The Sweetest Season

STONE’S SOUP CORNER

BY JENNIFER CARDEN • PHOTOS BY MATTHEW CARDEN

Can you hear it? It’s the buzz of bees, a sure sign that spring has arrived. A favorite time of year for local bees, plants are bursting into bloom and the bees can begin the annual rite of gorging on sweet nectar, transforming it into delicious honey.

My family recently acquired two beehives and, boy, is it magical to watch them work. On installation day, our bee man showed up with a bucket filled with around 50,000 bees and into the hive box they went, pouring out like a giant flow of honey, foreshadowing the bounty they would bring.

The bees organized themselves and started in to work right away. There is never a moment to lose in the land of hive building.

Every day we watch them fly a specific flight path, back and forth, in and out of the hive. We watch the young learn to fly by launching themselves off the deck of the hive, venturing just a few inches out at first, before seemingly circling back for praise, continuing the dance until they have the confidence to fly away on their own.

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We have never gotten stung, although we stand by the hive all the time. The bees mostly mind their own business.

Besides watching the bees, our next favorite part of having the hives is nibbling on the sweet drippy honeycomb they produce. We add our honey to tea, and drink it in warm milk flavored with cinnamon and nutmeg. We use it on all types of bread and, of course, for honey butter!

Our bees are urban: They live in Downtown Novato, and, remarkably, they find lots to eat here. The honey they produce is deep, dark and rich.

For a special treat, we sometimes make homemade soft pretzels and eat them with our honey butter. Pretzels are not difficult to make. Basically, they are bread that you boil briefly before baking. The boiling gives pretzels and, similarly, their round cousins bagels, their special chewy texture.

Try making your own and impress your friends—they’ll be the best buzzing pretzel bites they’ve ever had.

Jennifer Carden is a mother, wife, chef, author and food stylist. She is dedicated to helping families get excited about food, and with her creative recipes she inspires kids and adults alike. Her latest book is the Little Pretty Baking Kit: Petite Cakes to Make and Give (Chronicle Books, 2013). Her blog is PlayfulPantry.wordpress.com/

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PRETZEL FLOWER BITES WITH HONEY BUTTER

Yield: 24 Pretzel Bites

INGREDIENTS FOR THE HONEY BUTTER

4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature

1 tablespoon honey

INGREDIENTS FOR THE PRETZEL FLOWER BITES

1 1/2 cups warm (110° to 115°) water

1 tablespoon honey

1 teaspoon sugar

2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 package active dry yeast

4 1/2–5 cups all-purpose flour

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

Vegetable oil

10 cups water

2/3 cup baking soda

1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Maldon sea salt

TO PREPARE THE HONEY BUTTER

Mix room temperature butter and honey in a small bowl, mashing with a fork to distribute the honey evenly. Allow to stand at room temperature until ready to use.

TO PREPARE THE PRETZEL FLOWER BITES

Place water, sugar, honey and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with dough hook attachment. Sprinkle in the yeast and allow to stand for about 5 minutes, until the mixture begins to foam. Add 4 1/2 cups of the flour and the butter, then mix on low until combined. Add more flour, as needed, if the dough appears too wet. With the mixer on medium speed, knead the dough until it is smooth and pulls away from the side of the bowl, approximately 5–8 minutes. Oil a bowl with vegetable oil, then place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm place for approximately 60 minutes, or until the dough ball has doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 450° F.

Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and lightly brush with the vegetable oil. Set aside.

Place the 10 cups of water and baking soda into a large pot and bring to a boil. It will bubble up.

Lightly oil a clean work surface. Cut equal-sized pieces (each about the size of a ping-pong ball) from the large dough ball, leaving the pieces covered with plastic wrap as you work. Roll each piece between your palms until it forms a smooth ball.

Using a slotted spoon, place each of the dough balls into the boiling water for 30 seconds then remove to a plate.

When cool enough to handle, hold each dough ball in your hand and, using kitchen shears or scissors, make four cuts, leaving the center intact. Cut only half way in towards the center.

Place the cut dough balls on the lined cookie sheet, 1 inch apart, then brush the top of each pretzel with the egg mixture and sprinkle with the Maldon sea salt. Bake until dark golden brown, approximately 10–12 minutes.

Drop a small amount of honey butter onto each pretzel as it cools and serve with extra honey butter for dipping.

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