There are some recipes which are so classic as to become iconic. Victoria Sponges are a case in point. Anyone partial to a slice of this cake with their mid-afternoon coffee will have specific set of expectations of what a true Victoria should taste like and there’s nothing quite like the disappointment if your slice is poorly risen, has a dry crumb or isn’t anything other than featherlight in it’s structure. Victoria Sponges may be known the world over, and I must say, I really do adore a homemade one, but Hungry Hubby has always, always loved a more modest but still quintessentially British bake. The Lemon Madeira Cake.
This is one of those recipes which is a little bit deceptive in it’s simplicity. It’s a bake I have been making since I was a tiny tot but if I am honest, the recipes I tried always left me wanting something more. If you have ever bought a decent madeira cake, and you certainly can buy a good one, then you will know this perfectly plain loaf cake is really characteristic. It has the finest crumb of any cake I can think of and the crack which appears upon baking is pretty much a badge of honour! The more furrowed, the more successful your madeira baking has been. It took me a lot of years to discover how to produce this tight and exceedingly regular crumb which symbolises this special cake and I’m so happy to be able to share the secrets with you now too.
Madeira cake actually originated in the 1700-1800s of England and it was served as an accompaniment to a glass of madeira wine. It sadly didn’t hail from the sunny shores of the Portuguese islands of Madeira and although they do make their own national cake, it’s not very similar to the British one. Ours is austere looking but Hungry Hubby loves it when I add lemon and a good splash of vanilla – the original cake would most likely have had neither of these so it really was exceedingly plain. You could pick one or the other if you prefer. It’s the method which makes a madeira worthy of it’s name! And speaking of that, it was a chance finding, an article by Dan Lepard, one of my baking heros that lead me to develop my own madeira. You can read about his technique and his toasted almond version of the madeira cake here.
In it’s simplest form, a madeira is equal weights of butter, caster sugar and eggs but pretty much all recipes have a higher proportion of flour (compared to a Victoria where they are all equal measures). This straight away helps with producing a closer-crumbed texture but it is Dan’s discovery of the old method of making a “flour batter” which is the winning step. You see, you beat half the flour into the creamed butter and sugar before beating in each egg. Only then, do you fold in the remaining flour and raising agent. It sounds utterly bizarre, it will feel really weird for classical home bakers who would never “work” flour this much but I promise you, the madness in the method brings the magic of the madeira! This recipe is more detailed than most simple cake recipes but I hope it gives you all you need to produced a perfect and proper madeira, befitting of your afternoon cuppa, every time. Do read it through before starting as it will feel strange the first time you try this method! If you too have been disappointed by or didn’t even see the point of a madeira before now, then I hope this recipe will change your mind 😀
- 175 soft butter
- 175g caster sugar
- 1 tsp lemon zest
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 30ml (2 tbsp) whole milk
- 230g plain flour
- 3 large eggs
- 2 rounded tsp baking powder
- Start by greasing and lining a 2lb (900g) loaf tin with baking parchment - use two overlapping pieces so the ends and sides are both lined. It helps with unmoulding later greatly.
- Preheat the oven to 160˚C and position a shelf lower down so the cake sits no higher than the middle of the oven - any higher and it could catch before being cooked through.
- Cream the butter, sugar and lemon zest together until very light, pale and fluffy - this takes me 10 minutes in my stand mixer during the winter, as room temp is never that warm!
- Beat in the vanilla then with the mixer running, dribble in the milk very slowly (just like making buttercream - you want the creamed mixture as soft and light and fluffy as possible before you add the flour).
- Now here comes the odd part - add half of the flour into the creamed butter and beat until no streaks remain at all. It will go against your better instincts but it works!
- Beat the eggs in one at a time, adding a spoonful of flour if it looks like it's curdling. When smooth, mix the baking powder into the remaining flour and fold into the batter.
- Spoon into the prepared baking tin and bake for 50-60 minutes until well risen, pale golden and remember that madeira cakes are supposed to crack - it's part of their charm.
- Cool on a rack for 10 minutes before removing from the tin. When cool, slice and serve with a hot pot of tea. You should get 10 good slices from one loaf cake.
- This cake will keep well for 2-3 days and even, it is better for 24 hours of being tightly wrapped in foil once cold.
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