This weekend was a grey one. It was one for putting on a thick pair of socks and turning on quiet music and setting to work on a project that eclipses the dreary damp. For me, the project was infusing honey to give as gifts.
It's not that honey has need for much improvement, but subtly infused with herbs or spices it becomes something even more worthy of gift-giving. For the holidays, I decided on an infusion of cinnamon and cardamom. They're two of my favorite cold-weather spices and ones that are just right for stirring into cups of black tea with milk on Christmas morning or sweetening whipped cream for post-sledding hot chocolate.
There are two options when it comes to infusing honey: you can either fill your honey jar with herbs and let them steep for a week before straining it, or you can infuse the honey by heating it with herbs. I chose the latter because I tend toward impatience and heating the honey means you can go from regular old honey to something delicious in a single afternoon.
I used Rachel's suggested method of a make-shift double boiler (heat-resistant mixing bowl over a sauce pan of water) and gently heated my honey that way. For a 32 oz. jar of honey from a local farmer I used 5 cinnamon sticks and 24 cardamom pods (roughly 1 cinnamon stick and 6 cardamom pods for each cup of honey).
I sterilized each jar in a much larger pot before adding a sampling of the spices (just enough to look pretty and add some additional flavor without becoming overpowering).
I put a small square of parchment paper between my lid and rim so that I could label the jar. If you want something a little more festive, you could swap in a square of thin fabric.
Infusing honey, step-by-step:
1. For every 1 cup of honey, add 1-2 tablespoons of herbs or spices. (You can use fresh or dried, but keep in mind that fresh herbs need to be completely dry to avoid the risk of bacteria). Lavender, rosemary, sage, thyme, vanilla and (untreated) pine are all delicious options. If you use cardamom, make sure to crack open each pod so that the seeds inside are exposed.
2. Heat honey with herbs until it reaches around 160 degrees F. It's not totally necessary that you use a candy thermometer to measure temperature--I've seen honey infused many times without one--but if you want to be technical, measure away.
3. Allow the honey to simmer for about ten minutes and then cool (anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours is fine). Once cooled, reheat the honey until it becomes thin enough to easily pour. I honestly don't know the reason for this step, but it's what the experts do, so I do it too.
4. Pour honey through a sieve into sterilized jars. (Expect some honey loss--I started with 32 oz. and was able to fill three 8 oz. jars (24 oz.) with just a small amount left over). Cover the honey tightly with a lid and wrap it up before you eat it all. Honey is shelf stable and should be good for (at least) a year!