I couldn’t let a summer pass without making these. It’s now, towards the end of it, that I think of them most. The garden is usually swarmed with bees, white cabbage butterflies, swallowtails—the ones whose cats have been nursing on the dill all season long—and other pollinators, either preparing for migration, hibernation, or just gorging themselves on the bounty before their number’s up when the cold comes in.
(A bee from a few years back on a blooming sedum, obviously enjoying the feast.)
Seeing the fuzzy little bees, stammering and staggering around from flower to flower, covered in pollen—I could watch them for hours. Usually though, after a few moments I’m reminded: I haven’t made Chocolate Honeybees yet! It’s kind of funny how the mood and taste for a certain something strikes with such regularity and occasion; every winter I have to make my Bolognese, just as every summer I have to make these—not that they can’t be made any other time of year.
Essentially, these Chocolate Honeybees are a crumbled chocolate wafer rubble and honey pudding, layered alternately in a clear glass to give the visual affect of—duh—little honeybees. The pairing of chocolate with honey serves a few purposes: the light floral and fruity quality of the honey lightens up some of dark and roasted tastes of the chocolate; its sweetness makes the subtle nuances of the chocolate more apparent. The small layers don’t overwhelm each other, but, rather, highlight their flavors, too; all the intricate and complex flavors of both chocolate and honey are, believe it or not, more apparent in smaller quantities, and alternating the layers makes this even more apparent. Of course, there’s the visual aspect of it, too.
You can use a good store-bought chocolate wafer or make your own. I use the same wafer recipe that I do for the Pumpkin Mousse with Chocolate Crumble—you may notice a common theme here. I got lazy this time and went with something packaged, but keep in mind that you’ll only need about half of the recipe below, so the rest of the dough can lay in wait in your freezer until the next time you need it.
They’re self-contained, too, which means they’re perfect for a dinner in the garden in the spring or summer, and the recipe can easily be doubled to serve more for a cocktail party—just set them out and let everyone grab one as they want. Best of all, this has to be made in advance, so it’s one less thing to have to worry about fussing over at the last minute. The pudding needs a few hours to chill in the fridge so it sets right and, after assembling the little glasses, they benefit from a few hours more to really come together. Just be sure not to top them with the little sugar bees (if you’re using them) until the last minute, otherwise they melt and go gummy.
Anyone questioning the chocolate-honey flavor pairing will be instantly converted on first sight from their “aww”-inspiring appearance, becoming a true believer after tasting them. I mean, look at them! Who wouldn’t love them?!
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If you’re making the Chocolate Wafers homemade start with making the dough. You wont need all of it so freeze the log of dough until firm, cut in half and stash one half in the freezer for using later. Bake the wafers as instructed.
For the pudding, put 1 ¾ cups of the milk in a large pot over medium heat.
In the meantime, whisk the cornstarch, heavy cream, remaining ¼ cup of milk and salt together into a smooth, thin paste.
Once the milk comes to a slight boil, pour in the cornstarch slurry and stir about with a rubber spatula, scraping the bottom and sides of the pan. When it starts to thicken, which should only take another 30 – 60 seconds, turn the heat to low and just heat for another minute or two, until very thick, stirring all the while.
Pour through a fine-mesh sieve into a heatproof dish (preferably one with a spout, such as a liquid measuring cup), catching any lumps of cornstarch that may have developed. Stir in the honey, softened butter and vanilla extract. Cover the pudding with plastic wrap directly on its surface and chill in the fridge for at least 2 hours.
Once chilled completely, start to assemble the Honeybees.
Crumble the wafers (either by hand directly in a bowl, in a bag with a rolling pin or in the food processor). You want them to be a mix of pretty small bits of chocolate rubble and fine crumbs. Mix in the melted butter and chocolate chips and mix until everything is well combined and the butter has glossed everything.
Measure out 2-tablespoon amounts of the cookie crumble into the bottom of six 5-ounce clear glasses. Press the crumbs firmly down.
Next pour in 2-tablespoon amounts of the pudding into each glass (or, half of the total amount of pudding, evenly distributed among the six glasses). Add another 2-tablespoon layer of the cookies on top of the pudding, but do not press, and top off with the remaining 2-tablespoon layers of pudding.
You can either serve immediately or cover them with plastic wrap and chill so everything can settle together a little more (the latter being more practical because, lets face it, you’re not going to want to do this just before serving, no matter how simple it is). Top with sugar honeybee decorations, if desired, for a little added kitschy cuteness that everyone will love.
Load all of the dry ingredients, including the chocolate splinters, into a food processor and pulse to combine.
Cut the butter into tablespoon-sized pats and add to the processor and pulse until the butter is broken up very finely and well incorporated (kind of like making a crumble/crisp).
In a liquid measuring cup, whisk together the milk and vanilla and, with the processor going, slowly stream it in. Let it mix for only a minute or so, just until it resembles cookie dough.
Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface and roll into a log, about 1 ½” in diameter (about 12” long). Wrap in plastic wrap and chill in the freezer on a tray for at least 1 hour. If you’re going to serve these whole you may want to take it out after 10 minutes or so and roll it to round it better on all sides (obviously the underside that sits on the tray will flatten). If, however, you’re making them for some rubbly crumble then don’t worry.
Preheat the oven to 350°
Unwrap the dough onto a wooden cutting board and slice into ¼” thin discs. The way I do this, to make sure that I get the right amount of wafers, is by cutting the log in half (each half yielding 24 wafers). Both halves are cut in half again, and then each piece is cut in half again. Then I use a sharp pairing knife to cut each section of the dough into 6 discs. Maybe this is simple to you but I have to talk myself through it—sad but true.
Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper and bake 12 wafers per sheet for 12 – 15 minutes—until they’re crisped and set.
Remove from the oven and allow them to cool slightly on the trays before moving them to cooling wracks for their final cooling. They will look and feel a little soft but as they cool they crisp up and harden further.
-Make sure to use Dutch-processed cocoa powder. It has a deeper flavor and color than regular (natural) cocoa powder, and because it's been treated with an alkaline solution to remove the natural acidity, it won't react with the baking soda, making it act as a levener. And no, you can't just leave out the baking soda because you need it to get the right texture on these.