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
Preheat the oven to 345° F (175° C). Lightly grease and line two 8-inch (20-centimeter) round cake tins with baking paper.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.