Review of Spoonfuls of Honey by Hattie Ellis (Pavilion Books)

by Sam Bilton on February 8, 2015 No comments


I’ve be contemplating becoming a bee keeper for some time now. I recently read that in medieval times “bees were believed to be holy and virginal and able to whisper in God’s ear”*. Not that I consider myself particularly holy and with two children to call my own I can hardly lay claim to the latter. But there is something quite tranquil and unselfish about the honeybee in spite of their tireless productivity so I can see why they were dubbed with these religious characteristics.

Unfortunately, the rest of the Bilton household is less convinced than me of the merits of the bee so there are no hives on the horizon for the foreseeable future. What we do all agree on, whole heartedly, is our love of honey, the product of these industrious creatures. Thanks to Hattie Ellis there is a new cookbook devoted to the culinary uses for this nectar beyond spreading it on your toast. Hopefully, the more I cook from this book I will gradually be able to persuade my brood to see the benefits of keeping bees for ourselves. Fingers crossed.

*The Medieval Cookbook by Maggie Black

What is the essence of the book?

The clue is in the name. This is a cookbook containing recipes based around a single ingredient, the humble jar of honey. The first section is a potted guide to the sticky stuff from the A – Z of Honey through to Honey and Health. Eighty delicious recipes follow on from this with suggestions for breakfast dishes through to tea time treats.

About the author

What Hattie Ellis doesn’t know about honey probably isn’t worth knowing. Spoonfuls of Honey is a natural follow on from her in depth look at the history of honey and the honeybee, Sweetness & Light. She also happens to be an acclaimed author and received both the Guild of Food Writers Food Book of the Year and the Miriam Polunin Award Best Book on Healthy Eating in 2013 for What to Eat: 10 Chewy Questions About Food. Spoonfuls of Honey has been shortlisted for the André Simon Book Awards 2014.

Who will like it?

Although this isn’t being marketed as a health book it would probably appeal to anyone looking for alternative, yet natural, sweeteners to sugar (although the recipes in Spoonfuls do not eschew sugar entirely). And of course anyone who adores honey.

Who won’t like it?

The book does contain plenty of savoury recipes but each with a sweet edge to them. Therefore, if you don’t have a sweet tooth then this probably isn’t for you.

What do I like about the book?

I love it’s sense of adventure. The recipes take you on a virtual world tour in a time machine. So you could be reading a recipe for Roman Honey Baked Ham one minute then one for a Roast Grouse with a Honey, Blackberry and Whisky Sauce the next. Hattie has an eloquent way with words so the first section of the book is a particular pleasure to read.

What do I dislike about the book?

I’ve ruminated over this question for a while but honestly I can’t think of anything that I dislike about it. But then I am a bit of a geek when it comes to cookbooks…

Would I cook from it?

Already have. The Honey Cinnamon Buns were a big hit in our house as were the Honey Oat Cookies. The Sweet ’n’ Hot Jerk Chicken Wings are up next closely followed by the fig tart below

Where can you buy it?

Spoonfuls of Honey is currently available on Amazon priced £16.59 (RRP £20)

Fig and Honey Frangipane Tart 

Serves 6 

05.fig and honey tart 2


  • 8 fresh or dried figs (or 4 fresh and 4 dried)
  • 60g/2¼oz unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 3 tbsp honey (a fragrant heather or greek honey works well), plus 2½ tbsp honey, to glaze
  • 2 tablespoons brandy or rum
  • 2 eggs
  • 50g/1¾oz ground almonds
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • single cream or custard, to serve
  • pastry
  • 70g/2½oz plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • pinch of fine sea salt
  • 30g/1oz cold unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
  • 1 egg, beaten


  1. First make the pastry. You can do this quickly in a food processor by pulsing the flour, salt and butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs, then adding the egg and pulsing until the dough comes together in a ball, adding a little cold water if necessary. To make the pastry by hand, put the flour and salt in a mixing bowl and rub in the butter until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Mix in the egg using a round-bladed knife, adding a little cold water if needed, to bring the dough together into a ball. Wrap the dough in clingfilm and chill for 30 minutes.
  2. If using dried figs, soak them in warm water for 30 minutes.
  3. Heavily dust a work surface with flour. Dust your rolling pin and the top of the dough and roll out to form a large thin disc, about 25cm/10in in diameter, giving it a quarter-turn every few rolls to keep it even. Use the rolling pin to carefully lift the pastry into a 20cm/8in round loose-bottomed tart tin.
  4. Gently push the pastry into the sides of the tin and trim off the edges. Chill for 20 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/Gas 4. Put a baking sheet into the centre of the oven. You do not precook this pastry and the heat of the baking sheet will help the bottom to cook through.
  6. Mix the butter and honey together using a hand-held electric whisk or a food processor – or by beating thoroughly with a wooden spoon. Add the brandy and eggs and stir in well. Fold in the ground almonds and flour. Dollop spoonfuls of the mixture into the pastry case and spread evenly.
  7. Cut the figs in half, removing any stalks, and arrange on top of the frangipane mixture.
  8. Bake for 25 minutes. Turn down the oven to 160°C/325°F/ Gas 3 and cook for a further 15–20 minutes. If the pastry looks as if it is burning, cover the edge of the tart with foil. Leave to cool in the tin for 10 minutes.
  9. Meanwhile, gently heat the honey for the glaze. When the tart is slightly cool, remove from the tin and put on a serving plate. Brush the honey generously all over the top to give it a gleaming finish.
  10. Serve warm or cold, with single cream or crème anglaise, flavoured with a touch of brandy, if you like.
Sam BiltonReview of Spoonfuls of Honey by Hattie Ellis (Pavilion Books)

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