Madeira cake

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A classic Madeira cake is a thing of understated beauty. It doesn’t rely on fancy fillings or extravagant techniques; just the perfect recipe for a rich, delightful sponge best enjoyed with – of course – a glass of Madeira. Use any leftover Madeira cake up as the base for trifles – the dense texture is perfect for soaking up sherry while still providing firm support for the layers of fruit and custard on top.

First published in 2015

This classic British cake’s name has always intrigued me; a cake made with Madeira, that seemed a little unusual and not what you would expect from a tea time recipe! When I was in my early twenties, I discovered that in actual fact its name has nothing to do with the cake having Madeira in it, but it was so named because society ladies a century or so ago would enjoy a glass of Madeira with a slice of this cake.

The cake was first listed as recipe in Eliza Acton’s cook, ‘Modern Cookery for Private Families’ in 1845. In her book, Eliza says . . .

‘A Good Madeira Cake: Whisk four fresh eggs until they are as light as possible, then, continuing still to whisk them, throw by slow degrees the following ingredients in the order in which they are written: six ounces of dry pounded and sifted sugar; six of flour, also dried and sifted; four ounces of butter just dissolved, but not heated; the rind of a fresh lemon; and the instant before the cake is moulded beat well in the third of a teaspoonful of carbonate of soda: bake an hour in a moderate oven’

The cake is a dense cake with a very rich flavour; this is due to the cake being made with 100% butter and a mixture of plain and self-raising flour. The modern day recipe from the turn of the 20th century calls for the lemon to be omitted and for three slivers of candied peel to be baked into the cake on top. Some recipes also add ground almonds, but I prefer the classic combination of butter, flour, eggs, sugar and candied peel.

Today’s recipe is based in a recipe that my grandmother used to make from an old Be-Ro cookbook, I have increased the quantities to serve more people, as this cake keeps very well and is an ideal cake to add to the school or office lunch box, as an occasional treat. It also freezes very well, and is the ideal foundation cake recipe for birthday cakes and other variations such as seed cake and cherry cake.




  • 150g of butter, softened
  • 150g of caster sugar
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 3 large eggs, beaten
  • 115g of self-raising flour
  • 115g of plain flour
  • milk, a little to mix
  • candied peel, 3 thin slivers


Preheat the oven to 180°C/gas mark 4 and grease and line an 18cm (7 inch) round, loose-bottomed cake tin with butter and baking paper
Cream the butter and sugar together with the vanilla extract until light and fluffy, then gradually add the eggs and a spoonful of flour, beating well between each addition
Add the remaining flour and a little milk to make a soft dropping consistency
Spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin and bake for 1 ¼ hours, placing the peel on top of the cake after the first 30 minutes of baking
Allow to cool in the tin for a few minutes before turning out on to a wire rack to cool completely. Serve in slices with a glass of Madeira
First published in 2015

Karen Burns-Booth is a freelance food & travel writer, recipe developer and food stylist with a passion for local, seasonal ingredients.

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