A Madeira cake is the sort of plain cake that looks like it might be dull and dry, but instead turns out to be exceptionally moreish. Many people are misled by the name, thinking that it must be made with Madeira — a sweet fortified wine akin to sherry or port — or come from the Portuguese island of Madeira. Instead, it was intended to be served with Madeira, the sort of afternoon decadence at which the Victorians excelled, and which I can confirm is a very good idea.
A relative of the old English (and American) pound cake, this cake uses the same creaming method as the Victoria sponge and keeps to similar ratios, with just an increase in the quantity of flour, to create a denser sponge that keeps for longer. A cookbook I have from the ’60s just calls this “basic cake recipe.
Most traditional recipes keep the butter and sugar in proportion, but Nigella Lawson’s (from her mother-in-law) ups the proportion of butter, which makes for a moister, more delectable cake, and is a change I’ve kept here.
A Madeira cake is traditionally flavored with lemon — all the better to cut through the sweet stickiness of the Madeira wine — and is sometimes topped with a large piece of candied lemon. I prefer to sprinkle a thick layer of sugar over the top to create a crackled surface. You should expect this cake to dome and crack during baking.
This cake keeps for longer and is slightly less naughty than the filled and frosted layer cakes, and so is something I often make just because for the family, or when friends come to stay and we need a steady cake supply.