Proper Lemon Madeira Cake

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 😀 

4.5 from 2 votes
Proper Lemon Madeira Cake
A plain cake flavoured with lemon and vanilla, perfect to help your mid-morning or mid-afternoon cup of tea go down. A timeless classic.
Servings: 10
Author: Just Jo
  • 175 soft butter
  • 175 g caster sugar
  • 1 tsp lemon zest
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 30 ml whole milk 2 tbsp
  • 230 g plain flour
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 rounded tsp baking powder
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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!
  4. 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).
  5. 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!
  6. 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.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
Recipe Notes
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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  1. HELEN 14/01/2017 at 12:02 - Reply


    Sent from Mail for Windows 10

  2. irvine.maureen 14/01/2017 at 13:08 - Reply

    Thankyou for the lemon madeira recipe Jo. I will certainly try it. My husband loves cherry madeira and I always use a higher proportion of flour to make sure that the cherries don’t sink to the bottom!

    • Just Jo 15/01/2017 at 20:05 - Reply

      That’s a very good idea Maureen, it really does help to keep them suspended in the batter. This will be easy to adapt to incorporate some cherries.
      Happy baking!

  3. catherine.woodward 14/01/2017 at 15:52 - Reply

    As all things seem critical with this cake i.e. Madeira, would you please let me know if 160 is fan or conventional? I’d only ever cooked with a gas oven but since my son rewired the house my new oven is fan and I’ve not quite got the hang of the need to reduce the temperatures stated in recipes, both my own and other people’s.

    Love your blog, especially the IP section.


    • Just Jo 15/01/2017 at 20:09 - Reply

      Hello Catherine – and thanks so much for your kind words, I’m really happy that you are enjoying the blog and recipes. Lots more to come!
      As for your question, I am lucky enough to have always had ovens which allow me to turn off the fan at will. *All* of my recipes are written with this in mind (the exception being the macarons, which bake infinitely better with the fan on). In this case, you would be best advised to drop the temperature to 140˚C as your oven is now fan driven. It may be that you need to increase the baking time slightly or you may find you don’t need to drop it a full 20˚ but for the first time, I would play it safe and drop it to 140. I hope that helps and happy baking!

  4. Sam | Ahead of Thyme 15/01/2017 at 21:12 - Reply

    Yum, lemon cake is the best and yours looks delicious!!

  5. Well I am just loving that citrus with this moist cake!

  6. This must be THE perfect cake with a cup of tea. I think I need to make one very soon!

    • Just Jo 16/01/2017 at 17:38 - Reply

      It certainly is isn’t it Bintu? You can’t beat it with your midmorning cuppa!

  7. All this cake needs is a cup of coffee…I love a lemon cake like this!

    • Just Jo 17/01/2017 at 08:06 - Reply

      Yep, I’ll get slicing if you put the kettle on Heather! 😀

  8. What a beautiful and simple cake! This is absolutely the perfect cake to ahve with tea.

    • Just Jo 17/01/2017 at 08:07 - Reply

      Absolutely, served on china and with tea from a teapot for full effect 😀

  9. tuppenny 19/01/2017 at 21:19 - Reply

    Would this cake work in the honeycomb/bee pan that you did the ginger mojoto cake in?

    • Just Jo 20/01/2017 at 07:14 - Reply

      You could do but it’s a much bigger volume tin – you’ll need to increase the mixture by at least 50%.

  10. Michelle Young 20/01/2017 at 10:37 - Reply

    I’ve been making cake mixes like this for ages, I haven’t read the method from Dan Leppa. Mine stemmed from a mixture of laziness and curiosity

    • Just Jo 21/01/2017 at 20:30 - Reply

      That’s the best way to bake – just give it a go and see what happens. I’m all for experimenting and fiddling to suit you 😀

  11. Angie 31/03/2017 at 23:44 - Reply

    Hi Jo,
    I love your easy to follow recipes.I made the lemon Madeira for Mothers day and it turned out great and tasted yummy ?xx

    • Just Jo 01/04/2017 at 15:24 - Reply

      Thanks so much Angie! I’m so happy you enjoy using the recipes and that the Madeira cake was well received on Mother’s Day 😀 Thanks for taking the time to comment x

  12. Priya 20/09/2017 at 16:35 - Reply

    Going to be trying this one (hopefully tonight!) will report back 🙂

    • Just Jo 21/09/2017 at 18:05 - Reply

      Ooo I hope you like it Priya! It’s a Hungry Hubby favourite 😀

  13. Paula 26/10/2017 at 15:09 - Reply

    I’m in the process of making this cake but I didn’t have a loaf tray so baking in a deep square brownie tin hopefully this works mixture tasted delicious after mixing together, fingers crossed 🤞Will keep you posted x

    • Just Jo 28/10/2017 at 13:24 - Reply

      Hi Paula, I hope you enjoyed the cake! Xx

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