Bolo de mel which translates to “honey cake” also commonly known as the Madeira Honey Cake is from the Madeira Islands. Thanks to Lina from Lin’s Recipe and her innovative idea of reviving rare recipes, I had the opportunity to dig up details on this wonderful nutty cake. And trust me google didn’t provide me much and translations were not the best to follow. So with a month in hand to research and read from all sources, I finally settled down with this recipe, which I guess comes closest to the traditional one. I was quite intrigued to read about the origin of the cake. I will save you the trouble of researching and will sum it up here for your reading.
Madeira Island is an island set in the Atlantic Ocean, 550km of the coast of Morrocco and 970km from Portugal. This cake is considered to be Madeira’s oldest dessert. To the Portuguese, honey is ‘molasses’ and also an essential ingredient in this cake. This dark spicy loaf made with molasses is a specialty of Madeira. Started up by Renato José dos Santos, who baked and decorated wedding cakes at Fábrica da Estrela before it caught fire in 1964. He then proceeded to open his own factory in Rochinha Madeira, baking bolo de mel, sugared almonds, torradas (toasts) and broas (breads with cornmeal, also made with molasses). Some say this cake recipe was formed after the spices started making way into the country when the sea route to India was discovered.
This cake is usually made for Christmas, but it can also be found all year round on the island. It is a custom to make enough of this cake in order to have some during the whole year. Once cooled and thoroughly wrapped it remains good until next Christmas without losing quality or taste. Another tradition around this dessert is that it is not cut with a knife, but by hand – a tradition that is very respected among locals.
For the recipe itself, I made a few alterations since I didn’t not have everything in hand. There were some recipes which used a starter’s dough. But I am proofing the cake dough twice to achieve the same result. Also, the original recipe calls for lard or vegetable shortening. Since I didn’t have any, I replaced it with equal amount of butter.
The result was a lovely nutty, rich and moist cake. This absolutely surprised me since I thought it would a very dense cake. The taste is very close to Rich Plum cake we make in India – but the honey gives a very unique and distinct flavour. Hope you enjoy the cake as much I enjoyed learning and baking it!
45g or 1/3 cup finely chopped raisins, dates, or cranberries
45g or 1/3 cup finely chopped walnuts
45g or 1/3 cup finely chopped almonds
250g or 2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1tsp baking soda
¼ tsp ground cloves
¼ tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp ground star anise
113g or ½ cup unsalted butter, at room temperature
55g or ¼ cup vegetable shortening
85g or ½ cup brown sugar
2 medium eggs
8 g or 1 package active dry yeast
175g or ½ cup honey
Few whole blanched almonds for garnish
- Take 125g of flour and mix all the chopped nuts and dry fruits, so it is all evenly coated. Set it aside.
- Meanwhile sift the remaining flour with the baking soda and ground cloves, cinnamon, star anise, yeast and set aside.
- Now cream together the butter, shortening, and brown sugar until fluffy.
- Add in the eggs, one at a time and mix well.
- Now add the honey and give it one final stir with the hand mixer, making sure you scrape the sides of the bowl from time to time.
- Add the sifted dry ingredients to this and fold gently using a spatula. At this point the batter is quite loose.
- Now fold in the fruits and nuts mixture that is coated with flour. The batter is now quite thick.
- Transfer the batter to a large well-greased bowl, covered with a clean dry cloth, and allow it to rise in a warm spot for 2 hours. Note: The batter will rise only slightly, but it will become spongy and light.
- Grease a 8 inch pan with butter and line with baking paper.
- After 2 hours stir the batter down and transfer it to the greased pan. I used a 8” pan because I wanted a tall cake.
- Using whole almonds make daisy type flower on the top of the batter which gives it, its signature look.
- Cover with a cloth and allow to rise again for 1 ½ hour.
- Toward the end of the second rising, preheat the oven at 170 degrees C.
- I made a baking strip using a thin muslin cloth dipped in cold water and wrapped it in aluminium foil to make a long strip. I then wrapped this strip around the baking tin so the cooking and rise of the caking is more even.
- When the batter looks properly risen, bake for 60 to 70 minutes or until it begins to pull away from the edges of the pans and feel springy to the touch.
- Cool the cake right side-up for 10 minutes, loosen the sides with a knife and turn the cake out. Allow to cool before cutting.
- These cakes keep well in the freezer for about six months if wrapped in foil and plastic wrap. The cake can be drizzled with Madeira wine before freezing and after defrosting.
- In Madeira, the popular way to frost these cakes is to sift confectionery sugar on the top.
- Enjoy 🙂
Do try this and do not forget to like, comment and share if you like what you see here. 🙂 I look forward to seeing how it turned out for you – so do share pictures with me.
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Love & Hugs,