I’ve been experimenting with using more honey in my baking for the past three years or so.
Overall, I try to reduce the amount of sugar in my baked goods, either by seeking out recipes with minimal amounts, actually reducing it where I find it unnecessary for texture, or replacing it altogether with honey. I prefer the taste and texture of honey, and many of my customers and friends get excited when I tell them I’ve used no sugar in a particular baked good.
Perhaps you’ve tried, or thought about trying, to replace sugar with honey in baked goods. Perhaps you’re wondering what all the honey hype is about, or whether or not honey is actually better than sugar. Today, I’ll give you a rundown of the pros and cons of honey, as well as some pitfalls to be wary of. Finally, I’ll give you a refresher on how to swap out honey for sugar in most of your baked goods.
Let’s start with some benefits of honey over sugar:
- You tend to need less honey than sugar for the same level of sweetness. I can’t tell you how many customers of mine ask me, “What’s the least sweet thing you’ve got here?” or “What has the least amount of sugar?” In baking, especially with sweetness, less is more, and honey allows the natural sweetness and flavor of other ingredients, like fresh fruit, to shine.
- Honey can have more flavor than sugar, depending on what type you get. This means you can use more robust varieties (like buckwheat) for a molasses-like flavor, or lighter, fruitier varieties for tea scones and the like.
- Honey can (usually) be sourced locally. Unless you live in some seriously frigid northlands, honey is going to be available from local beekeepers for much of the year. And either way, you can likely get honey from a closer location than sugar from sugarcane or sugar beets, and support a local beekeeper in the process.
- Honey can be easier to digest than sugar, contains trace amounts of vitamins and minerals, and may help with seasonal allergies. Honey contains enzymes, as well as local pollen. The former may help your digestive tract break it down more easily, while the latter may help your immune system acclimate better to local flora.
- Using honey can support responsible beekeeping and pollinator restoration. Local beekeepers want to keep bees and other pollinators buzzing; otherwise, they’re out of business! But I’ve found that small beekeepers often go into the beekeeping to save the bees. Do your research, however – industrial honey production can actually harm bees and colonies, especially if they’re replacing all of the bees’ food source (honey) with corn syrup, which can lead to colony collapse.
- You can’t make mead out of table sugar, and that’s just sad.
Sounds great – let’s get all the honey! I’m gonna be so healthy. I’m gonna feed it to my children!
Slow down there, soldier. While honey is pretty great, there are a few things to watch out for:
- Honey is still a sweetener, and is still made of the same stuff (glucose and fructose) as white sugar. If you’re cutting back on or eliminating sugar, replacing it with honey may help, but it’s still pretty hefty in the glycemic index department. Be smart and eat it in moderation.
- Most “honey” is not honey! I mention this in my Graham Cracker Cake post, but most commercial honey is actually honey diluted with glucose or high fructose corn syrup, despite its labeling. (Infuriating, right?) The best way to make sure your honey is actually honey, is to get it directly from a local reputable beekeeper. Even better, find a beekeeper who bothers to get their honey certified with True Source Honey certification. Yes, it’s going to be more expensive, but at least it’ll taste good, you’ll be supporting a local business, and you’re actually getting what you pay for.
- Honey is not for babies. There is a risk of botulism for infants, so babies under a year old should not consume any honey, whether raw, pasteurized, or cooked or baked into anything. So, no honey for our not-so-new baby homesteader for a few months yet.
All right, all right. I’ve got my good, properly and responsibly sourced local honey, and I’m ready to use it in my baked goods instead of sugar. How do I do this?
- Use less honey than sugar. Depending on the type of honey you use, it may be twice or three times (!) as sweet as table sugar, so taste it first, and then use about 1/2 to 2/3 as much honey as sugar as the recipe calls for.
- Reduce the amount of liquid used in the overall recipe. Honey, unlike sugar, will add moisture to whatever you’re making, especially if you add it in large quantities (a quarter cup or more), so you’ll need to reduce your overall liquid by about 1/4 cup per cup of honey used.
- Bake at a lower temperature, or reduce baking time. Honey burns more easily than sugar, so you may need to reduce either the cook time by a few minutes, or reduce the oven temperature by 20-25 degrees.
- Add baking soda. Honey is acidic, so a lot of it (a cup or more) may reduce the rise of your baked good. You can counter this by adding 1/4 tsp of baking soda for every cup of honey used.
- Not every baked good is a good candidate for swapping honey. For goods that require creaming butter and sugar to make a fluffy dough (like pound cake or chocolate chip cookies), honey may ruin their texture. (One could, however, experiment with creamed honey, which is essentially crystalline honey.) Quick breads, pastries, and yeast breads are usually better for the honey swap than sugar-laden baked goods.
I’ll be experimenting with honey in my flaky pastries in the coming months, and I’ll let you know how they turn out (and perhaps change my recipes here accordingly if they’re extra-successful). Got any other tips for using honey in baked goods? Have a fun success (or major fail) story? Put it in the comments!
Until then, happy homesteading and beekeeping, y’all!