History of the Madeira Cake

There are many misconceptions about Madeira cake. The first is that it originates from the Portuguese island of Madeira, and the second is that it contains Madeira wine. Neither of these statements are true. In fact, Madeira cake is very British, although it does have a strong connection to both Madeira and its wine. While it’s unclear exactly how long it’s been around for, one of its earliest known recipes was published in an English cookery book back in 1845.

Madeira Cake for TUI Great British Bake Off

The Name

This is where things get slightly confusing. Because the famous fortified Portuguese wine made in the Madeira Islands is also called Madeira. Its popularity in Europe dates as far back as the 16th century and there’s a very longstanding rumour suggesting Richard III’s brother, the Duke of Clarence, was drowned in a vat of Malmsey – Madeira’s sweetest wine – at the Tower of London in 1478. By the time the 19th century rolled around, the upper classes had got into the habit of sipping Madeira wine with a certain crumbly cake that complemented it perfectly. Because, well, why not? Having a slice with a glass of Madeiran wine became such common practice that everyone began to associate it with the wine and eventually named the cake after it.

Madeira Cake for Thomsons Great British Bake Off, Food Styling


150g Unsalted Butter, softened 

150g Golden Caster Sugar 

Zest half a lemon 

3 Medium Eggs, beaten

1/2 tsp Vanilla Extract 

150g Self Raising Flour 

25g Plain Flour 

1tsp Baking Powder 

30ml Milk

Madeira Cake for TUI Great British Bake Off


Preheat oven to 180ºc. Butter and line a 9 X 5 X 3 inch loaf tin if you don’t have any loaf cases. 

In a large bowl, beat the butter and sugar until fluffy and creamy, and mix in the lemon zest. On a low whisk speed, gradually add in the egg. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold together. Add the vanilla and milk and gently fold together until all of the ingredients are combined.  

Spoon straight into the cake tin or paper case and bake for 30-35 minutes until golden and springy to touch. Leave to cool on a wired cooling rack. To decorate, top with candid orange peel and a sprinkling of icing sugar. 

Madeira Cake, Great British Bake Off

Recipe created for TUI, Great British Bake Off Feature & The Story behind Madeira