Honey bun cake tastes like a cross between a cinnamon swirl cake and a poke cake! To make it, a moist yellow cake is swirled with cinnamon-sugar, then poked all over before being drizzled with a powdered sugar icing.
This homemade honey bun cake is rich, moist, and sweet. It’s reminiscent of the plastic-wrapped sweets you grew up eating from the grocery store, but so much better!
The cake itself is a flavorful homemade yellow cake. An entire tablespoon of vanilla flavors the batter, and a combination of buttermilk and sour cream adds a lovely tanginess to the cake.
Once the cinnamon-swirled cake is done baking, it’s immediately pricked all over with a fork and drizzled with a powdered sugar icing. The icing seeps into the cake, adding flavor and ensuring the cake remains moist for days!
This is a great “anytime” cake to keep on hand. It keeps well at room temperature and can be enjoyed for breakfast, a decadent weeknight dessert, or as a special occasion treat.
This scratch cake recipe uses basic ingredients you may have on hand already. I’ve listed the full ingredient list and measurements in the recipe card below but wanted to quickly highlight a few that are key to making this recipe.
- Cake flour: Cake flour has a lower protein content than all-purpose flour, which results in fluffier cakes. If you don’t keep cake flour on hand, you can easily make your own substitute in about 5 minutes.
- Buttermilk: Is more acidic than regular milk, which creates a tender crumb while also adding moisture to the batter. If needed, you can make your own buttermilk substitute or replace it with an equal amount of whole milk.
- Sour cream: Also adds flavor and moisture to the cake. I recommend using full-fat sour cream for best results. You may also replace the sour cream with an equal amount of plain Greek yogurt.
- Vanilla extract: There’s 1 full tablespoon of vanilla extract in the cake batter — it’s not a typo! There are an additional 2 teaspoons in the icing to really drive home the rich vanilla flavor.
- Eggs + egg yolks: You’ll need three whole eggs and two egg yolks to make this recipe. The added egg yolks make the cake even richer.
- Honey: While most honey bun cakes don’t actually add any honey, I’ve added this as an option. You can add 2 tablespoons of honey to the icing and reduce the milk to add a light honey flavor to your cake.
How to Make A Honey Bun Cake
This cake has three components: the cake itself, the cinnamon-sugar filling, and the vanilla icing. You’ll prepare the recipe in that order.
- Combine the dry ingredients: In a large bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt.
- Combine the wet ingredients: I like to use a liquid measuring cup for this step. Whisk together the buttermilk, sour cream, oil, and vanilla. These will be added with the dry ingredients later.
- Cream together the butter and sugar: In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the butter until smooth. Add the sugar and continue beating until light and fluffy. This will take about 5 minutes.
- Add the eggs and egg yolks to the butter mixture: Add them one at a time, and scrape down the sides of the mixing bowl between each addition.
- Add the dry and wet ingredients to the butter mixture: Add the dry ingredients in three additions, alternating with the wet ingredients. You want to begin and end with the dry ingredients.
- Make the filling: Combine the brown sugar and cinnamon in a bowl.
- Assemble the cake: Pour half of the cake batter into a greased 9×13-inch baking pan. Sprinkle the top of the batter with the cinnamon-sugar filling. Spread the remaining cake batter over the filling. It helps to use an offset spatula to spread the batter evenly on top of the filling. You can either leave it as is or use a butter knife to lightly swirl the batter.
- Bake the cake: The cake is done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Make the icing: Whisk together the powdered sugar, milk, optional honey, and vanilla extract.
- Ice the cake: Make sure to poke holes all over the cake before adding the icing. This will allow the icing to seep down into the cake and make it gooey and delicious, just like a honey bun! The cake should still be warm when you do this.
- Let the cake cool completely before slicing and serving.
Can the Cake Be Prepared in Advance?
Yes! This honey bun cake needs to cool completely before it can be sliced and served, making it a great make-ahead dessert option.
In general, poke cakes keep well for three to four days at room temperature. The icing prevents the cake from drying out, but I still recommend covering the pan tightly with plastic wrap or foil to preserve it.
Can This Recipe Be Halved?
Yes, but you will need to adjust the amount of eggs. Since this recipe uses an odd number of eggs, it makes it difficult to cut them in half. I recommend cutting all of the other ingredients in half and using 2 large eggs (no egg yolks), then baking it in a 9-inch square pan.
- Make sure all of your ingredients are at room temperature before beginning this recipe. That includes the buttermilk, eggs, egg yolks, and sour cream.
- If you prefer less filling, you can reduce the filling to 3/4 cup of brown sugar (150 grams) and 2 teaspoons of ground cinnamon.
- It may seem like quite a bit of icing, but keep in mind that some of the icing will seep down into the cake. If you want to use less, you can simply scale down the amount of icing.
- As soon as the cake comes out of the oven, poke holes in the cake, whisk together the icing, then pour the icing over the cake. You want the cake to be warm when you add the icing!
More Easy Cake Recipes to Try!
Honey Bun Cake
For the cake:
- 3 cups cake flour spooned & leveled (345 grams)
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup buttermilk or whole milk room temperature (120 ml)
- ½ cup sour cream room temperature (120 grams)
- ¼ cup canola or vegetable oil (60 ml)
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract (15 ml)
- 1 cup unsalted butter softened (2 sticks or 230 grams)
- 1 ¾ cups granulated sugar (350 grams)
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 2 large egg yolks room temperature
For the filling:
- 1 cup packed light brown sugar (200 grams)
- 1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
For the icing:
- 3 cups powdered sugar (360 grams)
- 4 to 6 tablespoons whole milk (60 to 90 ml)
- 2 tablespoons honey optional (40 grams)
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- To make the cake: Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Spray a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray and set aside.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt together until well combined. Set aside.
- In a large bowl or measuring cup, whisk the buttermilk (or whole milk), sour cream, oil, and vanilla extract together until well combined. Set aside.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment or in a large mixing bowl using a handheld mixer, beat the butter on low speed until smooth.
- Add the granulated sugar and mix on medium speed for 4 to 5 minutes or until the mixture is light and fluffy.
- Mix in the eggs and egg yolks, one at a time, making sure to stop and scrape around the bottom and sides of the bowl after each egg.
- Add the dry ingredients in three additions alternating with the milk mixture (begin and end with the dry ingredients) on low speed. Mix in each addition until just combined, making sure not to over mix the batter.
- Use a rubber spatula to scrape around the bottom and sides of the bowl to ensure that everything is well combined. Set the batter aside.
- To make the filling: In a separate large mixing bowl, stir the brown sugar and cinnamon together until fully combined.
- Scoop half of the cake batter into the prepared baking pan and spread it around into one even layer.
- Sprinkle the brown sugar-cinnamon mixture over the batter in the pan. Then, top with the remaining cake batter and smooth the top into one even layer. If desired, you can use a knife to gently swirl the batter.
- Bake for 38 to 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.
- To make the icing: Whisk the powdered sugar, milk, honey, and vanilla extract in a large bowl until well combined and no lumps remain. If you're adding the honey, use 4 to 5 tablespoons of milk. If you're not using the honey, use 6 tablespoons of milk instead. If the glaze is too thin, add more powdered sugar as needed. If the glaze is too thick, add a little more milk.
- While the cake is still warm, prick the top of it with a fork or skewer. Drizzle the icing over the cake and spread it around into one even layer.
- Allow to cool completely before slicing and serving.