Back at the beginning of this year I took a beginners beekeeping class with York & District Beekeepers Association. My mother had taken this course a few years ago and now has several hives in her garden but given last year’s swarm adventure it was decided that I would take the course so that I could assist her. We are now in the thick of swarm season (I yet again spent a day chasing swarms around the village only for them to abscond a day later!) and I thought I’d post a little update on the calmer parts of the year so far.
I’ve really enjoyed going into the hives with mum and seeing all of the things we’ve learned about in class actually in person. You can see above a beautiful arc of capped brood (bee larvae) with stores of honey arranged around the outside in the corners.
Here you can see a close up of the larvae in their cells before being capped. You’re wanting to see nice C shaped larvae with defined segments and a nice pearly white colour (which these were in person!) There are lots of things you’re looking for to check that your colony is happy and healthy. When things go wrong (and they will) you’ll find out because you’re seeing something odd in the brood.
Can you spot the Queen Bee? I’ll give you a hint, she ends in the top left of the shot. She’s the one with the long, pointy bum. Alas, since taking this video (which was taken by accident, I was just filming bees, we didn’t realise the Queen was in frame until later that night when we were looking at the video!) Queen Beatrice has either passed away or swarmed unexpectedly. Upon a later hive inspection there were no eggs. If you can’t see any eggs, your Queen isn’t doing her job! We’ve taken emergency measures to hopefully get them to generate their own Queen and we’ve split off some Queen cells into a nucleus hive to rear a small colony as a back up if we need to re-Queen later in the year. In one of our other hives they decided to go from nothing to 20 Queen Cells and swarming in the blink of an eye! We just mistimed our hive check by 1 day due to bad weather but at this time of year that day can be crucial and they were off!
The beginning of the year was going so well, everything was looking like something out of a textbook but then it all went a bit wrong and we sometimes haven’t a clue why our bees are doing what they’re doing. Beekeeping is a brilliant hobby and it’s absolutely fascinating but for one month a year, I won’t lie, it’s hellish! I’m just hoping that our colonies will have got all of this silliness out of their system now and we can fix them up and build them towards the summer. It’s funny but even with the very little hands on experience I’ve got so far (I don’t actually start the practical part of my course until later this month!) you can get to know the temperament of the colonies, I swear Hive 1 and Hive 2 hum at different pitches and Hive 2’s bees are much smaller. I look forward to getting to know them as we go on, hopefully with 3 colonies this year!
Bagels are, in theory, very easy to make. If you can make a simple bread then you have all the skills you’ll need for bageling. However, it seems to be an acknowledged problem that unless you have very good luck your first batch won’t be great. You have to learn by experience with bagels it would seem! *
[ * I have now given bagels another go and it was indeed my fault the first time, see my Bagel Update for how to get those holes in.]
The problem with these bagels was that I left them for too long on the second rise coz the kitchen was occupied. This meant that they just collapsed after poaching. They’re still delicious but rather flat. Something of a cross between an English Muffin, melba toast and a bagel really! I also didn’t make the holes big enough so they have dimples instead. But I make these mistakes so you don’t have to. Take heed and don’t over rise and make a bigger hole!
The other problem I’m having at the minute is the temperature. We’ve got 6″ of snow! Unless the fire’s going in the evening I don’t have anywhere to rise bread so I’m having to just about double the time for everything. Even regular baking is going a bit haywire as everything’s too cold! I did the first rise overnight but didn’t need to use the fridge, the whole house is a fridge!
450g bread flour
7g fast action yeast
2 tsp salt
1 tbsp sugar
250ml warm water
3 tbsp sugar
seeds for sprinkling
1 egg white
– Mix together the flour, salt and sugar in a large bowl.
– Make a well in the centre and add the warm water and honey. This should be quite a stiff dough so you may not need all of the water keep back a few tbsp and go very gradually, mixing a little between additions.
– Mix with a spoon until combined into a dough.
– Turn out onto a lightly floured worksurface and knead for about 10 minutes until soft and smooth.
– Lightly oil a clean bowl and leave overnight in a cold place or in a warm place for about 1 hour or until doubled in size. Overnight is recommended as more flavour develops.
– Prepare 2 baking sheets with baking paper brushed with oil.
– Once risen knock down and divide the dough into 10 roughly equal balls.
– Roll into spheres by cupping your hand over the ball on the work surface and rolling it around until even.
– Poke a hole in the middle using a wooden spoon.
– Use your fingers to coax the hole bigger until you can get your hand inside it.
-Roll the circle a bit bigger and looser. **
– Lay down on your oiled baking paper keeping the hole at around 2 inches if you can. The dough will be quite elastic so this will take a bit of cunning!
– Leave to rise for about 20 minutes until they’re puffed up. ***
– Meanwhile heat the oven to gas mark 7 and get a very large pot of water to the boil with the last 3 tbsp of sugar, you want the absolute biggest pot you can get and it wants to be a good 3-4″ deep. It doesn’t want to be a rolling boil but just simmering.
– Once the bagels have risen slip them into the water in batches and poach for one minute on each side using a spatula to flip them.
– Fish them out and drain them off a bit and put them back on the oiled tray. Brush with the egg white let down with a little water and whisked a bit and sprinkle on any toppings you like. I used nigella seeds.
– Put the trays in the oven and cook for 10 minutes then flip over the bagels and switch the trays over and cook for another 10 minutes until golden brown.
– Remove from the oven and allow to cool for 5-10 minutes then enjoy!
** See the Bagel Update for a better technique, twirl the ball round the stick to get a bigger hole.
*** This is unnecessary it would seem but feel free to give them a bit of a rest before poaching.
There’s something about pear and chocolate that just works but pears in general are, to my mind, an under used fruit. Not that many people cook with them and those that do usually poach them, which can be delicious but that gorgeous crunchy texture is lost. I bought a big bag of pears today and had to make pudding with them tonight. I really should have waited a day or two for them to ripen but I was impatient. It didn’t effect the taste of this pud but it was slightly troublesome cutting the pear apart with a teaspoon! If you find yourself in a similar circumstance I suggest that you peel the pears, leaving the stalks on, or microwave them a little before inserting them into the cake mix.
I try not to peel fruits and vegetables because the top layer just under the skin is supposed to contain the most nutrients and the fibre in the skins can’t be bad for you but sometimes this does affect the aesthetic of a dish. Since this was just a regular family meal I decided to go for nutrition rather than aesthetics and left the skin on. The pudding itself is lovely and chocolatey with a crisp top and deliciously goopy inside. The honey drizzled on top complements both flavours marvelously.
75g unsalted butter
75g caster sugar
25g cocoa powder
75g self raising flour
1/4 tsp baking powder
4 small ripe pears
4 tsp runny honey
– Heat the oven to gas mark 4 and butter 4 ramekin dishes.
– Cream together the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy.
– Beat in the eggs one at a time making sure the misture is well combined.
– Beat in the cocoa powder.
– Fold in the flour and baking powder and mix until fully combined.
– Divide the mixture equally between the four ramekins.
– With a melon baller remove the core of the pear by going in from the bottom and scooping out small balls until you have removed the seeds. You could also do this with a paring knife and a teaspoon if careful.
– Place the pear stalk up in the centre of the ramekin, pressing down gently into the cake mix.
– Bake in the oven for 16-20 minutes. Slightly longer if using less than ripe pears.
– Drizzle with a teaspoon of honey and serve straight away putting the ramekins on plates as they will be hot.
Filed under Desserts, Easy