Madeira Honey Cake

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Madeira Honey Cake
Category: Dessert recipes
Servings: 8
Time: prep: 40 minutes
rest: 3-4 days
baking: 50 minutes
Difficulty: Very Difficult
| Portugal | 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.


  • 9 ounces (250 g) bread dough from the baker's shop
  • 90 ounces (2.5 kg) flour
  • 35 ounces (1 kg) sugar
  • 26 ounces (750 g) banha, this is pork fat
  • 17 ounces (500 g) butter
  • 1 ounce (25 g) erva-doce, this is anise herbs, mashed and sifted
  • 1.75 ounce (50 g) canela (cinnamon)
  • 1 ounce (25 g) cravinho da India, (cloves in powder form)
  • 17 ounces (500 g) walnut, cut into halves
  • 9 ounces (250 g) ground almonds
  • 1.75 ounce (50 g) candied lemon peel, cut into cubes
  • 60 ounces (1.8 l) pure honey
  • 5 tablespoons of baking soda, dissolved in the wine
  • 1 cup of Madeira wine
  • juice and zest of 4 oranges


  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. Put the baking soda into the Madeira wine, dissolve. In a pan warm up the honey, mix the butter and pork fat (if not available, just use butter), dissolve. Let this mixture cool.
  3. Sift flour into a bowl, mix in the sugar, make a well and put the bread dough into it. Now work the flour-sugar mixture into the bread dough. As soon as this is well joined, start to incorporate little by little the (tepid) honey-fat mixture. Add some of the candied lemon peel, as well as the Madeira wine, orange juice and orange zest, anise, cinnamon, and cloves.
  4. Incorporate and knead thoroughly until the dough doesn't stick to the bowl. Cover the dough with a towel and put it in a warm spot. Keep it in a warm place for 3-4 days.
  5. Divide the dough into parts of 250g or 500g or 750 g, depending on the pans to put into the oven. This cake is made in wide, round pans which are rather low. Before going into the oven, the cake is decorated with half-walnuts, sliced almonds and the rest of the candied lemon peel.
  6. Grease the baking pans. Bake about 50 minutes 355 °F (180 °C). Let cool down before taking it out of the baking pan.

Notes, tips, and variations[edit]

  • 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.