There are so many unexpected things I’ve gotten from blogging. Big and small things. A cookbook. A reason to use designer muffin cups. A community. A career. New friends. Offers to try a new line of microalgae.
But my favourite things however, are those that involve super passionate people wanting to share their awesome, healthy, and often geeky fervor with me. I’m all in! Recently, I received an email from Oliver Maxwell, the founder of Bybi (translation: City Bee), which is an urban beekeeping collective here in Copenhagen. As a blog reader, Oliver was keenly aware of just how much I love bees and the things that they make, so he was kind enough to invite me out to his operation to see how this incredible grassroots company works. And meet the bees, of course.
After a full tour, thorough honey tasting and hive visit, Oliver offered me what I can only describe as the holy grail of all bee things: honeycomb. And not just a chunk of the stuff, but an entire hive frame of it! Um, okay, really? I almost kissed him. But my husband was there too and that would have been awkward.
I carried the frame of honeycomb home cradling it like a baby. I could see the paper bag that Oliver had put it into beginning to darken in spots where the honey was oozing and pooling. My heart raced. These are the things I live for.
Bursting with excitement and trepidation as to how I would put this delicacy to due use, I scurried home, took the honeycomb out of the bag and stared at it, praying it would reveal a grand plan for itself. But nothing came. Nothing. And all I wanted to do was dive face first into the thing, devouring it all in an animal-like frenzy just because I could, but instead I gently put it down and walked away.
A few weeks went by. Still nothing. And I remembered asking Oliver before I left how long the honeycomb would keep. He looked at me quite seriously and replied “not forever”. What does that even mean?! I could hear his words echoing in my head like a cautionary character in a horror film. The pressure continued to build to an almost crushing weight. I had to do something.
And then, as if by magic, Yotam Ottolenghi’s newest book, Plenty More, arrived on my doorstep, a gift from my publisher. Gleefully absorbed in the rapturous inspiration of pure genius, all thoughts of my self-imposed assignment drifted away. Until I hit page 319. There it was, like a beacon in the blackest of nights, the recipe title: Grilled Banana Bread with Tahini and Honeycomb. HONEYCOMB. I was saved.
Thoughts turned to alternative loaves (I couldn’t flat-out copy Ottolenghi!) and pumpkin was the seasonal flavour I excitedly committed to. I took my classic banana bread recipe, tweaked it ever-so-slightly and came up with what you have in front of you today. The loaf itself is moist, flavourful, and so very pumpkin-y, punctuated with warming spices, crunchy walnuts and dark chocolate. It is not overly sweet like so many other recipes and commercial versions of pumpkin bread I’ve tried, and I did this on purpose: if you do serve it with honeycomb, it’s important to have a little contrast, you know? The pumpkin loaf recipe is vegan, but of course the honeycomb is not. If you are vegan, or honey just isn’t your thing, the bread is delicious with date syrup, jam, or apple butter. You can grill it (highly recommended) or choose to eat it fresh – both are fantastic! But when using honeycomb, it’s a treat to have the wax melt just a little bit on the warm bread, and the honey sink into the cozy nooks and crannies of the loaf. Guh. Then you sprinkle the whole thing with flaky sea salt and devour. It’s a serious, loss-for-words kind of situation (which is convenient because your mouth will be very, very full).
Bee Mine, Sweet Honeycomb
Honey is made by female honeybees that collect nectar from flowers, mix it with enzymes and regurgitate it (yum!) into honeycomb cells. Once the water content of this concoction reduces to less than 20% (the bees beat their wings in the hive to help evaporation, wowzers!) it is considered honey. The bees then put a seal on each cell and it is stored for times when they need food, like the winter. Kept this way, honey, will in essence, last forever – this is why it is considered the only food on planet earth that never spoils.
Honeycomb is altogether miraculous. To behold its sheer geometrical perfection is like a religious experience, and to see evidence of the deep, clear intelligence that built such a structure is humbling. It is altogether delicate and strong, housing the clear, liquid gold inside each of its cells so perfectly. Made of natural wax that the female bees excrete, it is built into the ingenious, space-saving, hexagonal cells that contain their larvae, store pollen and honey. The wax itself is totally edible, but some folks like to chew it up and spit it out after they’ve gotten all the honey out of it. The flavour of the wax depends greatly on the flowers the bees were collecting nectar from, but for the most part it is mildly sweet and mellow-tasting.
The wonderful thing about purchasing honeycomb is that you know the honey is raw, unpasteurized, unclarified, unfiltered, and real. Nothing has been done to it. It is loaded with all the things that make honey good for us, like enzymes, propolis, and all of its antimicrobial, antiviral and antifungal properties. It may surprise you to learn that most of the commercial honey available in the grocery store has been pasteurized and ultra-filtered, rendering it rather ineffectual. It is also important to check the label on your honey, as some brands cut their product with less expensive high-fructose corn syrup and other processed sweeteners. Like with so many foods these days, purchasing locally from a reliable source is the only way to ensure a clean and totally natural product.
Look for honeycomb at farmers markets and natural food stores. Late summer and autumn are usually when farmers harvest their honey so it will be freshest at this time of year. If you purchase fresh honeycomb in plastic, transfer it to a sealable glass container when you get home. Store in a dark place at room temperature.
Grilled Pumpkin Bread with Honeycomb
¼ cup milk of your choice (nut, seed, goat, rice…)
6 Tbsp. coconut oil, melted
6 Tbsp. pure maple syrup
1 tsp. pure vanilla extract
2 cups pumpkin puree (I used 1 small Hokkaido pumpkin of 2 lbs / 1kg)
2 cups / 350g wholegrain spelt flour
1 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. baking powder
½ tsp. fine grain sea salt
2 tsp. ground cinnamon
1 tsp. ground cardamom
½ tsp. freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 tsp. ground clove
1 cup / 100g walnuts, roughly chopped (substitute with any other nut or seed, if desired)
½ cup / 50g chopped dark chocolate (optional, but delicious)
Fresh honeycomb (from an organic source, if possible)
Flaky sea salt to garnish
1. If making your own pumpkin puree, preheat oven to 400°F / 200°C. Slice the pumpkin in half, scoop out the seeds and place on a baking sheet, cut sides down and roast until soft, about 30 minutes (time varies depending on the size of your pumpkin). When cool enough to handle, place both halves in a food processor and blend on high until as smooth as possible (for extra nutrients and ease, try and find a pumpkin with edible skin, such as Hokkaido).
2. Reduce oven to 350°F / 175°C.
3. Line a standard loaf pan with baking paper, or lightly oil and dust with flour, shaking out excess (a silicon loaf pan works well too).
4. Put the milk, oil, maple syrup, vanilla, and pumpkin puree in a blender and blend until smooth.
5. In a large bowl combine dry ingredients. Add pumpkin mixture and combine using as few stroked as possible. Fold in nuts and chocolate.
6. Pour batter into a loaf pan and smooth the top. Bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 60 minutes. Remove from loaf pan and let cool on a wire rack.
7. To serve, toast or grill slices of the pumpkin loaf until warm and crusty. Slice a portion of honeycomb, let sit on the warm bread until very soft, then smash with a knife, sprinkle with good, flaky sea salt and enjoy.
* * * * * *
There are also some albums from the Amsterdam events up on my Facebook page. Thank you again to everyone who came out!