Despite its name, this cake does not come from the Portuguese island of Madeira: the earliest recipes for it date from eighteenth and nineteenth-century England.  The cake got its name because it was usually eaten with Madeira wine exported from that island, which was very popular in England at that time. 

Madeira wine

Nowadays, Madeira cake is more likely to accompany tea; it can also be used as a dessert similar to a trifle, with red fruits and mascarpone cream.  It has to be carefully mixed, to get the light, moist texture needed.  If time allows, hand mixing often has the best results.  The ingredients are as follows:

  • 8 ounces / 1 cup of flour
  • A pinch of salt
  • 1 teaspoon of baking powder
  • A little lemon rind, finely grated
  • 5 ounces / ¾ cup of castor sugar
  • 5 ounces / 1¼ sticks of butter or margarine
  • 3 eggs
  • Vanilla or almond essence
  • Milk to mix

Preheat the oven to a moderate heat, with 170 - 180 ºC the best temperature range.  Either grease a loaf or round tin, using a small amount of margarine or butter, or else line the tin with greaseproof paper.

Sieve the flour little by little into a bowl, and add the salt and baking powder through the sieve to the same bowl.  Add the lemon rind.  Stir briefly, to mix these dry ingredients together.

Break the three eggs, one by one, into a small bowl.  Each time, keep checking that no small bits of eggshell have found their way into the mixture.  These fragments can be seen easily with the eggs clear and unbeaten.

Beat the eggs together, with an egg whisk or a fork, and add one or two drops of the vanilla or almond essence to the egg mixture.  Be sure not to overdo the essence.  It takes just one drop or two to flavour a cake, but anything more will be overpowering!  You may find it easiest to use the cap of the essence bottle for this: pour the drop into the cap of the bottle, and then turn the cap over to let the drop fall into the mixture.

Put the butter or margarine and the castor sugar in another bowl together, and beat them until you have a creamy, fluffy mixture.  Then add the egg mixture to this, not all at once, but in small quantities.  Keep beating firmly until everything you add is completely mixed together.

Now add the mixture of flour, salt and baking powder, again not all at once but in small quantities, beating it in thoroughly after each addition.  Keep a measuring jug of milk to one side as you do this.  Whenever the mixture becomes too dry and heavy, add a little milk to lighten it.

The mixture will be ready when it is soft, light and ‘of a dropping consistency’, meaning that it drops off the end of the whisk or mixing spoon when this is lifted.  Spoon it into the tin you have prepared, and bake it in the oven for 1 - 1¼ hours. 

After the cake has been in the oven for between fifty minutes and an hour, it may be a good idea to open the oven door and carefully slide a ‘lid’ of greaseproof paper over the top of it.  This will keep the top of the cake from burning and leave it with that all-important golden look that makes this cake look so appetising. 

When you take the cake out of the oven, test it by running a sharp knife or skewer into the top of the cake.  If this comes out clear, the cake is cooked.  Leave it to cool.

Cherries or caraway seeds can be added to this mixture to make cherry cake or seed cake, but this Madeira recipe does very well on its own.  Enjoy!