Rosemary Citrus Cake with Honey Brown Sugar Glaze

Rosemary Citrus Cake with Honey Brown Sugar Glaze Recipe

Hi Everyone.  My extremely handsome Bengal cat, ZaZu, was featured on Through the Thicket.  If you are interested in seeing him in all his handsomeness be sure to stop by Kathryn’s blog HERE.   In addition, Kathryn has all kinds of tasty recipes posted, including tips on baking a multi-layer cake.  It’s definitely worth a read.

♦  ♦  ♦

By now, most of you are well aware that I spent three recent years living in Nairobi, Kenya.  I loved living there for many reasons including easy access to travel destinations that I might not have otherwise prioritized on my bucket list.  Nairobi made quick jaunts to Turkey for peshtamals, shopping for spices in Zanzibar and lazy beach getaways to Manda Island possible.

Manda Island you may be wondering.   Where is this?

Beach on Manda Island

Manda Island is part of the Lamu Archipelago, a group of islands located in the Indian Ocean along the Northern Coast of Kenya.  It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site and is the oldest and best preserved Swahili settlement in East Africa, characterized by the simplicity of it’s structural forms.  It’s a magical place and many Kenyans, expats, and European tourists flock to the Lamu Archipelago to frolic in the crystal blue oceans and relax on the pristine white beaches;  however, it’s close proximity to Somalia, along with several high profile kidnappings of Western tourists by pirates, had instilled fear in many would be visitors and wreaked havoc on Lamu’s precious tourism industry.

School in Lamu

Little Girl with Donkey in Lamu

Old Door in Lamu

Boat on Lamu Beach

Majils Sitting Area

Cat in Lamu

From Hawaii to Zanzibar amongst others, I am no stranger to island life;  however, Manda Island has got to be the closest I have ever come to a full fledged Gilligan’s Island experience.

Let’s start with getting there, shall we,  since this is an experience in of itself.  To access Manda Island, you first take an itty, bitty not-for-the-faint of heart plane to the Manda Airstrip (LAU).  Yes, I said airstrip.   This is no Charles De Gaulle or John F Kennedy International airport but rather one tiny unmanned airstrip where pilots have to coordinate amongst themselves to avoid any “oopsies” at landing and takeoff.

Once arriving at the Manda Airstrip, you squeeze out of the puddle jumper and enter into an open air structure that’s hot as Hades.  It’s here that you get your first glimpses of the exotic cats of Lamu.  These are some of the most gorgeous cats I have ever seen (and I’ve seen a lot of cats).  They are believed to be true descendants of the royal cats of Egypt and if you were to see them you would surely believe this to be true as these sleek kitties are very regal in stature.   As I watch them I can easily imagine them lazing about with Cleopatera and her court.

Building in Town of Lamu

Man working in the boatyard in Lamu

The alleyways of Lamu

Donkeys hauling cement in Lamu

Cat in a boat in Lamu

Someone then hurriedly collects you and whisks your bags down a long stone pathway that seems to mysteriously dip into the sea.  At the end of this pathway, there is a series of stone steps that leads you down to your chariot, a small boat that you have to carefully navigate so as to avoid an impromptu dip in the sea.  It is at this moment that you thank the heavens above that you decided not to wear those wedged heels after all.

After a 20 minute boat ride, you arrive at your final destination, the most pristine beach you will ever lay your eyes on.  This beach is so perfect and virginal that the sand looks as though no human toe has ever touched its surface.   Hammocks are at the ready to gently lull any takers to sleep as they slowly sway underneath breezy palms.  There’s nary a human in sight and it truly feels like you were the  chosen one lucky enough to be shipwrecked on the most glorious and serene of islands.

Does this sound like a fairy book romance?  Perhaps. But there is a little secret as to why this little beauty nestled in the Indian Ocean feels more like a scene out of Gilligan’s Island than your typical beach holiday.  You see,  weeks prior to my visit to the Lamu Archipelago, armed pirates (yes, they are real. . .not myths from the movies), on not one. . .  but two occasions, swept up in the dark of the night in their high powered speedboats.  They stormed these seemingly untouched beaches, grabbed unknowing hostages and dragged them across the virginal sand into their boats where they sped off into the cloak of darkness.

These unfortunate events were plastered all over the news and would be tourists cancelled their holidays faster than you could blink an eye.  The U.S. Navy became a VERY noticeable presence and were the talk of the town.  Every local seemed to be on a first name basis with every soldier.  I couldn’t be any prouder when I saw the locals beaming as they talked about the military from my home country.  And I couldn’t be more excited when I quickly discovered that the luxury boutique that I was staying in opened up their normally exclusive pool for the soldiers to enjoy on their days off.

Arrrrr matey!  No one is going to mess with these tourists with the stone wall protection of the military.

Stone Town Academy in Lamu

Boat on the beach in Lamu

Walking the streets of Lamu

While I was at Manda Island, I was smart enough to order the house cocktail at the boutique hotel I was staying at (you can find it HERE).  This was the cocktail of dreams and, to this day,  not a day goes by that I don’t think about that cocktail.   It was flooded with the sweet, citrusy taste of passion fruit, seeds and all.   While the Mr. and I tried to re-create this transportive libation at home. . .no can do.  Perhaps it was because we weren’t privy to the secret ingredients that drew you into this cocktail.  Or perhaps it was the Gilligan’s island experience that made it all the more addictive.  I guess the only way I’ll get my fix is to once again reunite with my beloved Manda Island.

Rosemary Citrus Cake with Honey Brown Sugar Glaze Recipe

Blood Oranges for Rosemary Citrus Cake

Mandarinquats for Rosemary Citrus Cake

Blood Oranges and Mandarinquats for Rosemary Citrus Cake Recipe

Blood Oranges for Rosemary Citrus Cake

While living in Kenya, the passion fruit that was celebrated in this cocktail, amongst many other sweet delights in this country, was the closest fruit to delivering the sweet taste of the oranges I was familiar with while growing up in the states.   Oranges were virtually nonexistent in Kenya and, if you were lucky enough to find them, you would be mortgaging your house for a mere bag full of them.  Passionfruit, on the other hand, was as common as an erratic taxi or matatu in the city.  It’s funny how fruits that are considered common place and ordinary in one country could be considered rare and exotic in another.  And the passionfruit is the orange of Kenya.

Rosemary Citrus Cake with Blood Oranges Recipe

Mini Rosemary Citrus Cakes Recipe

While this is no passionfruit, with citrus season in full swing, I wanted to give a nod to the memories of the passionfruit I had enjoyed while living in Kenya.  To do this, I crowned a citrus, rosemary cake with a kaleidoscope of winter citrus. Specifically I used blood oranges, mandarinquats, clementines, and minneola tangelos. . .citrus heaven.

The brown sugar and honey glaze that hug the top of this cake is so divine that I have big plans to use it in future recipes.  Look for those soon.

Rosemary Citrus Cake with Honey Brown Sugar Glaze Recipe

Rosemary Citrus Cake with Honey Brown Sugar Glaze

  • Time: 80 minutes
  • Difficulty: moderate
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  • 1/2 cup butter
  • 1 tablespoon raw honey, melted
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons water
  • Citrus, thinly sliced


  • Butter two 8 inch cake pans* and line them with parchment paper.  Sure it’s not fun buttering a pan but if you don’t do this your cake will forever be imprisoned in that pan.  And don’t get all cute and use a springform pan (like I did on my first attempt).  The glaze will create one big candy mess in the bottom of  your oven with the smell of burnt sugar flooding your kitchen every time you turn the oven on.
  • Over low heat, melt the butter and honey in a small saucepan.  Be careful.  You don’t want to burn the butter.  Burned butter is nasty.
  • Add brown sugar, lemon juice and water.  Stir until well combined.  Don’t taste the glaze at this point.  It’s so good you won’t be left with anything for the cake.
  • Divide the sugar & honey mixture and spread it evenly over the bottom of the prepared cake pans.
  • Lay the citrus slices in the honey and brown sugar mixture.  The citrus slices are thin, right?  Thick slices won’t be cooked to perfection, leaving you with rinds that make your lips curl.
  • Admire how beautiful your citrus artwork looks and set aside this masterpiece while you prepare the rest of the cake.


Makes two 8 inch rounds.


  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamon
  • 4 eggs (room temperature)
  • 2 cups granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange zest
  • 1/2 teaspoon fresh rosemary, minced
  • 1 cup milk
  • 1/4 cup butter + extra for greasing cake pan


  • Preheat the oven to 350° F.
  • In a medium bowl, combine the flour, baking powder & cardamon.  Do it slowly though;  otherwise, your kitchen will look like a dust storm just passed through.  Set aside.
  • In a big bowl,  beat the heck out of the eggs with an electric mixer until they have thickened (about 4 minutes).
  • Reduce the speed to medium and slowly add granulated sugar.  Continue to beat until the eggs become light and fluffy (about 4-5 minutes).
  • Fold in the orange zest and fresh rosemary.
  • Reduce the speed to low and add in the flour mixture.  Remember add the flour slowly.  See the first bullet if you need a refresher on what happens if you don’t.
  • Beat until all the ingredients are combined (Note:  Batter will be extremely thick).
  • Heat the milk and 1/4 cup of butter in a small saucepan on low heat just until the butter melts.
  • Add the milk and butter mixture to the batter and beat until combined.
  • Divide the batter (remember you have 2 pans) and pour each half over the top of the citrus and brown sugar mixture.
  • Slide the cake in the oven and bake for about 45 minutes.  Don’t be nosey and keep opening the oven.  If you do this you’ll create a sinkhole in the cake.  Not cute!  You’ll know the cake is done when you insert a toothpick in the center and it comes out clean as a whistle.
  • Remove the cake from the oven and cool it on a wire rack.  I know it’s tempting but you need to let the cake sit there for at least 20 minutes.  You have self control, right?
  • Loosen the sides and invert the cake onto a plate.
  • Scarf it down like the world is going to end tomorrow.  It might. . .

Cake adapted from Better Homes & Gardens

*Note:  I used one 8 inch cake pan and three 4 inch mini round pans.  

Arrr!  Grab a cup of tea or coffee (preferably Kenya) and enjoy a slice of this cake before winter citrus is just a distant memory.



47 thoughts on “Rosemary Citrus Cake with Honey Brown Sugar Glaze

  • March 5, 2015 at 3:38 pm

    Wow, your cake sounds absolutely delicious!! This is exactly how I want to eat a citrus cake.

    And your experience at Manda Island sounds incredible. Quite a unique culture that I could not imagine you could really get anywhere else. Lovely pictures!

    • March 5, 2015 at 8:09 pm

      It really is delicious. And that brown sugar glaze will have you wanting to eat the whole cake. Manda Island, as with many of the other places in Africa, was incredible and unique. I’m heading to Northern Africa (Morocco) in a month but wish I had more time to explore other countries in the area. I guess that will be the next trip. . .so many countries to explore. . .so little time.

  • March 5, 2015 at 9:48 pm

    This is such a pretty cake and I loved the photos of Manda Island too!

  • March 5, 2015 at 9:57 pm

    I love your photos, the recipe and this post! I’m a history teacher and I found this so interesting! Those are some great adventures you’ve been on 🙂

    • March 6, 2015 at 9:03 am

      Awe Asante sana Veronica. I’m glad you found it interesting. Life is but one big adventure and I hope to explore every nook and cranny of the Earth during my lifetime.

  • March 5, 2015 at 11:19 pm

    The cake looks yummy! I love all of your beautiful photos. It sounds like you have been lucky to travel, that is my dream to travel and see new lands.

    • March 6, 2015 at 9:06 am

      Thanks Dawn. I have been lucky enough to travel to many places people only dream of. It’s important for me to explore and experience new things. Travel enables this. Thanks for taking my virtual tour of Manda Island.

  • March 6, 2015 at 3:53 am

    My friend has also lived in Nairobi for several years and she’s not ready to come back home yet 🙂 Your photos are gorgeous! I love traveling too, it’s one of my biggest passions! And about this recipe.. I love citrus cakes and with the brown sugar glaze, it sounds just perfect!

    • March 6, 2015 at 9:05 am

      Nairobi can be a hard place to leave. It gets in your soul. We are kindred spirits on the travel thing. I place high importance on it as I love to experience things that are not part of my every day life. Glad you liked the cake. The glaze on it is addictive.

    • March 6, 2015 at 9:00 am

      Asante sana Dannii. The cake was very tasty. I dream about the glaze every night.:-)

  • March 6, 2015 at 8:09 am

    Your photos of Manda Island are beautiful! Love this citrus cake too, the flavors sound amazing and it looks gorgeous!

    • March 6, 2015 at 8:59 am

      Thanks Kelly. Glad you enjoyed your virtual tour of Manda Island and Lamu.

  • March 6, 2015 at 9:09 am

    Ah! blood oranges… This cake looks pleasantly delicious. Lovely travel pictures.

    • March 6, 2015 at 9:54 am

      Asante sana ChiO. I can’t seem to get enough of blood oranges as of late. Lucky for me they are still in season.

  • March 6, 2015 at 1:10 pm

    Manda island looks so beautiful, and I love your photos! This cake looks amazing — I love blood oranges — and that brown sugar honey glaze is such a fabulous way to top it off!

    • March 6, 2015 at 1:27 pm

      Thanks Marcie! Manda Island is truly a beautiful place with lots to explore from the old Swahili style buildings to the beautiful sand beaches. I hope you get to experience it one day for yourself. I’m with you on the blood oranges. . .I can’t seem to get enough of them.

  • March 6, 2015 at 1:46 pm

    Whoa! This sounds incredible! I’m not a big dessert person, but I love when they’re made with natural sugars such as this one. And it’s just gorgeous! Btw, love the pics of your kitty – especially the one with the bow tie 🙂

    • March 7, 2015 at 6:26 am

      Thanks Kathleen. ZaZu is quite the ham. He love wearing his bow ties. They hubby and I always like to tease him. ..saying it is his inner nerd.

  • March 6, 2015 at 1:53 pm

    mmmmm. and and kitty cat! hehe. great post.

    • March 7, 2015 at 6:25 am

      Ha! Ha! Kelsey. Glad you liked the kitty. He’s quite a character.

  • March 6, 2015 at 1:58 pm

    The island looks like such an incredible experience, Lynn. Thanks for sharing all the lovely photos. This cake looks amazing. I am loving the flavors in here.

    • March 7, 2015 at 6:24 am

      It was an amazing experience Jen. Glad you enjoyed the photos. I will continue to share photos from my travels so stop by for more virtual trips.

  • March 6, 2015 at 4:53 pm

    Your pictures of Manda Island are incredible! It looks like a truly amazing place. And this cake sounds delicious. I love the combination of rosemary and citrus!

    • March 7, 2015 at 6:22 am

      Thanks Christin! Happy I could take you on a virtual tour of this magical place. I’m with you on the rosemary and citrus combination. . .divine!

  • March 7, 2015 at 1:15 am

    This looks so beautiful. Such a lovely afternoon tea cake.
    Wow, a Bengal, I love them but always feel like I may just have to fight off a wildcat at any moment. Such a kooky breed.

    • March 7, 2015 at 6:21 am

      Ha! Ha! Bengals aren’t for everyone. Can you believe he was my first cat? I got him when he was six weeks only and 2 days into it I started asking myself what I was thinking. He was a little terror running around. . .and very intelligent which gets him into all kinds of interesting predicaments. Anyhow, I love the Bengal breed and wouldn’t trade him for the world. Glad you like the cake.

  • March 7, 2015 at 6:11 am

    Your pictures are stunning and I can. not. handle this cake! Beauty everywhere you look with this one!!

    • March 7, 2015 at 6:18 am

      Awe thanks Annie. This cake did a disappearing act and was gone in 60 seconds. I’m still dreaming about the glaze.

  • March 7, 2015 at 11:31 am

    Wow! This looks delicious! …and what beautiful pictures! 🙂 I Love it!

    • March 11, 2015 at 7:31 pm

      Thanks Cailee! The cake was delicious. I feel like I am in cake overload now. . .but they are so fun to make.

  • March 7, 2015 at 8:05 pm

    Gorgeous Photography, am glad I found your blog. Love the beautiful gorgeous cake.

    • March 11, 2015 at 7:30 pm

      Thanks Simi Jois. I’m glad you found me as well. Don’t be a stranger. 🙂

  • March 7, 2015 at 10:07 pm

    I love coming here to read about your wonderful & adventurous story and how your recipe created. Your photos are beautiful, and the cake is mouthwatering. And I hope someday you will visit beaches in Thailand as well. 🙂

  • March 8, 2015 at 5:22 am

    What an adventure, goodness!
    And this recipe looks amazing. Passion fruit is one of my favs, but I love oranges too 😉

    Pink Wings

    • March 11, 2015 at 7:29 pm

      I fell in love with passionfruit while living in Nairobi. The local fruit stand sold several different varieties. Unfortunately it is a bit more difficult to find in the states. . .at least in Ohio and Boston.

  • March 8, 2015 at 6:24 am

    Lynn, your photos and writing made me feel like I was there. Absolutely stunning! This cake is all good things citrus. Yay!!! And I can’t wait to see what else you snuggle under that blanket of brown sugar glaze.

    • March 9, 2015 at 2:55 pm

      Super. Glad you felt as if you were there. Stayed tuned for more citrusy yummies.

  • March 8, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    The cake looks pretty and delicious!! I love using various herbs in baking!!

    • March 9, 2015 at 2:54 pm

      Thanks Reiko. I love this cake’s vibrant punch of orange. I love baking with fresh herbs as well. The rosemary brings an interesting flavor to this cake.

  • March 9, 2015 at 2:39 pm

    *swoon* Lynn, your photos are just beautiful!! I actually just got back from a week in Hawaii, so all this island talk is making me long to go back! I just love the gorgeous pattern of the oranges on top of the cake–can’t imagine the layers of texture and flavors in this! Love!!

    • March 9, 2015 at 2:52 pm

      Oh wow Erika. I’m so jealous that you just got back from Hawaii. Hawaii is on my list of favorite destinations (Cape Town is #1) and the Mr. and I were married there…so it holds a special place in our hearts. I hope you had a nice relaxing trip and managed to get into the Aloha spirit. I love the pattern of oranges on this cake as well. I had so much fun creating it.

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