Summertime is almost here and the bees will soon be a buzzin'---or will they? If you happen to watch the entire evening newscast, or if you read the paper from cover to cover, perhaps you have come across a buried story about the gradual disappearance of our honey bee population. It hasn't exactly made the cover of Time, but that doesn't make it unimportant.
The Western honey bee population has depleted by more than 25 percent over the last several years. Now, you may be thinking: "Good--I was stung really badly one summer, and I'll never forget it. Plus, I don't care much for honey." Well, do you like raspberries? pears? almonds? How about the 100+ other crops, nuts, and seeds that we rely on honey bees to pollinate? In fact, the honey bee is responsible for over $15 billion is U.S. agricultural crops each year.
As a cook and a food lover, news of this "Colony Collapse Disorder", as it is called, really struck a chord with me. I now come inside and happily report to Eric when there are lots of bees swarming around our Meyer lemon trees, and thanks to them, we are going to have our biggest crop ever this year. While scientists don't yet know what causes it, they are working hard at researching several theories.
Unless you are happy to resign yourself in the future to a diet of Slim Jims, Cheetos, and other foods not reliant on honey bees, you might want to read a bit more about this issue (on the other hand, if this diet sounds ideal to you, you can just skip down to the cookie recipe.) The good people at Haagen-Daz have taken it upon themselves to set up a site called Help the Honey Bees, which contains all sorts of information about this topic, including what little things can be done to help. My favorite? Buy a pint of one of their many "Bee-Dependent Flavors" , such as Rocky Road or Strawberry, and Haagen-Daz will donate funds to honey bee research. O.K.......twist my arm. I suppose I could bring myself to eat ice cream, seeing as it's for a good cause and all.
This recipe serves as a tribute to the hard-working honey bees. I saw it in an issue of Martha Stewart a few years ago, and I bought the bee-shaped cutter when I was buying other shapes for the holiday baking season. "Bee" careful not to eat too many--they are addictive! Here are some extra tips for these buzz-creating cookies:
- I buy many of my cookie cutters, including the bee-shaped ones for this recipe, from the Sugarcraft web site. They have every shape imaginable. You can also purchase the sanding sugar for this recipe here.
- Royal icing is a combination of egg whites, confectioners' sugar, and water, and it is ideal for decorating cookies because it dries very hard. You can find a recipe for royal icing in my Superbowl Football Cookies post.
- If you don't have a bee-shaped cutter, then you can just use the dough to make rolled spice cookies of another shape. Another option is to cut out small circles and make cookie sandwiches by spreading with raspberry jam after baking.
- For rolling out the dough, waxed paper may be substituted for the parchment paper.
Spiced Honey Bee Cookies
Makes about 8 dozen
2 1/2 cups flour
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
8 tablespoons butter, softened
1/2 cup brown sugar, packed
1/2 cup honey or dark corn syrup
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 large egg
Yellow royal icing
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, baking soda, and salt. In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter, brown sugar, corn syrup (or honey), and vanilla at medium speed until smooth. Beat in the egg. Reduce the speed to low and mix in the flour mixture, beating until just combined. Turn out the dough and shape into a disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate until cold, but not hard, about 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325F degrees and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
Divide the dough in half. Roll out each half between 2 sheet of lightly floured parchment paper to 1/4-inch thickness. Chill in the freezer until firm, about 15 minutes. Using a "bee" cutter, cut out shapes and transfer to the prepared baking sheets. Gather together the scraps, reroll, and cut out more shapes. Bake the cookies until pale golden brown, 14-16 minutes; let cool completely.
Brush water on the wings of the bees and then immediately sprinkle with sanding sugar, shaking off excess. Decorate the bodies of the bees with royal icing, if desired, and then immediately sprinkle the icing with the sanding sugar, shaking off excess. Let icing set for 2 hours.