Beehive Cake (Brown-Butter Banana Cake and Honey Buttercream)

Beehive Cake (Brown-Butter Banana Cake and Honey Buttercream) Recipe | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Beehive Cake

Banana Cake:

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 Gel Paste Food Color

Marzipan Bees:

¼ cup Marzipan

¼ cup sliced almond

black Gel Paste Food Color

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.

Butter cooking in saucepan | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

In a small saucepan cook the butter over low heat.

Browned Butter | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

until the butter is caramel colored and smells toasty.

Straining browned butter | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Diving beehive cake batter | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Divide the batter between the cake pan and the prepared bowl.

Banana beehive cake after baking | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Cutting and filling the beehive cake | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Beehive cake crumb coat | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Buttercream for the beehive cake | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Marzipan bees | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

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.

Marzipan bees | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

Once the stripes are dry, press the sliced almonds into the sides to create the bees wings.

Marzipan bees on beehive cake | ZoeBakes | Photo by Zoë François

119 thoughts to “Beehive Cake (Brown-Butter Banana Cake and Honey Buttercream)”

  1. I love this. I was actually going to do a test batch of a honey buttercream for a pistachio sponge. I love, LOVE the little bee’s, and the structure for the hive is great! Not a surprise from you or the blog, but i am always blown away and inspired.

  2. Hi Zoe! This cake is just beautiful. Seems we have some friends in common, and are both MN natives! Maybe will see you at a blogging event. 🙂


  3. Ooh this cake is soo cute and sounds so yum! My grandfather used to keep bees too 🙂 I have early memories of sucking the honey out of bee combs.

  4. Adorable! In culinary school we made a similar beehive cake, but we covered it in torched meringue instead of buttercream — yours is much cleaner. And brown butter banana cake? YUM.

  5. This is gorgeous. You’ve outdone yourself again. Also, I love that your dad had bees but can’t imagine the ride from VT to Minnesota.

  6. This cake is awesome (and it’s not just because of the little bees!). I am always looking for a good banana cake recipe. Can’t wait to try yours! P.S. I’m glad you went with the traditional look of the bee-hive. This cake just wouldn’t have been the same if it had been a box-hive shape 😉

  7. This post absolutely made my day. It’s such a beautiful cake and a lovely celebration of bees. Thank-you.

  8. Stunning! loved your Marzipan bees..I had tried your chocolate spider on my cake & my kids were super duper happy..:)can I bake the cake in a dolly varden cake tin instead of 2 tin?

  9. What an incredibly *sweet* looking cake! A friend of mine recently got interested in bee keeping. I’ll have to send her a link to your post as I’m sure she’ll love to make this as well.

  10. We are beginning bee keepers. What a journey and learning experience it is! My children help (we have little bee suites for them) and I think they deserve this awesome cake for all of the hard work they do helping! We are going to make it next week.

  11. Just beautiful! But I must say, the story of your father and his beehives makes this cake even more gorgeous 🙂 Cheers! ~Tricia

  12. This is wonderful! I think any joyful way to get kids to care about the welfare of bees these days is a great idea, and this cake is totally irresistible.

  13. I LOVE this post! I can completely relate to the lack of any other sweetener as we have hives too and I think im probably bordering on addicted to the honey they produce 🙂 I have it in tea, porridge, on toast, and just eat it by the spoonful. ANYWAY, this recipe just looks totally wonderful and the perfect way to show off honey in all its loveliness 🙂

  14. Love this post about the story about your father. And this cake is beautiful! What a fun way to bring awareness to the bees, and you make it look so easy too! I might have to try this one out for my birthday next month!

  15. Cute cake. I love the light yellow color. I have watched a few shows about how the bees are disappearing. I really hope they figure something out, because I don’t think people realize how important bees are.

  16. Zoe, I stumbled upon your site via “foodgawker”. First of all i love the ingredients in this cake and icing but it was the tribute to bees that caught my attention. I began keeping bees in March this year and have acquired 6 hives. It is the most awe-inspiring hobby. I, like your Dad absolutely “love” my bees. I name all of my queens, Miracle, Heidi, Rita, etc…. and all have a reason for their name. Silly to some but personal to me. I think I’ll just make the cake in regular pans and enjoy your lovely creation! Glad I found your site – you are a busy woman! Hope you’ll visit my blog for some interesting bee stories, photos and such!

  17. Hey,

    this is the cutest cake. My mom is a bee keeper and she is flying in to visit me this thursday. I have to make her this cake. Do you know where marzipan and black food coloring can be found locally? I mean is it a regular grocery stores? I live in Baton Rouge.

    1. Hi Courtney,

      I’m not sure where you might find it locally, but here we have marzipan in the baking section of the grocery store. The black food coloring you may have to find online!

      Thanks and enjoy your mom’s visit! Zoë

  18. What a beautiful cake! I just made it today and am serving it this evening. What is the best way to cut a cake like this?

  19. Hi! Any ideas on how to make the bees nut free? I know I can figure out the cake/frosting part, but my lil guy is allergic to nuts…his first birthday theme is bees and I really love this cake idea… Thanks!

  20. regarding the crumb coat picture, the cake looks squat compared to the cake in the following image. Before the cake was frosted was another layer added to make the cake taller and narrower at the top?

    I am a bee keeper and look forward to making this cake. Tx!

    1. Hi Rob,

      I first made the cake using regular round cake layers, which meant I had to carve the cake to the shape I wanted. Then it occurred to me that it would be easier to do it in a bowl and eliminate the carving. The shape is very similar, but as you noticed it is a slightly wider cake. You can either add another cake layer, as you suggested, or trim the sides with a serrated knife to get the angle you desire. If you have the right shaped bowl, this will not be an issue at all.

      Thanks! Zoë

  21. Hi, I am planning on making this lovely-looking cake tomorrow for a friend’s birthday. My problem is that I don’t keep buttermilk in the house normally, and will be leaving town next week for Thanksgiving—so I don’t want to buy buttermilk in case it goes bad while I’m gone. Is there a decent substitute you can suggest?

    Thank you so much! My friend will love this cake!

  22. If I wanted to make the cake in regular pan would I use 2 8in. round or 9. Can’t wait to try. cake looks yummy!

    1. Hi Ann,

      Are your pans 2″ or 3″ tall? If they are 3″ tall you can do it in the 8-inch round pans and this will make the cake taller. If you use a 9-inch round cake pan the cake will be wider, but shorter.

      Thanks, Zoë

  23. Zoe… Your cake is just beautiful!!! I LOVE bees, so this caught my eye rather quickly, I do have a bee hive mold pan that I recently got as a gift. I wonder how you would go about holding the two halves together??

  24. Hi Zoe! I LOVE this cake! It is so sweet! We’d love to use it as an inspiration image at our Cupcake Inspirations Card Challenge (!

  25. Hi, I just stumbled onto your blog via the cake (Pinterest maybe?). I have never made a layered cake before before this one. My pans and bowl were a little wider so my cake was squatter but it still turned out pretty well. I couldn’t find marzipan in my town so I improvised by making a playdough recipe with sugar instead of salt (what can I say, I have a 19 mth old). This seems to be a fine subsitution to make the little bees. I also had to be flexible with adapting from another buttercream when my egg white wouldn’t whip because I got a little yolk in them 🙁 Now I know for future meringues!
    Bringing this to a Winnie the Pooh themed baby shower. Thanks for the great recipe and for making it look so easy. Never would have tried it otherwise:)

  26. love this cake and can’t wait to try it – just wondering what is the “wire” used to attach the bees to the cake? thanks so much!

    1. Hi Lisa,

      You can use a skewer or toothpick, but I used a wire that is used for making gum paste flowers, which you can get at a cake decorating store.

      Thanks, Zoë

  27. I’m not a baker at all…but I made this cake and it turned out perfectly ADORABLE!! Your instructional videos were so incredibly helpful!! I couldn’t have done it without them! My mom keeps bees as a hobby and tomorrow is her birthday. I can’t wait to see the look on her face when she sees her cake. Thank you!!

  28. Hey Zoe,
    Just wanted to ask if this is the same recipe for the cake that you use on your video tutorial “splitting and filling a cake”? The cake on the video has the most perfect crumb!
    thanks in advance!

  29. Love Love Love this cake!! I’ve been keeping bees for only 3 years, and my sister-in-law showed me this recipe! can’t wait to take it for raffle to our next Sowega Beekeepers club meeting!!THANKS–and yes, everyone should have honeybees!! ;0)

  30. Hey Zoe, I’m thinking about making this cake for a “Classic Pooh” Baby Shower. About how many servings would you say this cake is? How would you cut it for serving?

    1. Hi Katie,

      It depends slightly on how large the slices are, but for a shower you can probably get about 16-20 out of this. Cut the top of the dome and serve and then cut the bottom layer as a separate cake.

      Thanks, Zoë

  31. Hi Zoe!

    There are people with nut allergies in the family. I thought about just leaving the nuts out but I wanted to try a different filling. Can I use your Vanilla Pastry Cream or is that not stiff enough for cake filling?

    1. Hi Barbara,

      I use pastry cream in cakes all the time. Don’t use too much or it may ooze out the sides. Chocolate ganache would be lovely too.

      Thanks, Zoë

  32. Made this for my daughter’s birthday this year, and shaped it into a butterfly. I got rants and raves for this cake! It seemed daunting at first, but is well worth the extra steps browning the butter and toasting the nuts. I’m making it again this weekend for my Grandmother’s birthday and am MORE than excited to have this delicious cake again!

  33. Hi!
    i made this on the weekend for my husband’s birthday (he wanted a banana cake) – but just as a tall round cake (31 is a little old for buzzy bees!). It was fantastic, rave reviews, cooked perfectly.

  34. I tried the cake and it smell so good making it, but was disappointed in the end result as it felt like eating a slice of banana bread with butter on it. Is there a way to use less butter but have that same smooth icing, or maybe a really good cream cheese icing? I thought the cake was great, icing was like eating honey butter.

    1. Hi Cardust,

      Did you let the buttercream come to room temperature before eating it? That is the best way to serve it, but it isn’t for everyone. Problem with cream cheese icing is that it doesn’t have the body to hold up to this, it will just slump down the cake. You could do a chocolate ganache or other icing that has a bit more structure.

      Thanks, Zoë

  35. HI Zoe !
    Ich love this cake and want to bake it for my little daughter´s honey bee birthday party.
    I have one question to you… how many gramms are 1 cup of egg whites?
    i live in austria and here we use gramm to do cakebaking…
    best regards, melanie

  36. I love this! My husband and I are beekeepers so your story about your father and the truths you speak about the future of honeybees truly touch my heart! Thank you for sharing!!!! The cake looks adorable and delicious!!!

  37. I am making this cake for a baby shower and did a trial run last weekend. The instructions are very helpful and the end result was wonderful, including the bees which I made out of fondant. I did have a little trouble baking the layer in the round metal bowl. It took a lot longer than the 8″ pan and was still a little under-cooked in the middle and a little overcooked around the edges. I will be making again this week and thought I would try baking the bowl layer at 325 for an hour and then start checking. Any suggestions?

  38. Finally trying this cake out this week for my niece’s birthday. This question is something I have been wanting to ask a pro baker for ages: when baking two pans in the oven, what is the pan placement? side by side? one on bottom rack and other on top rack? thanks!!

    1. Hi Lisa,

      It will depend on the size of the pan, but if they will fit on one, then do it side by side on the middle rack. Enjoy the cake!

      Thanks, Zoë

  39. thanks Zoe…if you don’t mind, could I extend my previous question to inquire about cupcake pans. In the past I placed 2 sheets of cupcakes side-by-side on the middle rack and they came out burnt on the bottom. I felt that maybe the problem was that there was no proper heat distribution around the pans because, with them side-by-side, they had formed a barrier so that the heat was trapped below. And yet, I hate having to bake my cupcakes one pan at a time! In this case, can I place the (cupcake) pans on top of each other? – that is, each pan gets their own rack? thanks again Zoe :=)

    1. Hi Lisa,

      You can bake on different shelves, but it is a good idea to rotate the pans during baking to make sure they bake evenly. This needs to be done very carefully.

      Thanks, Zoë

  40. Thank you for you helping me disinteretedly. In our family reverent attitude to beehive too. My sister keeps beehive. If you let one more question, how mach butter in grams I need for banana cake? Thank you Zoe! With mach reverenses Svetlana

  41. Made this cake today as a trial run for my daughter’s bee themed birthday party. Used a Dolly Varden tin and baked for an hour. Worked really well. Tasted wonderful. Didn’t try the buttercream today as I wanted to know how you think the buttercream would work out if I was to pipe concentric circles up around the cake to give the hive look? I’ve never worked with Swiss buttercream before and wonder how it will hold up.

  42. Love the cake, I was wondering if you could tell me if the bees harden at all when sitting. Also if I’m making this up a day ahead should the bees be kept covered?

  43. since moving to my forever home in the pacific northwest, i have been going nuts over the many varieties of local honey. as my furry four-legged boy and i put in our 60k+ driving miles to soak in the blessings of this paradise, i couldn’t help but notice the crazy number of beehive keepers bringing it like no one’s business. yesterday found me pinning a chocolate honey cake with marzipan bees due to having honey on the brain from a recent two-honey jar roadside stand purchase near mount rainier the week before. now throw in the delight of seeing this post in my email this morning… it is all just too weird lovely wonderful for words. fyi: biscuit batch #2 fills the air with wonderful smells as i type because batch #1 was adored and devoured yesterday for breakfast and evening snack time. it seems to be all about zoe around here. forever grateful for each of your shares 🙂

  44. oops… i was babbling on and on so much that i forgot to ask how long the marzipan bees stay fresh and edible.

    1. Hi. If they are stored well they can last for weeks. Wrap them very well and keep them in a zip lock or other container where they won’t dry out or be in humidity.

      Thanks, Zoë

  45. You are so clever Zoe, I just love following your blog and your classes (and books). Thanks for the strory about your dad! I can tell you admire and love him very much!

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