Thursday, 19 February 2015

Honey thumbprint cookies

Honey thumbprint cookies

Honey is an amazing product...and for several reasons. First of all let's think of honey makers: the idea that tiny, fragile insects like bees are able to collect / extract nectar and other substances from flowers and plants and transform them into a range of products - honey first, but also royal jelly, propolis, and beeswax- for feeding and sustaining their perfectly organized communities (and not only) may seem hard to believe (like other impressive things we find in nature though). Second honey is packed with nutritive properties: it isn't just a sweetener, a natural sweetener, it is a food. In fact, besides glucose and fructose - that are natural sugars - honey contains minerals and vitamins; it has antioxidant, antiseptic and anti-bacterial properties. The possible health benefits of consuming honey have been documented since ancient times, and in many cultures, honey had associations that go beyond its use as a food, being considered a religious symbol or used in religious celebrations. And even if not all the honey's health claims have been scientifically confirmed by rigorous studies, it is widely used in many home remedies, some of them actually effective: honey is a natural relief for sore throat and cough, helps to sleep better (the popular cup of milk and honey before going to bed...), is an energy booster and therefore very useful before a workout but even everyday physical strain; it can also be used as a natural ingredient in homemade skin and hair care products. The only warning is that honey should not be fed to infants younger than 1 year to avoid the risk of possible allergic reactions.
And the other amazing  thing about honey is that it is incredibly delicious. Actually there are many different types of honey, whose color, texture and flavor depend on the bees’ nectar source (the blossoms). In particular mono-floral honey is made primarily from the nectar of just one type of flower (honey in this category is available in small quantities due to the difficulties of containing bees and let them have access to only one type of flower), while poly-floral honey, also known as wildflower honey, is derived from the nectar of many types of flowers (all the flowers accessible to bees in the same period). Most of the honey commercially available is (sigh!!) blended, meaning it is a mixture - industrially prepared - of two or more honeys differing in floral source, color, flavor, density and also geographic origin.  And also it is usually processed before being commercialized, and in particular is filtered and heated before bottling, while the so called raw honey is completely natural, pure and unprocessed.  
Honey can be used in countless ways: some regional / local cuisines make use of honey in traditional dishes, mainly sweets but also some savory, and in general it can be used for cooking, baking, as a spread on bread or as a sweetener for tea and other beverages; some varieties of honey are a perfect pairing for cheeses. 
Ever since I can remember honey has always been present in my diet. When I was a child and then a teen, morning breakfasts at home in my family always included a cup of milk sweetened with a spoonful of honey - and actually my parents still have the same kind of breakfast. And luckily my mom used, and still does, buying honey directly from an artisan beekeeper, with a passion for this job, still using traditional techniques and producing a limited quantity of honey, mostly for domestic consumption. Even after leaving my parents home, many years ago, while still living in Italy I used to bring with me some jar of the honey my mom buys every single year. But I also loved trying other types of honey from different parts of Italy - and I have to say that I had the opportunity to taste several interesting things, from all across the country (in particular I enjoyed much a honey from Sicily, made by the Sicilian Black Bees, a species of bee now protected under Slow Food Presidia).
When I arrived in Dubai more than one year ago, like for other products, I didn't know which kind of honey assortment I would have found, both in supermarkets and in specialty stores. I don't know why but I had somehow resigned myself to buy either cheap stuff from supermarkets or overpriced products of higher quality.
But luckily, after just a couple of (small) supermarket jars - not so bad though - and one overpriced -as I know the price in Italy- Italian honey bought from Eataly, my husband came home one day with a plastic bottle full of a golden thick liquid. He said it was Yemeni honey he had been gifted by a person he knows from work; not being satisfied with this short explanation I wanted to know more, so he said this Yemeni guy, being passionate of naturally grown products, has a farm in his home country where, among other things, honey is produced. I admit my ignorance but I didn't know anything about Yemeni honey at that time so, curious about it, I tasted and ... it was absolutely delicious. Strong flavor of mixed flowers, evidently unrefined and unprocessed... I couldn't have asked for something better! But then my curiosity increased and searched on the internet about Yemeni honey, discovering that Yemen has an ancient tradition of bees keeping, whit old techniques still being used nowadays that, together with the varieties of bees used as well as the diversity of pastures, makes Yemeni honey a very high quality product; in particular the most precious of all Yemeni types of honey is the Sidr Honey produced from the ancient (and sacred in different religions) Sidr tree, But after being enchanted by Yemeni honey and its history, next question was: can I find Yemeni honey in Dubai before, hopefully, another gift to my husband? I soon discovered that in Dubai not only Yemeni honey is available but also in one the purest expressions. In fact here is based Balqees Honey, a company specializing in the "supply, packaging and distribution of the purest and most exclusive Raw Yemeni honey": no more worries about finding delicious, pure, natural honey. Considering that I put one spoonful in my son's breakfast milk, I can feel safe to feed him a really top quality product.
Honey thumbprint cookies

In the past I had used honey mainly as a sweetener for tea and drinks or as ingredient or topping or garnishing, but almost in all cases "uncooked" (and also all the traditional recipes my grandmother used to make when I was a child used honey as it is, if necessary just warmed to make it runny). Also I had used it for making some dessert, sometimes as a substitute for pure glucose, in other cases in addition to other sugars; and when making bread to help yeast work. But never I had made a dessert, and in particular a baked good, with honey as unique type of sugar. Only recently I started with this new wave, and with satisfaction I would say. So when Debbie Rogers, Travel and Features editor of the online magazine Food e Mag contacted me asking if I had a recipe with honey for the "healthy" issue they were working on, I thought it was an amazing coincidence and a wonderful opportunity for me to be featured in this food and travel magazine I enjoy very much. 
Food e Mag is a bimonthly e-magazine created and authored by food, travel and lifestyle bloggers based in the United Arab Emirates, featuring restaurant reviews, recipes, food sourcing recommendations, dining experiences, culinary travels, chef interviews and more, all related to food in the region. 
There were a couple of tested recipes with honey that I had enjoyed recently, both suitable for the purpose; when it came to choose which one to prepare and photograph for the magazine I opted for Jam tartlets with a spelt, honey and olive oil crust (recipe here together with an interesting article about raw honey). But considering that also the other recipe is absolutely worth sharing, I am doing it today: a thumbprint cookie with the dough made with honey instead of sugar. Depending on the type of honey used, the flavor may change, but in any case the result is a friable cookie, which I find perfect with a cup of tea.  
Honey thumbprint cookies
Like other cookie dough, this one is very versatile and can  be filled in several ways. Here I used two completely different fillings: half cookies were rolled in sliced almonds and filled with citrus marmalade (in particular I used clementine and cranberry marmalade by Baker & Spice) while the other half was partially baked then filled with chocolate and hazelnut spread (I used my homemade, for the recipe check here). But it is possible to fill them in countless other ways: jam of any flavor, honey (possibly same flavor used for the dough, and fill after baking), chocolate ganache, lemon/citrus curd (both after baking), or other spreads. Also you can roll them in other types of chopped nuts, possibly depending on the filling chosen: for instance hazelnuts go well with chocolate and hazelnut spread, pistachios with some type of jam (like raspberry or strawberry) or with white chocolate ganache, almonds / walnuts / pecans with dark chocolate ganache. 
Honey thumbprint cookies

Honey thumbprint cookies
makes 25-26 cookies
For the cookies
300 g all purpose flour, sifted
100 g butter, softened
2 heaped tablespoons honey (I used Yemeni honey)
1 large egg, separated
seed of 1/2 vanilla pod (or 1 tsp pure vanilla extract)
1 teaspoon cold water (or more if necessary)
1 pinch fleur de sel (or sea salt)
For the filling
50 -60 g sliced almonds + orange/citrus marmalade (or another flavor of your liking)
chocolate hazelnut spread (I used homemade spread: recipe here)
Preheat the oven to 175°C (325 °F).
Place almond on a plate and set aside. Line a baking tray with parchment paper.
In a medium mixing bowl whisk the soft butter and honey until pale and fluffy, then add the egg yolk and vanilla and combine. Add salt, sifted flour and 1 teaspoon cold water and mix until well incorporated  - add more water, few drops at a time, if the dough is too crumbly (on the contrary if the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour).
Roll the dough into 25-26 even balls. Place half of the prepared balls, evenly spaced, on the prepared baking sheet.
Honey thumbprint cookies

Lightly whisk egg white. Dip the remaining half of the cookies into egg white, and roll in sliced almonds. As soon as you prepare each ball, transfer to the prepared baking sheet. Gently press center of each ball with your thumb or the handle hand of a wooden spoon. Spoon a small amount of jam into the indentation of the almond covered cookies.
Bake for about 10 minutes, then remove from the oven and spoon the chocolate spread into the indentation of the "empty" cookies (if necessary press again the indentation with the handle end of a wooden spoon) and bake for another 5 minutes, until pale golden.  Transfer sheets to wire racks, and let cool.
These cookies keep well at room temperature, in a airtight container, for 3 days.
Notes
·         The dough can be prepared in advance and refrigerated for 2 to 3 days
·         As for the filling, these cookies are very versatile: I filled them in two different ways but you can fill them all with jam or chocolate spread, you can omit almond crust or add a crust of chopped hazelnut to cookies filled with chocolate spread, you can choose a different jam or, finally, you can add a different filling, for instance lemon curd or chocolate ganache (in  this case add the filling after cookies are baked and cooled)    

Honey thumbprint cookies




 

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