Azorean spice cake (Boll de mel)
This spice cake is a Guyanese-Portuguese holiday specialty. It’s the kind of cake that defies categorization and usually starts discussions as to whether it’s really a cake or more of a sweet. On thing, however, is certain. It’s the essence of the Guyanese spirit — generous, the ingredients being put together in what can only be described as happy proportions.
The cake is very easy to make, even for the novice baker. The only thing to watch out for is the three-day resting time for the dough. If you have read the method and are anxious to check every day to see the dough gently bubbling away like a sourdough, don’t hold your breath. The method owes more to the Guyanese penchant for leaving things to “set” rather than to any coherent principle. Having said that, the extra maturation time does give a lovely mellowness to the cake. The cakes are even better if left to mature for a few days and will keep for a few weeks if stored in a cold place to prevent the butter from turning rancid.
4 c. (1 L) all-purpose flour
1½ c. (375 ml) (solidly packed) soft brown sugar
½ oz. (15 g) active dry yeast
2 tsp. (10 ml) ground cinnamon
½ tsp. (2.5 ml) ground cloves
½ tsp. (2.5 ml) finely ground black pepper
½ tsp (2.5 ml) ground ginger
1½ tsp. (7.5 ml) baking soda
4½ sticks butter, melted and cooled slightly (about 2¼ c. / 560 ml)
½ c. (125 ml) molasses, warmed
⅓ c. (90 ml) honey, warmed
1⅓ c. (340 ml) blanched almonds, chopped
4 c. (1 L) walnuts, chopped
½ c. (125 ml) mixed candied peel
In a large bowl, mix together the flour, sugar, yeast, spices and baking soda. Add the butter, molasses and honey. Knead the dough until everything is well mixed. Cover the bowl with a dish towel and leave at cool room temperature for 2 to 3 days.
Preheat the oven to (350°F) 180°C.
Grease the pans and line with parchment paper.
Knead the nuts and candied peel into the dough. Divide into two pieces and flatten each piece into 2 round, 9-inch (22.5-cm) baking pans. Smooth the tops, moistening your hand with a little water if necessary.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 35 minutes or until the mixture is cooked through. Remove from the oven and let cool to lukewarm in the pans, then transfer carefully to a wire rack. Once the cakes have cooled completely, wrap well in plastic wrap to store, or keep in an airtight container. Makes 2 cakes.
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