A few days ago I was planning to make cookies using a recipe that had honey in it. When I went to measure the honey, it had large grains of something in it. What were these, how did they happen and what can I do?--Jamie
The granules that form in liquid honey are precipitated crystals of glucose. Honey is a supersaturated liquid, meaning that there is more sugar in it than can stay dissolved at room temperatures. Slowly glucose molecules separate out from the water. As they do so, more glucose and some other sugars attach to the forming crystals, making them grow larger. This is similar to what happens when you make rock candy.
Many factors affect the formation of sugar crystal including moisture content, temperature and even the kind of flowers that the bees visited in gathering nectar to make honey. A friend who used to process honey complained about the difficulty in making a smooth honey from hives that had been visiting Sainfoin flowers. Sainfoin honey is very sensitive to how it is processed and will deposit crystals quite easily.
The best way to avoid crystals is actually to store your honey at temperatures below 50°F (10°C), although this is not practical for home use as the fridge is considerably colder and makes honey too stiff to handle easily. Temperatures above 50°F encourage crystallization. At temperatures above 81°F (27°C), crystallization is avoided, but the heat causes the honey to degrade quickly. Honey should kept in an airtight container at room temperatures, and used within a year or so.
To remove crystals that have formed, either place the container of honey in a bowl of hot water for 10 to 15 minutes or microwave it for about 30 seconds per cup. Stir after heating to help dissolve crystals. If necessary, repeat until the honey is smooth again.
Two things to keep in mind, though. First, as noted above, when honey is heated over 81°F(27°C) it starts to degrade so repeatedly having to heat honey because new crystals have formed since the last time you used it will decrease the quality and flavors of the honey. If you find you are doing that, consider buying smaller quantities.
Second, your recipe likely calls for butter or perhaps shortening. If you heat the honey to remove crystals and then go straight to making the cookies, the heat of the honey may melt the fat and dramatically affect the end result. You should be sure to allow the honey to cool down completely before proceeding.