Happy Holidays, everyone! I hope you’re all having a fantastic time so far~ I thought I’d close off this year’s parade of recipes – which I very much hope you guys enjoyed as much as we did – with one of my personal highlights in more than one regard, which also fits this festive occasion… in more than one regard! Talk about a roundhouse swat to tick all available boxes at once.. anyways, here goes the scoop.
Just like every December, the Wintersday festivities have been roaring all across our favorite virtual world Tyria, while the usual Christmas Markets and Winter Fairs were spreading their share of Yuletide Joy on this side of the screen. One of the delicious things both worlds have in common is a simple Fruitcake.
Now, I’ve had my share of terrible fruitcakes but, like with most things in that area, there’s always another side of the coin. Take the worst fruitcake you ever had to choke down and flip it… on the other side, something absolutely divine is waiting for you~! In case of the simple Christmas Fruitcake in it’s “normal” form only very few people I know actually admit to liking, the heavenly flipside is… the Madeiran Bolo de Mel. “Of course, Madeira again” you might think, but this actually isn’t a case of me sounding like a broken record, bringing up the island whenever I can… not this time anyways~ Teehee!
Here’s a bit of Food History:
Dating back to the 15th Century, the Bolo de Mel – or more accurately, Bolo de Mel de Cana – Sugarcane-Honey Cake – is considered to be Madeira’s oldest sweet treat. Traditionally made at the end of the sugarcane harvest every year in bulk, it’s always been a celebratory treat until the English upper class discovered Madeira as their favorite vacation and health resort island in the 1800’s. Connecting the dots between the honey, orange, cinnamon, anise and other spices used for the delicacy to what they associated with Christmas, they were delighted at the Bolo basically being available all year round or at least as long as the amount made to mark the recent harvest’s end lasted. I actually heard several slightly varying stories, but this is basically what it boils down to: Tea. And I’m saying this in a completely non-judgemental way! But: where the English are involved, of course there’s tea in the mix as well, historically speaking. (Have a Bolo and a cup of Earl Gray and you know how right they were!) Anyways, apart from the tea affinity, the English Tea Connoisseurs of old and I seem to share another gene: the one that craves certain Christmasy spices all year. I soothe that gene with gingerbread or Belgian Spice cookie spices on my breakfast porridge, they soothed theirs by asking the nuns of Santa Clara in Funchal (who invented the first “official” recipe) and the bakers of the island to supply a sufficient amount of Bolo de Mels all year round. And there you have it, a legend born from a delicious little humble, yet very special treat.
When Hubby and I had our first encounter with the cake at the Fabrica Santo Antonio in Funchal during our first visit, I immediately fell in foodie-love with the morsel – not as sweet and sticky as you might expect it to be, but juicily fluffy and fruity instead. (By the way, the coin-rule applies to Madeiran Bolo de Mels as well, I recommend the ones made by the Fabrica Sto Antonio over the second very prominent brand…) I sampled many a cake during our following visits and, somewhere down the line, I dug up a traditional recipe for the morsel. And then I continued to dig because… I must’ve made a mistake somewhere… on closer inspection though… nope, not a mistake, just very fifteenhundredsomething on a remote island in the Atlantic Ocean. I suppose my not-all-that-sunny surprise was thanks to me not being an active member of the baking community, but please excuse me while I go and have a quick heartattack at the thought of a sweet recipe starting with 1 kilo of Pork Suet. (To be honest, the modern recipes aren’t that far from the original) To someone like me, the suet is merrily floating on the deep end of weird, but actually not all that far out there at a closer look at related traditional recipes all across Europe. Just the kind of thing I happily indulge in once per year while my health-nutty self is locked up in the basement. On the main land. Over 2400km away.
Anyways, the general idea of a Bolo de Mel, along with the fluff and mmmmh of the first Bolo I had, had taken root in the “must try this at home” area of my headspace, so I decided to go rogue or, to be exact, the complete opposite, Sugar- and fat free, low on bad carbs and a ton of the good stuff~! And, opposed to the original, these muffins are quick and easy to make! So, as claimed in the beginning, this one basically ticks all of the boxes fitting my take on today’s Holiday:
- Special Occasion
- Christmas (Spices)
- Sweet (but not too sweet!)
- Bonus: Goes deliciously well with a cup of Tea~!
But enough of my ramblings, let’s get to the part we’re all really here for! These amounts will net you 12-16 regular-sized muffins~
The Bolo de Mel de Cana Muffins
80g Mel de Cana or simply your favorite intense dark runny Honey
80g Soft-Dried Dates
30g Prunes, finely chopped
30g Dried Apricots, finely chopped
30g Walnuts, toasted and chopped
30g Blanched Almonds, toasted and chopped
½ Orange, Zest and Juice
½ Lemon, Zest and Juice
1 Braeburn or Granny Smith Apple, peeled, cored, and grated
½ Comice Pear, peeled, cored, and grated
50g Dark Almond Flour
100g Self-Raising Flour – I tried to go paleo with Almond Flour but I created a tray of cannonballs instead… if anyone deeper into this kind of thing knows a solution, please let me know~!
1 Tsp Baking Soda
½ Tsp Ground Cinnamon
¼ Tsp Ground Aniseed
¼ Tsp freshly grated Nutmeg
¼ Tsp Ground Cloves
1 Pinch of Salt
Alt for the spices listed above: 1 heaped Tbsp of Gingerbread Spice
2-3 Drops of Vanilla Extract
Opt: Walnut halves to decorate
1) Preheat your oven to 170°C.
2) Grab your muffin tray and line the moulds with fitting paper cups.
3) Set a small pot onto medium-high heat, pour in the water (start with 75ml and only add more later if really necessary) and add the honey, dried fruits and baking soda. Give everything a good stir until the honey has dissolved and allow the liquid to work up a boil.
4) Once the mixture is bubbling away, keep an eye on your dates – in about 2-3 minutes they’ll be soft enough to fall apart at a light touch.
5) Once they’re there, slide the pot off the heat and allow the fruity mixture to cool down to room temperature.
6) Once the dried fruit have cooled off, transfer the contents of your pot into a large mixing bowl.
7) Add the remaining ingredients – just hold on to the flour for a moment – grab a wooden spoon and thoroughly stir the lot until everything is well combined.
8) Sift in the flour and gently fold it into the mix with a rubber spatula.
9) Once the flour is well incorporated, spoon the dough into your prepped muffin tray.
10) They don’t rise as beautifully as you’d expect your average muffin to, and they will feel a bit too squishy for comfort as you take them out of the oven, but believe me, they’ll rock your world.
Simply fill the paper cups up to just below the rim and pile them up prettily, and the visual is taken care of as well.
11) Slide the tray onto the middle rack and bake the muffins until the tops turn a delicious golden brown – about 25-30 mins will do the trick.
12) Pop them out onto a cooling rack and allow them to cool off and most importantly: set properly before digging in~
And that’s all for this year, folks~! Dear fellow Tyrians and Earthlings, happy Wintersday, happy Holidays! Enjoy yourselves to the fullest during the holiday season and stay hale and hearty until and throughout next year~! Until then… cheers! See you at the same time, same place, next week, next year~!