Cookbook:Madeira Honey Cake

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Madeira Honey Cake
CategoryDessert recipes
TimePrep: 40 minutes
Resting: 3–4 days
Baking: 50 minutes

Cookbook | Ingredients | Recipes | Portugal | Dessert | Cake

This is the recipe for the traditional Madeira Honey Cake, usually made on Christmas but also all year round on the island of Madeira and originally named in Portuguese bolo de mel. It is made with "mel de cana" which literally means "cane honey," otherwise known as molasses.


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[note 1]

Count Volume Weight Baker's %
Bread dough from the baker's shop 9 ounces (250 g) 10%
Baking soda, dissolved in the wine 5 tablespoons 69 g 2.76%
Madeira wine 1 cup 240 g 9.58%
Molasses 1.8 L 92 ounces (2560 g) 102%
Pork fat 27 ounces (750 g) 30%
Butter 18 ounces (500 g) 20%
Flour 90 ounces (2500 g) 100%
White granulated sugar 36 ounces (1000 g) 40%
Candied lemon peel, cut into cubes 1.8 ounces (50 g) 2%
Erva-doce (anise, ground and sifted) 0.9 ounce (25 g) 1%
Cinnamon 1.8 ounces (50 g) 2%
Ground cloves 0.9 ounce (25 g) 1%
Walnuts, cut into halves 18 ounces (500 g) 20%
Ground almonds 9 ounces (250 g) 10%
Oranges, juiced and zested 4 ea. 392 g 15.68%
Total n/a n/a 9160 g 366%


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  1. One day before making the cake, buy the bread-dough at the baker's shop, sprinkle a little bit of flour on the dough, put it in a towel and keep it in a warm place until the next day.
  2. Dissolve the baking soda into the Madeira wine.
  3. Warm the molasses in a saucepan, add the butter and pork fat, and stir until melted and combined. Let this mixture cool.
  4. Sift flour into a bowl, and mix in the sugar. Make a well and put the bread dough into it.
  5. Work the flour-sugar mixture into the bread dough. As soon as this is well-joined, start to incorporate the molasses-fat mixture little by little.
  6. Add some of the candied lemon peel, as well as the Madeira wine, orange juice and orange zest, anise, cinnamon, and cloves. Incorporate and knead thoroughly until the dough doesn't stick to the bowl.
  7. Cover the dough with a towel and put it in a warm spot. Keep it in a warm place for 3–4 days.
  8. Grease the baking pans. This cake is traditionally made in wide, round, low pans.
  9. Divide the dough into parts of 250–500 g or 750 g, depending on your baking pans.
  10. Decorate the cake with half-walnuts, sliced almonds, and the rest of the candied lemon peel.
  11. Bake for about 50 minutes at 355 °F (180 °C). Let cool down before taking it out of the baking pan.

Notes, tips, and variations

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  • In Madeira these honey cakes are made on 8 December, which is traditionally considered the day of Mary's Immaculate Conception, because tradition says this cake is only good for Christmas if it is made on this day.
  • It is a custom to make enough of this cake in order to have some during the whole year. Once cooled and thoroughly wrapped into vegetable paper it remains good until next Christmas without losing quality or taste.
  • Another tradition surrounding this cake is that it is not cut with knives, but by hand, and also eaten by hand, nothing more than a tradition but very respected among Madeira locals.
  • Fennel is often used instead of anise. Raisins are sometimes added.

Conversion notes

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  1. Weight conversions from USDA National Nutrient Database. Original ingredient order preserved. Where they were provided, used metric measures for conversion. Separate gram and ounce weights are not equivalent, but are within about 2% difference. When making a batch, more accurate measure will be found by using one or the other, but not mixing them. "Ounces" are understood as measures of mass or weight, there are no volumetric "fluid ounces" currently used in this formula. Madeira wine type not specified, weight calculated from average bulk density figures provided by for type Meio Seco.
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  • "Types of Madeira Wine". Retrieved 2014-12-08.
  • "Bolo de mel da Madeira" (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2014-12-08.
  • "Bolo de mel da Madeira" (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2014-12-08.
  • "Bolo de mel da Madeira" (in Portuguese). Retrieved 2014-12-08.