Wednesday, 2 November 2022

Honey Chocolate Cake, Bee Keeping in the Tropics, and our Honey Harvest

Hello to all Chocolate Cake lovers. I'm not a chocoholic, in fact I can give or take chocolate most of the time, but it is one of life's little luxuries along with honey. However, I do love a slice of Chocolate Cake. On the weekend, when I had a craving for chocolate and chocolate cake I was unaware of what was to follow.  I think this was a premonition that we would need lots of cake and extra energy the following week as dramas with our beehive erupted. I was also hosting Mahjong on Tuesday, so my friends happily indulged me in my visceral desire for some chocolate cake and we all enjoyed a slice for afternoon tea. More of our evolving bee story later, because firstly I need to divulge to you the recipe for one of the most delicious chocolate and honey cakes on this planet.

This is a Nigella Lawson recipe, and I chose to bake this one flavoured with honey in appreciation of our bees and all hardworking bees and their bounty of beautiful honey and as a dedication to our Queen Bee Lizzie who swarmed from our hive with her bees during last week. They are wild insects, and they were Lizzie's bees, not ours. The honey used in this cake was produced during her reign as Queen Bee. Despite all of this, the honey we harvested from our hive, two days before the bees swarmed is beautiful in this delicious, moist and very soothing chocolate honey cake.

Let's Bake:


Serves: About 10 slices

100 grams dark chocolate (broken into pieces)

275 grams light brown muscovado sugar

225 grams soft butter

125  millimetres (1/2 cup) runny honey

2 large eggs

200 grams plain flour

1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda

1 tablespoon very fresh cocoa powder

250 millimetres boiling powder (1 cup)


60 millilitres water

125 millilitres runny honey

175 grams dark chocolate

75 grams icing sugar


All the ingredients need to be at room temperature, so take them out of the refrigerator in plenty of time.

Melt the dark chocolate (100 g) from the cake ingredients, in a good-sized bowl, I did it in the microwave, but you can melt it in a good-sized bowl suspended over a pan of simmering water, ensuring no water or steam at all gets into the chocolate so that it doesn't seize.  Set aside to cool slightly.

Preheat your oven to 180 deg C/160 deg C Fan forced or gas mark 4. Butter and line a 23 cm / 9 inch springform cake tin.

In your mixing bowl, beat together the sugar and soft butter until it is creamy and light, and then add the beautiful runny honey. Add one of the eggs, let it beat in the butter mixture while adding one tablespoon of the flour. Then add the other egg, and another tablespoon of flour, 

Fold in the melted chocolate, followed by the rest of the flour, and the bicarbonate of soda.

Push the cocoa through a tea strainer to ensure no lumps and add to the batter. Strangely this worked.

Finally beat in the cup of boiling water. 

(At this point in her recipe, Nigella says that she supposes there is nothing stopping from doing all of the steps so far in the food processor, blitzing everything except the boiling water, and then pouring the boiling water down the funnel with the motor running.) I felt much happier mixing this cake in my Kitchen Aid.

Mix the runny cake batter well to ensure it is smooth, pour into the prepared cake tin.

Cook for an hour and a half. Check it after 60 minutes to ensure it's not catching and if it is, cover the top lightly with foil and then check every 15 minutes. If you pull the oven tray out too early to check the cake, it may sink slightly in the middle.

Let the cake cool completely in the tin on a rack.

ICING OR GLAZING, that's up to you.

This cake has such a soft crumb and a beautiful flavour with a hint of honey, and could be served uniced with a sprinkling of icing sugar over the surface if you feel so inclined.

However, I do love an iced chocolate cake, and I know many of you do as well, and as we were in the middle of a heat wave here, I elected to ice the cake rather than glaze it, so I will give you Nigella's glaze recipe in case you would like to glaze instead of ice.

My Traditional Chocolate Icing:

This is how my Mum always iced her chocolate cakes. To ice the cake, I mixed up 4 cups of icing sugar in the food processor to remove any lumps. To that I added 4 tablespoons of cocoa and gave it a quick mix.

Transfer the icing sugar to a medium sized mixing bowl.

I melted 2 tablespoons of butter and mixed that into the icing mixture.

I then warmed up 1/2 cup of full cream milk in the microwave, and slowly added that to the icing sugar until I had the stiff consistency I was after. I wanted to be able to ice the cake the day before I needed it, and be sure that it wouldn't run off the cake in our tropical heat. It didn't. It was the perfect consistency and even retained the decorative squiggles I made in the icing with a fork.  To spread the stiff icing on the cake, firstly put dollops of the icing on the cold cake, then dip a knife in a glass of hot water, and use your hot knife to spread the icing evenly over the surface of the cake. I then used a fork and drew lines of squiggles through the icing. 

I decorated the cake with my home grown Dianthus flowers, which are edible.

You might find this is too much icing for your tastes, so just use what you need and save the rest in a covered container in the refrigerator for another time.

A glaze would have been very difficult to manage, unless I put the cake straight in the frig.

Nigella Lawson's Chocolate Sticky Honey Glaze:

Bring the water and runny honey to a boil in a smallish, though not tiny saucepan , then turn off the heat and add the finely chopped chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids buttons work well.) Swirl it around to melt in the hot liquid. Leave it for a few minutes then whisk together. Sieve in the icing sugar and whisk again until smooth.

To apply the glaze, select your cake plate or stand and cut out four strips of baking paper and form a square outline on the cake plate. This ensures that even in the perfect climatic setting, the icing will not run out all over the plate. Unclip the tin and place the completely cooled cake on the on the plate you have prepared.

Pour the icing over the cold honey chocolate cake and with a cake spatula smooth it down the sides.

Glaze it about an hour or two before you want to serve the cake, so that the glaze can harden a little.

When you are ready to serve it, you can just very carefully slide out the pieces of paper to show a clean plate.

When Nigella Lawson wrote this recipe she included instructions of how to make bees from marzipan to decorate the cake. One day I might do this, as it looks like fun, and is a perfect way to decorate a honey cake. Just flick to her website to find the instructions for making decorative bees.

Cook's notes:

  • I baked this cake a day ahead, iced it and stored it in an airtight container. It can also be frozen, uniced, and wrapped tightly in a double layer of food wrap and a layer of foil for up to 3 months, which sounds like a great idea. Unwrap and thaw at room temperature for about 3 hours. Ice or glaze and decorate on the same day of serving.
  • Leftovers will keep for up to a week in an airtight container in a cool place, that would have to be the refrigerator in North Queensland, and there's no way that leftovers will last that long in our home.
  • I couldn't find any light brown muscovado sugar, so I used equal quantities of raw sugar and dark muscovado sugar which I have on hand.
  • I have closely followed Nigella's recipe here, but I would sift the bicarbonate of soda with the flour at the very beginning, so that I don't forget to add it and to ensure it is evenly added throughout the flour. Is there any reason not to add it to the rest of the flour at the beginning that I don't know about?


You might remember in a previous post I wrote that it is swarming season for bees. We don't really blame Queen Lizzie or her bees for leaving home as the hive was chockabloc full of bees, and we were just two days late with adding new frames and another box to the hive to create more space for them. This was because we were waiting for new frames to be delivered by Australia Post. Once a hive has decided to swarm, it's impossible to change their mind, however apparently the hive can be lured to a nearby location by hanging some honeycomb frames from the nearby washing line for example, while hoping they will be attracted to it.  They can then be relocated to another hive or back to the original hive where there is more room. All of this happened during a heat wave so conditions weren't ideal for a crowded hive or for anybody.  Lesson learned, bees aren't patient.

Below is a photo of the bees bearding at the front of the hive, and preparing to swarm. We think they flew away during the night. At the time, we thought they might have been bearding because of the heat.

Then it all became the perfect storm as the hive was weakened due to the swarming. Militant Robber Bees hungry from another hive were attracted to our hive and were after our honey, but our hive was too weak to fend them off. They were intent on taking our honey and killing our bees in the process. Then Hive Beetles bred in the hive, normally we can keep them under control, but they laid a lot  of eggs because our bees and the hive beetle bait couldn't keep them under control either. The hive beetles created a lot of larvae in the hive which was an awful sight. The larvae ridden frames were removed as soon as Mr. HRK found them. What a shock! 

After the robber bees arrived, Mr. HRK was wrapping the hive in a wet blanket, and turning the sprinkler on it frequently in the heat of the day, so that the robber bees would lose the scent of our hive and also to cool down the hive. The rest of the ruined honey frames had to be removed and placed in the freezer to kill the Hive Beetle maggots, and after four days it seemed we might be on top of the situation. We installed a new Queen Bee in our hive yesterday, so now we are hoping there are enough bees in the hive to support her. Fingers crossed. Gosh, this was all just bad luck, but we are on that continuous learning curve when it comes to bees, along with most other backyard beekeepers.

I've named our new Queen Bee, Sissi, after the famous 19th century Austrian Empress, whose first name was also Elisabeth, but was fondly called Sissi. We have just watched Empress, the story of Sissi, on Netflix, and really enjoyed it. I hope our new Queen Sissi is as sassy, innovative and hard working as the beautiful Austrian Empress was.

This is how Queen Bee Sissy arrived in her small capsule or carriage, accompanied by a few ladies (bees) in waiting.
They will eat their way out through a sugary opening in the top of the capsule. Sorry for the blurry photo. My camera wasn't coping.

I am also calling this divine honey chocolate cake Sissi.

It's taken me a while to post this recipe because there has been a lot happening, and as it stands now, Mr. HRK is concerned there may not be enough bees left in the hive to support the Queen and see our hive grow. If that is the case we will need to buy some more frames of bees. However we will persist. C'est la vie, and if anyone thinks that beekeeping is easy, they are very much mistaken, but it is such an interesting hobby, and we hope we are doing our little bit for the environment and the pollination of our neighbour's gardens.

Warm wishes, Pauline


  1. bees can be very temperamental. Last season my friend had barely enough honey to see them through this winter - and now they seem to have a regular amount as we have had a warm winter. Hope your queen thrives :)

    1. Thanks Tandy, we've bought a new Queen and think we also need some more bees. Long term the hive should survive though.

  2. Harvesting and enjoying honey from your own backyard must be something really special. The chocolate cake looks splendid!

    1. Angie we keep persisting with the bees because we think it is special to be able to do it. The cake was delicious, thanks so much for your comment.

  3. i used to love chocolate cake but oddly enough in my old age, i like sweets and cakes less and less. And i prefer simple desserts and cakes. what is happening to me ? :=) but this nigella cake is fabulous. i may even have made it once upon a time. so interesting about your bees. it's an incredibly wonderful thing! the whole bees and honey scenario.

    1. We actually don't eat cake very often either now, I don't just make cake for the sake of it, I made this because it was Mahjong at my place, and cake is a tradition. I can't eat much of it though, but this was delicious.

  4. oh btw who did the cute bee drawing? so sweet.

    1. Not sure who drew this Sherry, I found it on a free website. I thought it was cute.

  5. We kept bees for a number of years and really enjoyed them. I love a Lawson recipe. They're so fun to read (and then eat)!

    1. Thanks Debra, Nigella's recipes are always fun to make and reliable and great to eat.

  6. Yum! This cake looks like sin on a plate.

  7. It is in a way, ha, ha Amalia. Thank for your comment.

  8. My somewhat ridiculous fear of bees has me quivering as I read about the swarming. I love my honey (and that cake sounds divine) but I will leave beekeeping to those braver than I. I guess that means you! I will try the honey chocolate cake -- never imagined such a combination but I trust you!

    1. David we are very brave with our bee suits on, ha, ha, however our bees seem to be quite placid really. Apparently they can sense if the beekeeper is quite relaxed about what they are doing. The honey gives the cake a beautiful flavour. Thanks for your interest.


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