Cream Cheese

Fennel Honey Cake

April 23, 2018
4 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes one 8-inch, 2-layer cake
Author Notes

This recipe comes from Sticky Fingers, Green Thumb by Hayley McKee. In the book, the cake is affectionately called Honey for Ray—a title she explains in the headnote: "This one goes out to my baby boy. He was two months old when I wrote this recipe and I like to think it will become his most requested afternoon treat. The combination of lemon myrtle, fennel and honey syrup creates a creamy, floral finish. I like to decorate this cake with Australian native flora and eucalyptus, and a handful of crumbled shortbread. It’s soft and lush, just like Ray Lou."

A few notes! The original recipe calls for 3 tablespoons ground lemon myrtle (or lemon thyme or lemon balm)—an Australian native ingredient. We substituted 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme and the zest of 1 lemon. We also dropped the amount of honey syrup to reduce leftovers. And while the book marks 600 grams all-purpose flour as 4 cups—so, 150 grams per cup—we standardize each cup of flour at 128 grams (or, about 4 2/3 cups). Which is to say, a scale is highly recommended!

Recipe excerpted (and barely adapted) with permission from Sticky Fingers, Green Thumb by Hayley McKee, published by Hardie Grant Books March 2018. —Food52

Test Kitchen Notes

Featured in: A Fennel Honey Cake as Sweet as Its Backstory —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • Cake
  • 3 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 1/4 cups unsalted butter (500 grams)
  • 1 1/2 cups raw sugar (330 grams)
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh thyme
  • 1 tablespoon grated lemon zest (about 1 lemon)
  • 6 large eggs
  • 1 cup whole milk (250 ml)
  • 4 2/3 cups all-purpose flour (600 grams)
  • 4 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup finely grated fennel
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • Honey syrup and cream cheese frosting
  • 1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (113 ml)
  • 1 cup plus 4 teaspoons honey (250 ml)
  • 3/4 cup water (188 ml)
  • 5 1/4 cups powdered sugar (600 grams)
  • 7 tablespoons unsalted butter (100 grams)
  • 9 ounces cream cheese (255 grams)
  1. Preheat the oven to 345° F (175° C). Lightly grease and line two 8-inch (20-centimeter) round cake tins with baking paper.
  2. Toast the fennel seeds in a saucepan over a medium heat until fragrant. Remove from the heat, transfer to a large mixing bowl and leave to cool completely.
  3. Once cooled, add the butter and sugar to the bowl with thyme, lemon zest, and fennel seeds and cream together for 2 to 3 minutes or until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time and continue to beat until incorporated. Stir in the milk, then sift over the flour, baking powder and salt and fold together to form a batter.
  4. Using your hands, squeeze the grated fennel to remove any excess moisture, then add it to the batter and stir together gently to distribute evenly. Divide the batter evenly between the prepared tins and bake for 1 hour, or until a skewer inserted into the centers comes out clean.
  5. Meanwhile, make the honey syrup. Combine the lemon juice, 1 cup honey, and water in a saucepan set over a medium-high heat and stir together until the honey dissolves. Bring to the boil, then remove from the heat. Set aside.
  6. While the cakes are hot and in their tins, prick the tops with a fork and ladle over 1 cup (250 ml) of the honey syrup. Cool on a wire rack.
  7. To make the honey icing, beat the remaining 4 teaspoons honey, powdered sugar, butter, and cream cheese together in a bowl using a hand-held mixer, or a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, until smooth.
  8. Place one of the cooled cakes on a serving plate or stand and spread with half the icing, then place the second cake on top. Spread over the remaining icing and serve with the remaining honey syrup.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • katie
  • Alma Mahler
    Alma Mahler
  • Joshua Leavitt
    Joshua Leavitt

6 Reviews

katie April 8, 2021
The flavors are fun and inspiring, but I will need to adjust because my cake did not turn out. There is 1/4 c lemon juice listed in the cake ingredients that is not accounted for in the cake recipe. Possibly a duplicate from ingredients listed for honey syrup? Would like more fresh fennel and to cut back on some sweetness.
LULULAND March 13, 2021
Sorry, too early in the AM. I was thinking fennel seed.
LULULAND March 13, 2021
Sounds interesting but squeeze the grated fennel? What is that suppose to read? thanks
Alma M. September 20, 2020
I made and loved this. The flavors are really nice--though I do want to taste lemon myrtle now! I used the weight measurements, halved the recipe for one layer, and baked in a 9" springform. When I took it out at 40 minutes, it was a bit overdone. I would love to see this as an oil-based loaf cake with even more fresh fennel, like a carrot cake.
Joshua L. April 29, 2018
Can't help but wonder if there's something up with the volumetric measurements, especially for the syrup & frosting. Shouldn't the mls for 3/4 cup be 3x the mls for 1/4 cup? And the mls for 1 cup plus 4T be more than 4x the mls for 1/4 cup?
Anna N. May 1, 2018
you are right but since the 4T of honey are used in a different part of the recipe she didn't want to confuse people by adding the extra ml to the measures. And for the amount of sugar she is using for the frosting I would consider sticking to the 113 ml of lemon juice instead of 1/4 cup, maybe the acidity will cut the sweetness