This cake is considered to be Madeira's oldest dessert. Started up by Renato José dos Santos, who baked and decorated wedding cakes at Fábrica da Estrela before its fire of 1964. He proceeded to open his own factory in Rochinha Madeira, baking bolo de mel, sugared almonds, torradas (toasts, some recipes call for sweet buns) and broas (breads with cornmeal in the recipe, also made with molasses).
The bolo de mel cake became a popular confection when the island was an important sugar producer, since the cake itself is traditionally made with molasses instead of the now-popular honey, which meant it could be stored for up to 5 years. When made with molasses, the cake is very dark in color and has a spongy sticky texture resembling a soft cookie. The cake often has walnuts and almonds mixed within it. When it is served in Madeira, it is customary not to cut the cake, but rather to tear pieces off using the hands.
Bolo de mel is traditionally made during Christmas often in a large enough batch that it can be enjoyed throughout the year.