Vanilla Madeira Cake

Greetings, lovely readers! First of all, I want to apologise for my unexpected hiatus recently – everything has been much busier than I anticipated, and though I have many drafts of posts in the works none were quite ready for publishing. Last Friday was my final day at Sainsbury’s Magazine though, and, while I’m incredibly sad to leave, I now have a LOT of time to spend experimenting in the kitchen. So here’s the first of my experiments: vanilla Madeira cake.

It’s so named because its simple flavour pairs beautifully with Madeira and other sweet wines, and not, as I originally thought, because the cake itself is laden with booze. It’s such a wonderfully adaptable recipe (see below for variations on my vanilla flavour), and is just perfect with a cup of tea on a disappointingly-un-sunny afternoon.

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Ingredients:
– 175g unsalted butter, at room temperature
– 175g caster sugar
– 3 eggs, at room temperature
– 1 vanilla pod/1 tbsp vanilla bean paste
– zest of 1 lemon
– 250g self-raising flour
– 1 tsp baking powder
– pinch of salt
– 2-3 tbsp milk

1. Begin by pre-heating the oven to 180°C. Grease and line a 20cm round, deep cake tin.

2. In a mixing bowl, beat the butter for about a minute until light and creamy. Add the sugar and beat for a further 5 minutes (think of it as an arm workout. You can use an electric whisk, if you prefer, but where’s the fun in that?); the mixture should be very pale and fluffy.

3. Beat in the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon of the flour with the last egg to help prevent the mixture from curdling. Stir in the lemon zest and vanilla paste, if using. If you’re using a vanilla pod, slice it in half length-ways using a sharp knife, then use the back of the blade to scrape out the seeds. Stir them into the mixture and put the rest of the pod to one side (you can put it into a jar of caster sugar for 24 hours to create your own vanilla sugar, so don’t throw it away).

4. Sift in the flour, baking powder and salt, and gently fold them in. Stir in enough milk so that the mixture drops slowly off the spoon.

5. Transfer to the prepared cake tin and level. Bake for 40-50 minutes, until a knife inserted into the centre comes out clean. Allow the cake to cool for 15 minutes before removing it from the tin, peeling off the paper and placing it onto a wire rack to cool completely.

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Variations: try swapping the vanilla for 2 teaspoons of fennel seeds: they give a gorgeous aniseed hit, and really bring out the citrus flavour of the lemon zest. Alternatively, try swapping the lemon zest for 1 tablespoon of freeze-dried raspberry pieces.

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