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 beehive 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.
How to Make a Beehive Cake
Find an updated version of this recipe from my book, Zoë Bakes Cakes, below.
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, and salt. 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 beehive cake, use an Icing Spatula and create a spiral by slowly spinning the Revolving Cake 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.
Banana Cake Batter
- 3 cups (360g) all-purpose flour
- 2 1/4 cups (450g) granulated sugar
- 2 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 3/4 tsp kosher salt
- 2 cups (480g) mashed very ripe bananas about 4 large
- 3/4 cup (175ml) mild-flavored oil such as vegetable oil
- 1 tbsp vanilla extract
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 1 cup (240ml) heavy whipping cream
- 1/4 cup (55g) marzipan
- Black gel food coloring
- Gold luster dust
- 1/4 cup (25g) raw sliced almonds
- 1/2 cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp water
- 1 tsp light corn syrup
- 1/2 cup (60g) whole or chopped pecans
- pinch sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups (510g) honey
- 1 cup (240ml) egg whites (from about 6 eggs) at room temperature
- 3 cups (660g) unsalted butter at room temperature
- 1/4 cup very strong espresso or 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon espresso powder diluted in 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tsp vanilla extract Homemade Vanilla Recipe
- 1/2 tsp kosher salt
- Yellow paste food coloring
Banana Cream Cake
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F / 175 degrees C. Generously grease a 9 by 13-inch (24 by 36cm) cake pan (or three 8-inch by 20cm cake pans), then line it with greased parchment paper.
- In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt until well combined.
- In a separate bowl, whisk together the mashed bananas, oil, vanilla, and eggs.
- Add the wet ingredients to the flour mixture and stir together until just combined.
- In another bowl, using a whisk, whip the heavy cream to medium peaks. Using a rubber spatula, fold the whipped cream into the batter, then fold in the walnuts (if using).
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and spread evenly using a small offset spatula. Gently tap the pan on the counter several times to release excess air bubbles.
- Bake until a tester comes out clean, 40 to 45 minutes (about 30 minutes for 8-inch rounds). Let the cake cool completely before removing it from the pan, then invert it t onto a serving platter.
- Take twelve small pieces of the marzipan and roll between your fingers, until they are a 1/2-inch (1.3cm) long narrow cylinder or capsule shape. Taper one end slightly to become the back of the bee.
- Using a food-safe paintbrush or a toothpick and black food coloring, paint stripes on the marzipan. Let the stripes dry. Then, using a small, clean paintbrush, paint. gold luster dust between the black stripes.
- Press the sliced almonds into the sides of the marzipan to create the bees’ wings. Put the finished bees on a toothpick and set them aside.
- In a food processor fitted with the metal blade, pulverize the praline until there are small bits about the size of pine nuts or smaller-but not as fine as powder.
- In two separate bowls, divide the buttercream in half and add the praline to one batch and stir a few drops of yellow food coloring into the other.
- Invert one of the cake rounds onto a serving plate.
- Using an offset spatula, spread half of the praline buttercream over the cake, making sure it goes all the way to the edge. Place the second cake round over the frosting and spread with the remaining praline buttercream. Top with the cake baked in the bowl (trim the bottom flat) as the final layer.
- If desired, at this point, you could crumb-coat the cake with some of the yellow buttercream.
- Put a thick layer of yellow buttercream over the cake. Using a small icing spatula, and starting at the top of the cake, create a spiral by slowly spinning the cake turner and moving the spatula downward.
- Place the bees’ toothpick into the cake to create the illusion of bees buzzing around. Serve the cake immediately.
- Line a baking sheet with lightly greased parchment paper or a silicone mat.
- In a medium saucepan over high heat, combine the sugar, water, and corn syrup and let melt, without stirring.
- Allow the mixture to boil until the sugar just starts to turn amber along the edge. You can now stir without fear of crystalizing.
- When the caramel is evenly deep amber throughout and just starting to smoke, turn off the heat and stir in the pecans and salt. Immediately pour the nut mixture in a thin layer onto the prepared baking sheet.
- Let the mixture cool completely, then transfer to a food processor and pulse until the praline is pulverized and there are no pieces larger than a pine nut.
- Transfer the praline in an airtight container and store in a cool, dry spot for up to 3 days.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the honey and egg whites.
- Put 1 inch (2.5cm) of water in the bottom of a double boiler or a medium saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer over medium-low heat. Place the bowl with the egg mixture over the simmering water and stir the mixture with a rubber spatula until melted (140 degrees F / 60 degrees C) and thin.
- Place the bowl in the stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment and beat on medium-high speed until the egg foam is light, fluffy, and glossy and the bowl feels just about room temperature. (If the egg foam isn’t cooled sufficiently, the butter will melt when you add it.)
- Once the egg foam is whipped and cooled, turn the mixer speed to medium, add the butter, 2 Tbsp at a time, and beat until incorporated. Once you have finished adding the butter and it has mixed for about 1 minute, the buttercream will be creamy and glossy looking again. Turn the speed to low; add the espresso (if using), vanilla, and salt; and mix until well blended.
- Use immediately or transfer to an airtight container and store in the refrigerator for up to 7 days or in the freezer for up to 1 month.