The Bake Off started on Wednesday night with black forest gateaux wrapped in glossy tempered chocolate, decorated with chocolate elephants and two foot high caramel trees – and this was only Week One. I thought I ought to try something Bake Off inspired this week, but I couldn’t face another three-day-three-spooner, and I didn’t fancy chocolate. I decided to go with the signature bake, a nice and simple Madeira cake. Madeira cake has been on my list for a while, not as an adventurous bake, but one to compare with the Marks and Spencer version. Definitely M&S, rather than Mr Kipling. That’s where my aunt always bought hers on our shopping trips to Dudley in pre-out-of-town-shopping-centre days when Dudley had an M&S of it’s very own.
I flicked through my books to find a recipe. Delia has one in Delia’s Cakes as does Mary Berry in the Baking Bible. The two were so different that I decided to ditch Marks & Spencer and bake both. I started with Delia Smith.
Delia describes a Madeira cake as a bit of a “plain Jane”, lovely when a piece of really good plain cake is all you want. I have to agree. My last two cakes, the opera cake and hazelnut roulade, have been a bit on the fancy side and, to be honest, I’ve been looking forward to something a bit simpler and more comforting. Something that goes with a big mug of tea, rather than earl grey in a china cup.
To make Delia’s cake, I lined a loaf tin with baking parchment – well, I almost lined it – I hadn’t noticed that I’d been running out. I lined the bottom, greased the sides really well and crossed my fingers that I’d be able to get the cake out of the tin in one piece. For the cake itself, I sifted plain flour, baking powder and salt into a mixing bowl, added softened butter (the recipe stipulates spreadable butter, but I didn’t have any), eggs, golden caster sugar and lemon zest. Then it struck me that I might have weighed the flour including the weight of my sieve, I wasn’t sure whether I had or not, and, having seen the finished version, I’m not a hundred percent sure, but I think there’s a good chance that this is what happened.
I used the KitchenAid to mix for about a minute until the mixture was smooth. The next step was to add enough milk so that the mixture was a creamy consistency and dropped easily off a spoon when tapped against the mixing bowl. The recipe says 2-3 tablespoons. I only needed the one. I put the mixture into my loaf tin (it didn’t really fill it that well – perhaps indicative of the fact that there wasn’t enough flour in it…). It went into the oven at 150° fan for an hour. Oh – wait I put some thin strips of lemon peel onto the top. The recipe says that, for a traditional cake, you put a thin slice of candied citrus peel on the top before baking. I didn’t have any candied peel, so used ordinary lemon peel and, I have to admit, it did come out looking a little burned.
There was a good crack on the top though (Mary thought this most important on the Bake Off), and it did smell lovely.
Onto Mary Berry’s cake. Mary uses a round tin, rather than a loaf tin, self-raising flour rather than plain, white caster sugar rather than golden, and she adds ground almonds to the mix. The oven temperature is also higher. The only things that are the same are the use of eggs and grated lemon rind, the cooking times, and the fact that you should leave the cake in the tin for ten minutes before turning it out.
The method for Mary Berry’s cake is very simple. Put all of the ingredients into a bowl and beat for a minute until everything is combined. Mary’s cake went into the oven at 160° fan for an hour. After half an hour, I put my strips of lemon peel onto the top of the cake (exactly as the recipe says). Both cakes came out of the oven garnished with burned lemon peel.
A bit more detail on how to make candied peel would be useful in both recipes – especially since, in the Bake Off, the judges thought it was an important part of the cake. There was even a test to see if it was done properly. If the peel falls onto the plate with a clatter, then it’s OK.
Jon and I tested the cakes last night with a glass or two (as always) of Madeira – you have to do these things right. His was a blind test as he didn’t know which cake was which. We both declared Mary the winner. Her cake was moister, cakeier and just more satisfying. I’d definitely make this one again – probably without the candied peel. After all, we still have three-quarters of a bottle of Madeira to go.