When I indulge in dessert, I prefer simple sweets. On our ski tours in Italy, I sample the apple strudel at every restaurant we visit, usually with a glass of grappa. On our cycling tours, a simple cake or a traditional cookie accompanied by a glass of the local dessert wine, be it Vin Santo in Umbria or Torcolato in the Veneto.
A friend gave me a couple of jars of homemade honey, which I have been looking to put to good use. On our cycling tours in the Veneto, we pass through many honey producing areas, each featuring specific flavors which vary based on the source of the nectar. The Colli Euganie hills just south of Padua produce honey from sunflowers, dandelion, acacia and chestnuts; Miele del Grappa and Miele del Montello produced near Bassano del Grappa are flavored by acacia, chestnuts, wildflowers, and wild cherries; there are also honeys from the plains of Verona, the mountains of Verona, and the Belluno Dolomites.
Honey has a long history of human consumption, with cave paintings depicting honey gathering dating back 8000 years. It is speculated that the ancient Greeks first brought beekeeping to southern Italy, and several ancient Roman mention the gathering and use of honey in their writings, including Pliny the Elder and Marcus Terentius Varro. In the absence of sugar, honey was an integral sweetening ingredient in Roman recipes. It also has medicinal uses, it’s anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties are still recognized today as beneficial for treatment of wounds.
Cured honey is also suitable for long term storage, due to its high sugar content and low water content. We can thank the energetic bees for the latter, as the bees inside the hive fan their wings, creating a draft across the honeycomb, evaporating the water from the nectar and preventing fermentation. Honey, and items preserved in honey, have been preserved for decades, even centuries. The Egyptians even used it as an embalming fluid.
I made this honey cake recently when we had a few guests for dinner. Judging from their reaction, the preservative properties of honey are not required here. This is adapted from a recipe for Honey and Pear Cake from La Cucina Italiana.
Torta al Miele, Nocciola e Limone
For the cream: