Salute the bee: Its honey is gluten-free |

Salute the bee: Its honey is gluten-free

Mark Mathewson/Courtesy

I’ve been watching the bees adore the lavender blossoms in my yard all summer, and now that the daylight has shortened noticeably, I’ve had time to wonder where all that pollen went. I found it in some lovely local honey from the Saturday Farmer’s Market on 3rd and Curry. So, the result of all my watching and wondering is this honey cake, adapted from a Nigella Lawson recipe. Not only is the honey gluten-free, so are the flours used in this recipe, making the cake safe for persons with celiac disease and gluten sensitivity.

I was also mindful in presenting this recipe that Rosh Hashanah is approaching. This Jewish holiday traditionally includes honey cake as part of its observance, in the hope that the new year will be filled with sweetness.

This might not be your Bubbe’s honey cake, but it is dairy-free as well as gluten-free, and can be enjoyed by the approximately 1.1 percent of persons of Jewish heritage who likely have celiac disease.

Nigella’s honey cake is decorated with bees made of marzipan. Marzipan bees are a very out-there undertaking for someone with celiac disease, because the only pre-made marzipan I found is made with glucose syrup, a wheat starch product and therefore not gluten-free. I’m still looking for a pre-made marzipan. In the meantime, I made my own, which was not too much trouble and turned out to be very good.

As always, the flours – including the almond meal – and Xanthan gum are obtainable at DuBois Health Foods in Carson City. Some of them are at Raley’s too. Also, if you do not have gluten intolerance and want to make this cake, eliminate the Xanthan gum, and use wheat flour in an amount equal to the sum of the gluten-free substitutes, in this case 13⁄4 cups.

Honey Chocolate Cake

4 ounces semi-sweet or bittersweet chocolate, broken into pieces

1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons brown rice flour

1⁄2 cup plus 2 tablespoons potato starch

1⁄2 cup tapioca flour

11⁄2 teaspoons Xanthan gum

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

11⁄3 cups light brown sugar

1 cup canola-based margarine

1⁄2 cup honey at room temperature

2 eggs at room temperature

3⁄4 cup boiling water

Melt the chocolate in the microwave or over boiling water. Let cool slightly.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 9-inch spring-form pan and line the bottom with a greased waxed-paper round.

Sift the rice flour, potato starch, tapioca flour, Xanthan gum, baking soda and cocoa together.

In a large bowl, beat the sugar and margarine together until fluffy. Add honey and beat for one minute. Add eggs one at a time, adding 1 tablespoon of the flour mixture with each, then beat for 3 minutes.

Fold in the melted chocolate and then the dry ingredients. Add the boiling water and mix until the batter is very smooth.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, or until a toothpick comes out of the center of the cake clean. The cake has a lot of liquid, so if the center still seems shaky after 45 minutes, lay a piece of foil over the top of the pan for the remaining 15 minutes.

Let the cake cool in the pan on a rack. When it is completely cool, remove the sides and invert the cake onto a plate. Remove the waxed paper round if it is sticking to the top of the cake. Slide thin strips of waxed paper under the edges to keep the glaze off of the plate.

Honey-chocolate Glaze

1⁄4 cup water

1⁄4 cup honey

6 ounces semi-sweet chocolate pieces

3⁄4 cup confectioner’s sugar

Bring the water and honey to a boil. Turn off the heat, add the chocolate, and let the chocolate melt. When it is melted, whisk the mixture gently. Sift the sugar into the pan and whisk until smooth.

The cake should be completely cooled before glazing, and the glaze should be at room temperature. I made the cake and glaze in the evening and let them both cool overnight, so I had to put the glaze on “Soften” in the microwave for a few minutes before it would spread easily. This makes a glorious, shiny glaze.

Remove the waxed paper strips from under the cake.

Top with a swarm of marzipan bees.

Serves 8 to 10


2 cups granulated sugar

2⁄3 cup water

1⁄8 teaspoon cream of tartar

4 cups finely ground blanched almonds (almond meal or flour)

2 egg whites, lightly beaten

11⁄2 tablespoon almond extract

Powdered sugar and/or cornstarch for dusting, depending on how sweet your tooth is

Make a workspace by sprinkling the powdered sugar and/or cornstarch on a slab or baking sheet. The surface has to be able to handle a warm substance, so plastic wrap won’t do.

Fill a large bowl or pan part-way with water and ice cubes.

Place the sugar and water in a large, heavy saucepan and heat gently, stirring, until the sugar dissolves. Turn up the heat and add the cream of tartar. When the mixture comes to a boil, cover and let boil for 3 minutes more.

Uncover and continue at a low boil until the temperature reaches 245 degrees on a candy thermometer, or just between the soft-ball and hard-ball stage (when a few drops of the syrup dropped in cold water form a ball that you can pinch easily between your finger and thumb).

Place the bottom of the saucepan in the bowl of cold water and stir the mixture constantly until it becomes thick and creamy.

Stir in the ground almonds and egg whites and place the mixture back over low heat, stirring for 2 more minutes until it thickens. If the mixture seems too stiff, you might want to try adding a little more lightly beaten egg white. Stir in the almond extract.

Spoon the marzipan onto the prepared work surface and turn it with a metal or heat-resistant spatula until it is cool enough to touch.

Coat your hands with the powdered sugar/cornstarch and knead the marzipan until it is smooth and pliable. If you want colored marzipan, separate the dough into the sizes you desire and knead in food colorings. For this recipe, I kneaded about 1⁄8 of the dough with yellow coloring to make the bodies of 12 bees.

The marzipan can be used at once or can be stored in plastic wrap and an air-tight container for a week or two.

Makes about 4 cups – and that’s a lot!


Roll the yellow marzipan into 1-inch balls, pinched out a head and a pointed back end on each, and decorated with stripes from the glaze. The wings are sliced almonds.

My next gluten-free cooking class through Truckee Meadows Community College is Oct. 4. We’ll be exploring the world of appetizers. It would be great to see you there.

Bee happy! Shanah Tovah.

• Susan Hart has been cooking gluten-free for 15 years. She teaches continuing education classes in gluten-free baking at Truckee Meadows Community College and can be reached at