcake said...

Oh my wow!! I can only imagine how good that tastes! And the little bees are so cute!

Saskia said...

That's the cutest cake i've ever seen! The glaze looks pink though..did you just add food coloring or something!

Lisa said...

Saskia - Thanks for your comment! Any pink in the glaze is due to variations in the light, shine and other issues with photography. The glaze is actually just a fairly predictable, though extra shiny, chocolate color.