The Sweet Taste of an Ancient Celtic Festival

Beltane (“Bealtaine” in Irish) is a festival with ancient origins traditionally celebrated on May 1st, a spring time festival of optimism.  Most commonly it is held on the first day of May, or about halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice.

This was a festival of great spiritual significance for the Celts, but some people celebrate it from a purely secular perspective.  Numerous traditions surround the festival of Beltane.  Bonfires would be set as a means of purification.  Some people even burned their beds and floor coverings to start anew.  The fires were also believed to protect people from harm by spirits of the netherworld.  Many people put out sweets for the fairies in order to appease them.  Among those sweets were honey cakes and the traditional Beltane cake, the recipe for which follows:

Beltane Cake

This recipe makes a rich and spicy one-layer cake with 8-10 slices.

1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour

½ tbsp. baking powder

¼ tsp. nutmeg

½ tsp. ground cardamom

½ tsp. ground cloves

¾ tbsp. ground ginger

3 oz. unsweetened chocolate

½ cup milk

¼ cup brandy

½ tsp. vanilla

¾ cups butter

½ lb. dark brown sugar

3 eggs

¾ cups amaretto liqueur

confectioner sugar

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Grease a large bundt pan or spring-form pan
  3. Melt chocolate in a double boiler and set aside.
  4. Mix milk, brandy, and vanilla.
  5. Mix flour, baking powder, nutmeg, cardamom, cloves, and ginger in a separate bowl.
  6. Cream the butter, then add brown sugar and beat until fluffy.
  7. Add eggs, one at a time, into the butter mixture.
  8. Add cooled chocolate to the butter mixture.
  9. Add the flour mixture and milk mixture to the butter mixture a little at a time.
  10. Pour mixture into greased bundt pan or spring-form pan.
  11. Bake for approximately 50 minutes, or until done (test with a small knife), taking care not to overbake.
  12. Let cake cool for 20 minutes before removing from pan, then place it into a bowl (flat side up) which is just large enough to hold it, but no larger.
  13. Using a skewer, pierce the cake with 10-12 holes, being careful not to go all the way through.
  14. Pour 1/3 of the amaretto over the cake. When that is absorbed, pour another 1/3 amaretto; when absorbed, pour the remainder onto the cake.  This will take several hours.
  15. When all of the amaretto has been absorbed, gently invert the cake onto a plate (flat side down).
  16. Dust the cake with confectioner's sugar.

Related content:

More traditional Irish recipes from "The Irish Kitchen"

Video panel on "The Irish Kitchen"

Happy Bealtaine from Bealtaine Cottage, Ireland

Views: 5031

Tags: Celtic, Folklore, Food, Heritage, History of Ireland, Kitchen, Recipes, Tradition

Comment by Jim Curley on April 29, 2013 at 11:09am
I think that Beltaine actually represents the beginning of summer. Spring begins on Feb. 1, the feast of St. Brigid. For some reason.I love that the Celtic demarcation of the seasons is different than ours.

Recipe sounds delicious.
Comment by Ryan O'Rourke on April 29, 2013 at 11:18am

I tried this recipe, Jim, and it makes a lovely cake.  For those who enjoy "spicy" desserts (note ... SPICY, not hot), this is a winner.  For anyone who is concerned about the alcohol, there are ways of substituting almond extract for the amaretto.  Virtually all the alcohol from the brandy is cooked off, so no worries there.

Comment by Tiffany Silverberg on April 29, 2013 at 4:06pm

This sounds so yummy! Looks like a tasty way to welcome in the warmer days!

Comment by Bit Devine on April 30, 2013 at 6:47pm

Bealtaine is actually the celebration of the halfway point between sprin equinox and summer solstice...

I wish I had seen this recipe cake is already made :-/

Comment by Melanie Cronk on April 30, 2013 at 9:05pm

This does look good, I will be celebrating tonight and tomorrow.  A blessed Beltane to all!!


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