Orange Salted Honey Cake

Tessa Huff's Orange Salted Honey Cake
Excerpted from Icing on the Cake by Tessa Huff, reprinted by permission of Abrams Books. Photographs by Tessa Huff.
Prep Time
3h 40 min
Cook Time
28 min
10 - 12 servings

The enticing combination of citrus and salted honey is the perfect blend of zesty flavours. It is creamy, complex (in flavour, not in preparation), and decadent while still being light and fresh. The honey in the buttercream is fairly distinct, and the touch of salt makes the flavour palette multidimensional. The cake pairs perfectly with afternoon tea, and the delicate, petal-like finish would be a gorgeous accent at any brunch or shower.



Salted Honey Custard

1 ½
tbsp unsalted butter, diced
cup (240 mL) plus 1 tbsp whole milk
tbsp (50 g) granulated sugar
cup (60 ml) honey
large egg yolks
tbsp plus 1 ½ tsp cornstarch
tsp pure vanilla extract
- ½ tsp salt, or to taste

Orange Butter Cake

2 ¼
cups (295 g) cake flour
2 ½
tsp baking powder
tsp salt
1 ½
cups (300 g) granulated sugar
tbsp finely grated orange zest from about 2 large oranges
cup (80 ml) fresh orange juice
cup (160 ml) buttermilk
cup (1½ sticks/170 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
tsp pure vanilla extract
large eggs

Honey Buttercream

large egg whites
cup (160 ml) honey
cup (135 g) granulated sugar
tsp pure vanilla extract
cups (4 sticks/450 g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
Gel food colouring of your choice


Step 1

Put the butter in heatproof bowl. Set a fine-mesh sieve over the bowl.

Step 2

In a medium saucepan, combine the milk and 2 tablespoons of the sugar and slowly bring to a simmer over medium heat. Remove from the heat.

Step 3

Whisk together the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar, the honey, and the egg yolks in a medium bowl. Whisk the cornstarch into the honey mixture until smooth.

Step 4

While whisking, stream about half of the hot milk into the egg mixture to temper the egg yolks (this slowly raises the temperature of the eggs so they do not curdle). Pour the tempered egg mixture into the saucepan with the remaining hot milk mixture and heat over medium-low heat, stirring continuously, until the pastry cream thickens and slow, large bubbles start to pop on the surface. Whisk for 1 minute more, then remove from the heat.

Step 5

Pour the pastry cream through the sieve into the bowl with the butter. Add the vanilla and salt. Stir until smooth and cover with a piece of plastic wrap, pressing it directly against the surface of the pastry cream to prevent a skin from forming. refrigerate until cool and thick, at least 2 hours or up to 3 days.

Step 6

Preheat the oven to 350°F (175°c). Grease and flour three 6-inch (15-cm) cake pans and line the bottoms with parchment paper.

Step 7

Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt into a medium bowl.

Step 8

In a small bowl, rub the sugar and orange zest together between your fingertips until fragrant. In a separate bowl, stir together the orange juice and buttermilk.

Step 9

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium speed for 2 minutes. Add the sugar-zest mixture and mix on medium-high until light and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Step 10

Turn the mixer to medium-low and add the vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next. Mix until combined. Stop the mixer and scrape down the bowl.

Step 11

Turn the mixer to low and add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the buttermilk mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture. After the last streaks of the flour mixture are incorporated, mix on medium for no more than 30 seconds.

Step 12

Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans. Bake for 25 to 28 minutes, until a toothpick inserted into the center of each cake comes out clean. Let the cakes cool on a wire rack for 10 to 15 minutes before removing from the pans. Allow the cakes to cool completely, right-side up, on the wire rack before removing the parchment. Level the tops of the cakes with a long serrated knife as needed.

Step 13

Put the egg whites, honey, and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer. Gently whisk them by hand until just combined. In a medium saucepan, bring an inch or two (2.5 to 5 cm) of water to a simmer over medium-low heat. Place the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan to create a double boiler (be sure the bottom of the bowl does not touch the water).

Step 14

Whisking intermittently, heat the egg white mixture until it reaches 160°F (70°c) on a candy thermometer.

Step 15

Carefully affix the mixer bowl to the stand mixer (it may be hot) and fit the mixer with the whisk attachment. Beat the egg white mixture on high for 8 to 10 minutes, or until it holds medium-stiff peaks and the outside of the bowl has returned to room temperature.

Step 16

Turn the mixer down to low and add the vanilla. Add the butter a couple of tablespoons at a time, mixing until each is incorporated before adding the next. Stop the mixer and swap out the whisk for the paddle attachment.

Step 17

Turn the mixer to medium-high and beat until the buttercream is silky smooth, 3 to 5 minutes.

Step 18

Place one cake layer on a cake board or serving plate. Fill a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip with the honey buttercream. Pipe a ring around the top edge of the cake to create a “dam.” Fill the ring with half of the honey custard and smooth the top with an offset spatula or the back of a spoon. Top with a second cake layer and repeat; place the final cake layer on top.

Step 19

Crumb coat the cake with the honey buttercream and chill in the refrigerator for 15 minutes.

Step 20

Place the cake on a rotating cake stand. Smoothly frost the cake with a thin layer of buttercream.

Step 21

To decorate the cake with the ruffle petal piping technique, fill a piping bag fitted with a petal tip (Wilton #104) with buttercream. Gently touch the tip to the cake, narrowed side facing down, about 1 inch (2.5 cm) from the bottom of the cake. Hold the piping bag at a 45-degree angle and pipe continuous swags of buttercream around the bottom of the cake. Each swag should be 1 to 2 inches (2.5 to 5 cm) wide. the bottom of each swag should graze the cake board or serving dish. continue around the cake, slightly overlapping each row, until the sides are completely covered.

Step 22

For the top, hold the piping bag at a 45-degree angle to the top of the cake. Keeping the narrowed side of the tip pointing away from the center of the cake, gently squeeze the piping bag as you move it out away from the center of the cake and back in. Continue piping concentric circles of petals around the top of the cake clockwise (or counterclockwise, if you are left handed), spinning the cake stand as you go. As you approach the center, tint the buttercream a soft peach colour, or the colour of your choice, to create a gentle ombré effect. Overlap the rows of petals and increase the angle of the piping bag until you reach the center. For the top of the cake, I find it most comfortable to pipe around the edge farthest from my body, gently spinning the cake stand as i go.

Step 23

Loosely cover with plastic wrap or place in a cake box and chill in the refrigerator until 30 minutes before serving. Let come to room temperature for 30 minutes, then slice and serve.

Step 24

Store leftovers loosely covered with plastic wrap or in a cake box in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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