Up until very recently my father has been a beekeeper. He had bee hives at our home in Vermont and then drove them, full of bees to Minnesota. Due to a city ordinance he was not allowed to keep bees in his Edina yard and had to set them up at a friend’s house farther out of the city. My dad would drive out on the weekends to tend to them. His love for bees was made more complicated by the fact that he is very allergic to their sting. He swells up like a balloon when stung, but this never deterred him, even though it seemed to happen with some regularity. As a result of his love for bees I have always had a fondness for them and the delicious nectar they produce. Growing up we ate the precious honey he collected on everything from homemade granola to freshly baked bread. In fact, I never knew any sweetener other than honey and maple syrup before I was about 6. Sugar, in any form, didn’t exist in our house.
This cake is a tribute to both the elegance and ingenuity of honeybees, which are in terrifying danger of disappearing. Hopefully more folks like my dad will step up and continue the tradition. The shape of this cake is based on an ancient beehive called a skep, which was made of a coiled basket. My dad’s bees were kept in a box hive, but that isn’t nearly as romantic. Under the hovering marzipan bees are layers of brown-butter banana cake, walnuts and honey scented buttercream.
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
¾ teaspoon baking soda
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 cup sugar
½ cup honey
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 eggs, room temperature
1 ½ cups banana puree (about 4 bananas)
½ cup buttermilk
Honey Walnut Buttercream:
1 cup egg whites
2 cups sugar
1 ½ pounds (6 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup honey
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 ¼ cups walnut pieces, lightly toasted and cooled
yellow Food Coloring
¼ cup marzipan
¼ cup sliced almond
black Food Coloring
To bake the cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Butter and flour an 8-inch cake pan and an 8-inch metal mixing bowl. Line the cake pan with a parchment paper round. Set aside.
In a small saucepan cook the butter over low heat.
until the butter is caramel colored and smells toasty.
Strain the butter into the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugar, honey and vanilla until it is cooled off slightly. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add the banana puree and mix until incorporated.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside.
Alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
Divide the batter between the cake pan and the prepared bowl.
Bake the cakes for about 40 minutes, or until a tester comes out clean. The cake in the bowl may take a few more minutes. Remove and allow to cool completely.
Make the buttercream: Click here for detailed directions. Add the honey, salt, and vanilla.
Divide the buttercream in half and add the walnuts to one batch and the yellow food coloring to the other.
Cut and fill the cakes: Slice each of the layer in half, then fill the layers with the walnut buttercream. Click here for a video on cutting and filling a cake.
Using a small amount of the yellow buttercream create a crumb coat to lock in the crumbs and smooth the surface of the cake. Click here for video on creating a crumb coat.
Put a nice thick layer of buttercream over the chilled crumb coat. Starting at the top of the cake, use a Spatula and create a spiral by slowly spinning the Cake Decorating Stand and moving the spatula downward.
To create the marzipan bees: Take a small piece of the marzipan and roll it between the palms of your hands until it is lozenge shaped. You can taper one end slightly to be the back of the bee. Paint the stripes on the marzipan with a clean paintbrush or toothpick and black food coloring. Allow it to dry until it is no longer tacky.
Once the stripes are dry, press the sliced almonds into the sides to create the bees wings.