When I was a kid, I encountered the term Madeira cake a number of times while reading, of all things, a number of British cookery books I found in the school library. It was up there with such treats as the almond-and-currant Dundee cake and the checkerboard-patterned Battenberg cake as a classic Brit teatime offering.
In Audrey Willsher’s novel A Candle in the Wind, a tale set in the Victorian era, the heroine Tess is served a slice of Madeira cake by a kindly, well-off neighbor who wishes to take her in as a lady’s maid. The cake in that particular scene is described as golden, fluffy, and buttery – the polar opposite of the hard bread that is the staple bakery good of choice in Tess’s household. In that context, Madeira cake is a symbol of the good life as perceived in Victorian England, an aspirational dessert that poorer folk strove for and one enjoyed practically every day by those who were well-off as part of the afternoon tea spread.
The closest thing to Madeira cake in this part of the world is butter cake – the localized version of American pound cake – which is more stodgy-textured than the glorious fluffiness described in many books where Madeira cake appears. This isn’t bad, really, but last weekend, everyone at home wanted cake – gloriously fluffy plain cake that would nevertheless taste rich and luxurious.
That said, my version of Madeira cake is a lighter version of my rum cake recipe and is, like the traditional version, flavored nicely with lemon to balance the richness. Incidentally, don’t shun the alcohol on this one: you can barely taste it once the cake is baked, and it helps achieve the wonted fluffy softness.
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup milk
- 1 softened salted butter
- 1/2 cup soft margarine
- 2 teaspoons lemon flavoring or 1-1/2 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest
- 1/2 cup dark rum
- 1/4 cup lemon vodka or limoncello or still lemonade
- 3 whole eggs
- 1 egg yolk
- 1-1/2 cups granulated white sugar
Sift together the flour, baking powder, and soda. Set aside. Grease and flour a large, fluted cake tin.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees / Gas Mark 4.
Cream together the sugar, margarine, and butter until light and fluffy. Whisk in the eggs and beat until well-combined. Add the lemon flavoring, rum, and lemon vodka and stir till the mixture looks curdled. Add half the milk; stir, and add 1/2 of the flour. Pour in the rest of the milk; stir, and add the remaining flour. Mix until well-combined.
Pour the batter into the prepared tin and bake for 55 minutes.
Turn the cake out onto a serving platter immediately.
Makes twelve servings.
Incidentally… Oh, another thing you can do with Madeira cake? Thinly slice any chilled leftover cake and pop into a toaster oven for 5 – 8 minutes. Et voila: you get a traditional Spanish-Filipino biscuit – mamon tostado! Spreading these crunchy rusks with Nutella or cream cheese is optional but highly recommended.