For years I thought Madeira cake was made with the fortified wine Madeira, I thought it was the English equivalent to an Italian Vin Santo cake, which is in fact made adding the Vin Santo.
Madeira cake is a closed textured cake that was designed in the 19th century to accompany a glass of Madeira and other sweet wines. It was a cake for the upper class, people who could afford to bake a dry crumbly cake that doesn’t keep well and had to be enjoyed with a drink of some kind and best within two days before it would get too dry.
Precision and plenty of beating is required to achieve that close crumbly texture. You have to be a patient cook and the ingredients used must be of the best possible quality.
I searched all over for some more history facts behind this iconic cake, unfortunately there was little more information to be found. The cake only starts to appear in my cookery books from the 50s or 60s onwards.
I baked this Madeira cake on a sunday knowing the week ahead would be a busy one. For some reason I find it more pleasant to deal with hectic weekdays when I know I have a home made piece of cake to look forward too. B will have it for breakfast with his coffee, I will have one half at 11 and the other half at 4 with my Ear Grey tea. At moments when time is of an essence, all too often it is easier to go and get yourself an unhealthy processed snack. Although you shouldn’t eat cake all day every day, I believe a home made bake is much healthier than a store bought. At least now you know the quality of the flour and eggs used, and you have the choice in choosing the best farmhouse butter instead of tasteless margarine that is too often used in store-bought cakes.
Although Madeira cake is made with wheat flour, I opted to use the more nutritious Spelt instead. I started from the oldest recipes I could find in my collection of vintage cookery books from Jane Grigson. This recipe appeared to me as the more traditional version as often lots of extra things are added to the cake like almond flour or candied mixed fruits. I think it very possible that in the 19th century each household would have had their own recipe for Madeira cake depending on the cooks choice.
Adapted from a recipe by Jane Grigson’s ‘English Food’
What do you need
- 175 g good quality unsalted butter, soft not runny
- 175 g caster sugar
- 275 g spelt flour
- 2 heaped teaspoons of baking powder (use only one when using wheat four)
- 4 large free range eggs
- grated zest of half an organic lemon
- thin peels of zest of half an organic lemon for decoration
- Prepare a 18 cm – 20 cm round cake tin with greaseproof paper and set aside
- Preheat your oven to 180° C
- Cream the soft butter and sugar together in a mixing bowl and use an electric mixer to beat the mixture until light and fluffy
- Add the eggs one by one, beating well
- Add the lemon zest, stir well
- Sift the flour and the baking powder so the baking powder is divided nicely
- Gently fold the ingredients together and combine well
- Transfer the dough into the prepared cake tin and put in the preheated oven for 45 minutes
- After 45 minutes ass the lemon peel to the top of the cake, bake for a further 15 minutes
- Decorate with a soft dusting of icing sugar
This cake keeps for 3-4 days in an airtight container.
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