Bolos de Mel   or    Madeiran Honey Cake


To the Portuguese, molasses is ‘honey’ (mel da cana, or ‘cane honey’ as opposed to mel da abelha, which is ‘bee honey’.)  These dark spicy loaves made with molasses are a specialty of Madeira, where sugarcane has been an important crop since Prince Henry, the Navigator directed his colonists to plant cuttings of Sicilian cane there early in the 15th century.  At harvest time, everywhere about the island you see trucks of cane lumbering along the mountain roads and children racing to snatch up whatever stalks fly off.  To most Madeira youngsters, sucking a chunk of sugar cane is better than munching a candy bar.  This recipe makes two round cakes or two loaves:


2/3 cup finely chopped raisins, dates, or dried plums

2/3 cup finely chopped walnuts

2/3 cup finely chopped blanched almonds

4 ½ cups sifted all purpose flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

½ teaspoon ground cloves

 ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

½ teaspoon ground anise

½ pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

½ cup vegetable shortening

1 cup sugar               

3 large eggs

2 packages active dry yeast softened in ½ cup lukewarm water

1 ¼ cups molasses, preferably light, unsulfured molasses




Dredge the fruits and nuts in ½ cup of the sifted flour and set aside.  Sift the remaining flour with the baking soda, cloves,

cinnamon and anise onto a piece of wax paper and set aside also.  Cream together the butter, shortening, and sugar until fluffily-light, beat in the eggs, one at a time.  Mix in the softened yeast.  Add the sifted dry ingredients alternately with the molasses, beginning and ending with the dry.  Fold in the fruits and nuts with the dredging flour.


Transfer the batter to a large well-greased bowl, cover with a clean dry cloth, and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free spot for 2 hours.  Note:  The batter will rise only slightly, but it will become spongy and light.  Stir the batter down, divide between two well greased and floured pans.  Using blanched almond halves, make three daisy type flowers on the top of each pan.  Cover with a cloth and allow to rise for 1 ½ hour.  Toward the end of the second rising, preheat the oven to moderately hot (375 degrees).  When the batter looks properly risen, bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until it begins to pull away from the edges of the pans and feel springy to the touch.  Cool the cakes right side-up for 10 minutes, loosen the sides with a knife and turn the cakes out.  Allow to cool before cutting. These cakes keep well in the freezer for about six months if wrapped snugly in foil and/or plastic wrap.  (Can also be drizzle with Madeira wine both before freezing and after defrosting, I used “Boal”.)


Note:  In Madeira, the popular way to frost these cakes is to sift confectionery sugar diagonally across the top.