Diana Henry: how to cook with honey, from pork chops to sweet madeleines 

Honey from the comb
Drizzled, glazed and always gloriously gloopy, Diana Henry explains why honey is causing a buzz Credit: Haarala Hamilton

It was always a serious purchase, not least because the shop assistants wore white lab coats. Going to La Maison du Miel in Paris, a specialist honey shop, was something I used to do every year.

It seems ridiculous now that you can get everything online (including from the Maison – go, have a little browse) but doing without its lavender honey was unthinkable. For periods I craved it on my toast every morning (and would often go to bed thinking about it, with a smile).

Lavender honey is quite strong – floral, peachy, slightly resinous  – and it summed up so much about a particular place (in this case, Provence, from where it came) that eating it was like eating years of holidays.

Even the smell could take you there. That is the point with honey. In an age when we value terroir – the taste of a particular landscape – honey gives us that.

It pays to seek out small producers (and there’s no shortage of them these days)

General honeys (those that have no flower name, or are simply labelled ‘wild flower’) are blends and can come from a huge area.

It’s the honeys that originate from limited areas, from a particular plant, and that have been minimally treated (not significantly heated or severely filtered) that give you the most interesting flavours. That’s why it pays to seek out small producers (and there’s no shortage of them these days).  

I’ve offered a meat recipe that uses honey, but is the kind of cooking where you apply a lot of heat – where the honey is in a marinade that will provide a sweet, sticky glaze. This doesn’t require top quality stuff. You might want to use a strong, herbaceous  honey, such as thyme, but fierce heat will destroy the nuances in a honey’s flavour.

However, the honey in an ice cream is heated gently, so you will still be able to taste it, and its source. And you can get the character of buckwheat honey (strong, dark and earthy) in a gingerbread cake. 

You can always have honey at its simplest, of course, on your morning toast

Although not all cooking is about applying heat: sometimes it’s simply about combining. Catalans make the simplest dessert, serving a fresh cheese (not unlike ricotta) with nuts and honey drizzled on top (it’s called mel i mató).

Distinctive honeys, used in their natural state, can make a dish, especially when served with cheese: drizzle Greek thyme honey over griddled halloumi; serve chestnut honey (it’s rich, complex and can taste of malt and burnt sugar) with pears  and blue cheese; lavender honey with goat’s cheese; acacia honey (light, gently floral) with fresh ricotta and baked apricots. 

You can always have honey at its simplest, of course, on your morning toast. My latest love is lemon honey from Italy. Who doesn’t want to smell lemon blossom at breakfast? 

Diana's heavenly honey recipes

Lamb chops with honey and walnut salsa verde

A vibrant, no-cook sauce, with honey, nuts and herbs, is a great match for quick-griddled chops Credit: Haarala Hamilton
Subtly flavoured with honey, orange flower water and lemon zest, these moreish cakes should be eaten on the day they are made Credit: Haarala Hamilton
Perfect with raspberries, baked apricots or peaches  Credit: Haarala Hamilton