Since I was a little girl living in Vermont, my father has been a beekeeper. As a result I have always had a fondness for them and the delicious nectar they produce. We ate their precious honey on everything from homemade granola to freshly baked bread. This cake is a tribute to both the elegance and ingenuity of honeybees. The shape of the cake is based on an ancient beehive called a skep, which was made of a coiled basket. Under the hovering marzipan bees are layers of banana cake, pecans and honey-scented buttercream.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees 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.
In a medium bowl whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and cinnamon. Set aside. In a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar until light in color and fluffy. Mix in the honey and vanilla. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each. Add the banana puree and mix until incorporated. Alternate between adding the flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the dry ingredients.
Divide the batter between the cake pan and the prepared bowl.
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.
In the bowl of a stand mixer combine the egg whites and sugar. It will be very thick and grainy.
Put the bowl over a double boiler and stir it with a rubber spatula until the sugar is completely melted. Brush the sides down with the spatula to make sure all the sugar is melted.
Feel the egg mixture between your fingers to check for graininess. Once it is completely smooth, put the bowl on the mixer and beat with the whip attachment on medium-high speed.
Whip until it is light, fluffy, glossy and the bowl feels just about room temperature. If the egg whites are not cooled off sufficiently it will melt the butter when you add it.
Once the egg whites are whipped and cooled, add the butter, 2 tablespoons at a time on medium speed. WARNING: After you have added about half of the butter, it may look curdled and runny; this is normal and you should continue adding the rest of the butter.
Once you have finished adding the butter and it has mixed on medium speed for about a minute the buttercream will be creamy and glossy-looking again. Add the honey, salt and vanilla.
Divide the buttercream in half and add the pecans to one batch and the yellow food coloring to the other.
Cut each of the cake layers in half. Start with the cake-pan layers and fill them with the pecan buttercream. Repeat with the rounded layers baked in the metal bowl.
Use a small portion of the yellow buttercream to create a crumb coat on your cake. The crumb coat locks in the crumbs and guarantees that your cake will have no unwanted crumbs on the outside.
Now you are ready to add the final coat of buttercream. Put on a nice, thick, smooth layer; you will end up scraping some of it off as you create the spiral. Use a decorating spatula to gently press the cake as you slowly spin the cake turntable. Start at the top and make your way down the cake.
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.
Once the stripes are dry, press the sliced almonds into the sides to create the bees' wings.
You can use toothpicks cut at different lengths to suspend the bees over the cake or lay them right on the surface.
Zoë François, author of Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day , studied at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She now calls Minneapolis her home, where she has worked with some of the top talent in the culinary world — Steven Brown, Andrew Zimmern and many chefs at the D’Amico company. In addition to writing, Zoë teaches baking classes and consults at restaurants, and she maintains her baking blog, zoebakes.com . Her third book, Artisan Pizza and Flatbreads in Five Minutes a Day, comes out in October .