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What Is Madeira Cake?

By Mandi Rogier
Updated May 16, 2024
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Madeira cake is a rich cake product falling under the category of sponge cake. This typically indicates that the cake is made without the use of shortening. The cake originated in England around the 1800s.

Though the name has led some to believe that this cake has origins in the Portuguese islands, it is actually named for the wine it often accompanies. Madeira wine, produced on the Madeira Islands, was a popular beverage in Europe as early as the 16th century. The sea voyage from the Madeira Islands to Europe, and later to America, served to help age the wine. The heat of the ship and constant movement on the sea were beneficial to the finished product.

Madeira cake was developed as an accompaniment to this favorite alcoholic beverage. This type of cake is dense, moist, and rich in flavor. The main ingredients are very simple, usually consisting only of butter, sugar, eggs, and flour.

Traditional versions of this cake are given a lemon flavoring. Lemon juice and lemon rind are added to the recipe to provide it with a slightly tangy taste. Modern variations on the recipe, however, may deviate from this. Lime juice and lime rind can be substituted to create a lime variety of Madeira cake. Another popular variation that is often served today is vanilla Madeira cake, made by replacing the lemon juice and zest with vanilla extract.

Despite the name, the cake never contains Madeira wine, or any other type of alcohol, in the recipe. Fruit should also be excluded from the proposed additions for those who wish to stick with the cake’s original roots. Some adventurous bakers, however, have created Madeira cakes with raisins, cherries, and other fruit products.

The finished cake should be garnished with citron peels for an authentic, traditional presentation of this dessert. Other variations of the recipe call for a topping of sugar. This gives the cake a slightly crusty texture on top.

Although the cake was originally created as a side for Madeira wine, it is now served with a variety of beverages. It makes a nice accompaniment to afternoon tea or to other rich liquors. For additional flavor, the cake may be topped with a bit of lime or lemon curd. Stale Madeira cake can be made more palatable by topping it with hot custard. Whether it is served as a dainty snack with afternoon tea, or as a mouthwatering dessert after a satisfying meal, Madeira cake is a classic pastry that has stood the test of time.

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Discussion Comments
By anon117671 — On Oct 11, 2010

having been to madeira and eaten the cake they call maderia cake, I can confirm that it is a heavy fruit cake made from pig fat. The recipe you have given is referred to as an English cake in Madeira.

By PurpleSpark — On Sep 05, 2010

@calabama71: Madeira cake is actually very simple to make. As the article stated, many people have changed the recipe over the years and added some things to it. I think that this is the basic recipe.

You need 8 ounces of self-rising flour, 5 ounces of sugar, 5 ounces of butter, 2 eggs (beaten), 3 Tbsp. milk, 12 drops lemon essence, and 2 thin strips of lemon peel.

Mix the sugar and butter together into a stiff cream. Stir the milk and eggs in. Gradually, add the flour, keeping your mixture smooth. Add the lemon essence. (You could substitute vanilla if you like).

Bake in a lined or well-greased tin for a little more than an hour. Place the lemon peel on top of it when it’s done.

By calabama71 — On Sep 05, 2010

Sounds yummy! I am always looking for new recipes. Does anyone know how to make madeira cake?

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