Adventures in Madeira (Cake)

As I posted in my last, very hurried, entry; I have been experimenting! Something I have historically tended to be a bit unconfident with is flavour combinations unless specified in a recipe. I love reading about unusual and unexpected cominations – Heston Blumenthal has done quite a lot in terms of popularising unusal combinations. I’m not sure I am yet ready to try snail porrige, but I am going to push myself to be a bit more adventurous and look beyond the basic recipe.

So, I started with the base cake: Madeira. I’ve always been fond of the texture, consistancy and taste, but I had never made it before. I thought that it would lend itself to carrying strong flavours, but at the same time I wanted to keep it’s intrinsic lightness: it isn’t as fairy-light as a sponge, but nor is it a firm and dense as a yogurt loaf. It is a Summer cake, and trying to load heavy flavours onto it would ruin the appeal.

The natural next move would be fruit flavours – in this case I went with orange. As it happens Rachel Allen has a very nice recipe for an Orange Maderia cake, which I pilfered as my starting point.

From there I decided to try two different combinations; Earl Grey, and peppermint. The citrus tones in the tea would lend themselves to the orange, and the smell of Earl Grey tea brings back very strong memories of working in a tearoom at a country house during summer holidays at school. I thought it would be robust enough to stand up to the orange in a way that Lady Grey, for example, probably wouldn’t. (Since then I’ve also thought that green tea and lemon might be a way to go – so that’s a future experiment!).

The peppermint was a bit more tricky; although these flavours are well known to compliment one another, but should they both go together in the mix, or should they be kept as seperate elements? I went with the second – I put the mint into an icing so that both flavours would be distinct and it would contrast.

Orange Madeira Cake – Rachel Allen

Makes 1 Loaf

 Ingredients

175g (6oz) butter, softened
175g (6oz) caster sugar
3 eggs, beaten
Finely grated zest of 2 oranges
225g (8oz) plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
4 tsp freshly squeezed orange juice
For the topping
75g (3oz) icing sugar
2-3 tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice

 Method

1. Preheat the oven to 170°C (325°F), Gas mark 3. Lightly oil and line a 13 x 23cm (5 x 9in) loaf tin with parchment paper.

2. Cream the butter in a large bowl or in an electric food mixer until soft. Add the sugar and beat until the mixture is light and fluffy.

3. Add the eggs in three stages, beating well between each addition, then add the orange zest.

4. Sift in the flour and baking powder and fold in with the orange juice. Stop when all the flour is incorporated. Transfer the mixture into the prepared loaf tin and smooth the top.

5. Bake in the oven for 50-55 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the middle comes out clean.

6. Allow to stand in the tin for 5 minutes before removing to a wire rack to cool completely.

7. For the topping, sift the icing sugar into a small bowl and stir in just enough orange juice until it is soft but not runny. If you want the icing to stay just on the top of the cake, place the cooled cake back in the tin and spread the icing over the top. You may find it easier to dip a spoon or table knife in boiling water to spread the icing more easily. Allow the topping to set and cut into slices to serve.

Earl Grey variation: Ommit half the orange zest and all the orange juice in the batter and instead add 8 tsp of very strong Earl Grey tea, continue as per the recipe. Instead of icing, take the remining very strong tea and add a good few hand fulls of granulated sugar and stir until it disolves – heat in a pan over a medium flame to reduce it to a syrup. Allow to cool slightly, prick the top of the cake all over and pour the syrup over the cooling cake as you would for a lemon drizzle cake. Normally you’ll have a rupture across the top of the cake where it has split in the cooking, and pouring the syrup into this will mean that the moisture gets into the centre of the cake far more easily.

Peppermint variation:
Follow the recipe until the icing stage. I decided that I wanted the mint as a contrast to the orange, so I thought the best way to achieve this would be to put the mint flavour into the icing. But I also wanted a variation in texture. I’m quite fond of cakes which have a nice crunchy topping. I made a very strong peppermint tea (in the absense of fresh mint – damn you Tesco!) and mixed a hefty quantity of granulated golden sugar into it to form a very rough paste, which I then coated the cake with. In retrospect I’m not sure this was the right way to go: it didn’t stick easily, and the mint flavour just didn’t hold its own the way I would have liked. So in future I think I would coat the surface of the cake with Creme de Menth or Syrop de Menth and sprinkle with granulated sugar, maybe adding another light coating of the mint followed by more sugar and building it up. I guess the other way would be to add peppermint oil to the sugar and make a smoother water icing. So this one was less successful, but stil quite tasty!

I taste tested both cakes on my OH, some of his friends, and my family – the Earl Grey and Orange has been the favourite, and my Mum has asked me to make another one for her to take to an upcoming tennis club meeting (as well as a batch of pfefferneuse), so I’ll take that as a good sign. The pepper mint was also appreciated, but the consensus seems to be that the mint needs to be a lot stronger – so a lesson for the future.

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