Honey, a naturally sweet liquid made from the nectar of flowers and collected by honey bees, is a key part of this recipe, so what you use has a direct effect on the flavor. If you use something very light (such as clover, orange blossom or acacia honey) the delicate flavor can get lost amidst the other ingredients. However, if you go for a dark honey with a very pronounced aroma and flavor (such as forest, buckwheat, thyme or chestnut honey) this will carry through to the cookies too.
Honey varies greatly in color and flavor, depending on what the bees are eating. Flavor, color and degree of sweetness depend upon which type of flower the honey was collected from. In general, floral honey is lighter in color and comes from flower-eating bees in the spring. Forest honey is collected later in the summer and comes from bees who eat forest leaves and flowers. Depending upon which area you live in, honey is classified with different labels. So-called ‚everyday honey‘ might be a mixture of what is least expensive from several countries. Then there sometimes is a ‚standard honey‘ that might be heat-processed and filtered, making it liquid, or it could be purposely cristallized and sold as ‚set honey‘, the kind that you spread with a knife.
Of course, you should use honey from your neighbourhood if you can get your hands on it and thereby support a local beekeeper. And you should taste it before you start cooking or baking with it. It is also helpful to know whether heat will affect the flavor. So, for this recipe I recommend to use a really good local honey with a taste and flavor that you appreciate, perhaps a floral honey.
The honey I used for these cookie squares is a light organic honey from the Rhineland - floral notes, runny and golden colored, my kind of honey. I also used it for one of my present favorite sweet and savory appetizers - puff pastry squares with brie, pears, garden thyme and honey.
Honey Almond Squares
(makes 32 cookies depending on the size you cut them; adapted from The French Kitchen Cookbook by Patricia Wells)
For the Crust
- 1/2 cup (50g) almond flour
- 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons (120g) AP (plain) flour
- 3 tbsp superfine (baking) sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 6 tbsp (90g) unsalted butter, chilled and cubed (plus some for the baking pan)
- 1 egg (L), free-range or organic
- 2 tbsp water
- 8g pure vanilla sugar OR 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 4 tbsp (60g) unsalted butter
- 1/3 cup (65g) superfine (baking) sugar
- 2 tbsp honey (local if possible)
- zest of 1 orange (organic and/or untreated)
- 8g pure vanilla sugar OR 1/2 tsp vanilla extract
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 cup (80g) sliced almonds, preferably blanched
- Preheat your oven to 200°C (400ºF).
- Butter a 23cm (9in) square baking pan (such as a brwonie pan) and line with baking parchment. Lightly butter the parchement.
- To make the crust: add the almond flour, AP flour, sugar, and salt to the bowl of a food processor. Pulse a few times, then add the 6 tablespoons (90g) of cubed butter and pulse until the mixture resembles very coarse cornmeal. Add the egg yolk, water, and vanilla and process until the dough comes together. OR Make the dough by hand, cutting the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender or a fork.
- Press the dough into the pan so it covers the bottom evenly. Bake the dough until the top is golden brown, about 12 to 15 minutes.
- In the meantime and while the dough is baking, make the topping by melting the 4 tablespoons (60g) butter in a small saucepan. Once it has melted, add the sugar, honey, orange zest, vanilla, and salt, stirring until smooth. Remove from heat and add the sliced almonds, stirring until they Are completely coated with the butter-honey mixture.
- Scrape the almond mixture onto the still warm baked crust and spread it evenly over the top. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes more, or until the almond topping is nicely bronzed. Let cool. Remove from the pan by lifting out the foil. Cut into squares or rectangles: NOTE: squares are best the day they are made, although they will keep for up to three days in an airtight container at room temperature.
I have made these squares on many different occasions - they are buttery, almondy, sweet and extremly easy to put together. You can taste the almonds and the orange zest and, depending on the variety you used, you will also taste the honey. A bit like a Florentine cookie but without the dark chocolate and a kind of vanilla cookie base instead.
In general, it is easy to incorporate honey in my everyday schedule. I love adding it to desserts or slathering it on my brioche bread on Sunday mornings. Cooking or baking with honey is wonderful, you can use it for sweet as well as savory dishes. When doing so, I always try to make sure to buy honey from a local beekeeper and to taste the different varities one more time before I incorporate them into my dishes such as the Cheese and Rosemary Honey Kadaif (Shredded Sweet and Savory Pastry Pie) HERE, the Honey-Gingerbread Cutouts (Honig-Lebkuchen-Pferde) HERE, or the Lime Honey Beet Salad HERE - to name but a few.