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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

  • 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.



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