This is a Honey Cake made with only honey as the sweetener, no sugar, so you can really taste the honey (such cakes are rarer than you think!). You’ll love how it’s soaked with rich honey syrup, flooding the cake with extra honey flavour and making the crumb beautifully moist.
This sweet gem is brilliant as a pudding-like dessert to finish off a cosy dinner, or served for afternoon tea with friends.
I had a load of home-harvested honey gifted to me by people in my life who keep their own bees. Thinking how best I could flatter such a lovely ingredient, I developed a slightly mad obsession with creating a cake that used honey and no sugar whatsoever. Sounds simple enough, right?
Turns out, it’s much harder than it seems. For one, sugar plays an important part in making cakes rise. When creamed with butter, sugar creates little air pockets as the cake bakes. When you remove sugar from the equation, cakes have a tendency to be very dense, as I discovered from various honey cake recipes I tried.
The other problem? Pretty much all the ones I tried don’t actually taste of honey. What’s the point then, I ask??! 😂
So I am chuffed to present my own honey cake recipe which I think does the cake justice both in name and the eating! It was broadly adapted from this Greek Honey Cake. If you do an ingredient comparison though, you’ll see that the end result bears little resemblance. The most distinct difference is the absence of sugar in my recipe.
Ingredients in Honey Cake
Straightforward ingredients in this recipe! The key ingredient is of course, honey (imagine that! 😂).
Honey – Not all honey is created equal! The better quality the honey, the stronger the honey flavour and the better the result. To be honest though, while I don’t want to encourage you to use dirt cheap mass-produced honey since it can sometimes be bulked out with sugar syrup, even if you use a regular mainstream brand the honey flavour will still absolutely come through in this cake.
Butter (at room temperature) – When recipes call for butter at room temperature or softened butter, the butter needs to be firmer than you probably think. Ideally it is 18°C / 64°F. This is soft enough to whip, but still cool enough that when you touch it, you don’t end up with a slick of grease on your finger.
Butter that is too soft can lead to greasy cakes that do not rise as well as they should. In fact, this is one of the most common problems in cake making!
Here’s a quick way to bring butter to room temperature: Cut fridge-cold butter into 1.5cm cubes (1/2″ thick slices if you have a US stick of butter). Scatter on a plate. Microwave 2 cups of cold tap water for 4 minutes on high in large mugs or a jug. Remove the warmed water, quickly put the butter plate in its place and close the door. DO NOT turn the microwave back on. The residual heat in the microwave air will soften the butter in 5 minutes.
Large eggs at room temperature – The eggs need to be at room temperature and not fridge-cold, to ensure they incorporate into the batter easily.
A quick way to warm up fridge-cold eggs: Place eggs in a large bowl, cover with warm tap water (just warm, not hot) and leave for 5 min. Wipe dry and use per recipe.
Egg size (“large eggs”): 50 – 55g / 2 oz per egg is the industry standard of sizes sold as “large eggs” in Australia and the US. If your eggs are significantly larger or smaller in size, just crack the eggs into a jug, whisk and measure out 200g / 7 oz.
Flour – Just all purpose/plain flour for this recipe. Self-raising flour will work as a substitute but the cake will contain more baking powder than the recipe calls. This will cause the baked cake to dome a little in the middle.
Baking powder – To make the cake rise. If yours has been sitting in the dark corners of the pantry for a while, test it to make sure its still alive!
Milk – Full-fat is better though low fat is fine too.
Salt – Just a bit, to bring out the other flavours in this cake. It’s generally good baking practice to add a pinch of salt into sweet recipes.
Orange zest (optional) – Recommended but not the end of the world if you skip it. A pinch of orange zest magically enhances the honey flavour in this cake. You won’t be able to taste the zest in the cake unless you have a very refined palette. (I don’t. Hence why the flavours of my recipes are usually kapow! rather than subtle! 😂 )
Flaked almonds – For decorative purposes, for flavour and for shielding the surface of the cake so it doesn’t get too dark when baked (neat huh!)
Next is the honey syrup we use to soak the cake.
Honey – Yes, more honey! I told you, you definitely won’t miss the honey flavour in this cake! 😂
Water – To thin the honey a bit, so that we can safely simmer the honey for 5 minutes without it getting too thick.
Lemon juice – Just the finest touch, 3/4 tsp. It adds a very delicate but welcome hint of lemon freshness. It’s such a small amount you’re probably wondering what’s the point?? But you really can taste the little twang it brings! Having said that though, it’s not a deal killer if you skip it. Not like making this cake without, say, honey. 😂
How to make Honey Cake
The secret to this cake really lies in the balance of ingredients. The cake-making steps themselves are very bog-standard!
First up, making the cake.
1. The cake
Whisk dry ingredients: Place the dry ingredients in a bowl and whisk together.
Cream butter and honey: A standard cake making step often deployed for butter and sugar. But here, we’re doing this step with honey instead! Beat it for a good 3 minutes on medium-high, a bit longer than you usually go for when baking with sugar as the honey is denser.
Add eggs one at a time, alternating with flour – Switch to a wooden spoon. We’re going to mix in the eggs one at a time, alternating with portions of flour. So, add one egg, then mix until incorporated. The mixture will curdle at first, but keep stirring and it will come together after around 30 seconds.
Add flour in four lots – After the first egg is mixed in, add 1/4 of the flour and mix just until you can no longer see flour. Add another egg, mix until incorporated. Then 1/3 of the remaining flour. And so on, with the 2 remaining eggs.
Why switch to a wooden spoon after creaming the butter? Because a beater will aerate the eggs too much, causing the cake to dome rather than finishing with a nice flat surface. This shape will cause the honey syrup to run down the sides instead than soaking into the cake – and we can’t have that 😱!
Finish batter – Lastly, stir in the milk and orange zest. The finished batter is quite thick and will look a bit like whipped cream rather than completely smooth, as per the photo.
Scrape into pan – Scrape the batter into a baking paper-lined pan and smooth the surface. Even if you have a non-stick pan its best to line it with baking paper to ensure the cake doesn’t stick.
Sprinkle the batter surface with the flaked almonds.
Bake for 45 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. Then take the cake out of the oven but leave it in the pan, and cool for 15 minutes. This is an important step, to let the cake settle before soaking in syrup. If you skip it, the cake ends up too dense (impatience is a virtue rarely rewarded in baking, as I often discover to my detriment!).
Next, we’re going to SOAK it in honey syrup! Make the syrup while the cake is resting.
2. Soaking in Honey Syrup
My favourite step is here. Nope, not the soaking part. I mean the cake-poking part! So satisfying … 😂
Make the Honey Syrup while the cake is cooling for 15 minutes.
Simmer the honey and water for 5 minutes to reduce. This concentrates the honey flavour, while heating the honey thins it so it gets absorbed more readily by the cake.
Add lemon juice and simmer for a further 2 minutes. Then cool the syrup for 5 to 10 minutes.
Poke holes in the cake, after it’s rested for 15 minutes. Bamboo or metal skewers work well. Poke with gusto, all the way down to the base – around 30 or more holes. Poke between the almonds so you don’t disturb them. (See … it’s a game … hence the appeal! 😂)
Honey syrup – Pour over the honey syrup in 4 goes, waiting between each pour for the syrup to soak in before doing the next. Use a spoon if needed to spread the syrup evenly across the surface. Then leave to soak for a good 15 minutes.
TIP: If your cake has a slight dome on it, lightly press the dome down with a spatula after baking to flatten the surface, else the syrup tends to just run off the cake and down the sides. Not the end of the world as it then gets absorbed by the base and sides of the cake. But it is nicer when the syrup has soaked the middle of the cake too.
And we’re done! See the section below for serving suggestions …
Serving and storing Honey Cake
This Honey Cake is best served warm because the cooler it gets, the denser it becomes. So serve it freshly made or else leftovers also reheat perfectly, making it ideal for making ahead too. To reheat, just 30 seconds in the microwave for a slice will do, or covered in the oven for around 15 minutes.
With its honey syrup-soaked crumb and crunchy toasted almond topping, I like serving this cake plain because there’s plenty of taste and texture going on here already. However, if you want to jazz it up, I would never discourage that! Try a big dollop of cream or vanilla ice cream (or BOTH!) with a an additional sprinkle of lightly toasted almonds (flakes or slivered), and a drizzle of extra warm honey. SO GOOD!
I think I just talked myself out of serving it plain – Bring on the toppings, on second thought!!! 😂 – Nagi x
Watch how to make it
Video typos I need to fix! Oven baking time is 45 minutes, not 50 minutes. And 15 minutes is enough for the honey syrup soaking step though you can leave it for the 30 minutes indicated in the video.
- 1 cup plain flour (Note 1)
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp cooking salt (kosher salt)
- 225g (1 cup) unsalted butter , at room temperature (Note 2)
- 2/3 cup honey
- 4 large eggs , at room temperature (Note 3)
- 3 tbsp milk , preferably full-fat, slightly warmed
- 1 pinch orange zest , optional (brings out honey flavour)
- 1/3 cup almond flakes
- 2/3 cup honey
- 1/4 cup water
- 3/4 tsp lemon juice (recommended but optional)
Topping options for serving
- Vanilla ice cream, cream, lightly toasted almond flakes or slivered almonds
- Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F (160°C fan).
- Prepare cake pan: Butter and line a 20cm/8" round pan or springform pan with baking paper (base and sides).
- Whisk Dry ingredients: Whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt in a small bowl.
- Cream butter and honey: In a separate bowl, cream the butter and honey for 3 minutes, scraping down the sides halfway, until smooth and fluffy. (Speed 7 handheld beater or stand mixer fitted with whisk attachment).
- Add eggs and flour – Add one egg, mix with a wooden spoon for 30 seconds until mostly incorporated into the batter (mixture will looked curdled). Then add in 1/4 of the flour and mix until the batter comes together. Repeat again – mixing in 1 egg, then a portion of flour – until you've used all the eggs.
- Milk and zest: Stir in the milk and orange zest, stir until the batter is almost completely smooth. The batter should be quite thick, but soft.
- Bake 45 min: Scrape batter into the prepared pan, smooth the surface and sprinkle with almonds. Bake for 45 minutes or until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean.
- Cool 30 min: Remove cake from the oven. Cool for 30 minutes in the pan – don’t skip this else the cake gets too dense when soaked with syrup.
- Honey Syrup: Meanwhile, make the syrup. Bring the honey and water to a gentle boil for 5 minutes over medium-low heat. Add the lemon juice and boil for 2 more minutes. Remove from heat, cool for 10 minutes then use per below.
- Poke and soak: Poke about 30 holes all across the surface using a skewer (between the almond flakes). Pour 1/4 of the warm Honey Syrup across the surface (if using a springform pan, put it on a plate in case it leaks). Once it mostly sinks in, repeat 3 more times, waiting between pours for the syrup to soak in. Then leave the cake to soak for 15 minutes.
- Serve: Serve warm. Remove the springform pan sides, or serve it straight out of the cake pan (Note 4 for removing from cake pan). I typically serve it plain. However Topping Options suggested above would never be turned away!
Serve this for dessert after….
Life of Dozer
When Dozer went to the Grounds of Alexandria. He can’t read.🤷🏻♀️