Thursday, 8 March 2012

Hit or miss? Madeira Cake


I wonder if I'm the only one with this problem? I sometimes think that there are little kitchen fairies that you have to please in order for your baking to work out. I must be on and off the 'in favour' list because sometimes a recipe will work really well for me, and on other occasions the same recipe will be a bit of a failure. Not catastrophic, just a bit disappointing in small ways.

The example that springs to mind for me is Nigella's Madeira cake. I first made this recipe many, many years ago in a dodgy oven when I was at university. I was using the correct tin, but something went wrong and a large lump of my cake had overflowed and ended up on the base of the oven floor. I avoided the recipe for a long time after that incident.


Then a colleague asked for a Madeira cake just before Christmas and I thought it would be good to oblige. I thought of the Nigella recipe and having successfully made her rosemary madiera recipe which is almost identical I decided to give this one another chance. Complete success. Rose beautifully, gorgeous crack along the length, crusty with caster sugar. (No picture, sorry).

Decided to make the cake again, emboldened by the memory of the pre-Christmas success. Slightly disappointing. The cake did rise, but not very well, and the lovely crack of the previous cake wasn't evident. This loaf rose a little, but spread a little too, along the sides of the tin. As I said, just a little disappointing. It still tastes just as good, but I wonder why these things happen. Is it just me, or are there recipes that you use and just accept that the results are variable compared to your expectations. As for me and Madeira, I'll be trying this BBC Good Food version next time (substituting plain flour for the almonds) to see how it compares.


Apologies for the naff photos - I wasn't going to blog this so I didn't make any effort when recording how this cake turned out.

13 comments:

Suelle said...

I'm probably teacing you how to suck eggs, but are you using baking tins which are too small? Cake batter shouldn't fill a tin more than 3/4 or even 2/3 to be on the safe side, unless you know it won't rise much.

Loaf tins are the biggest headache, because they don't seem to be standard sizes and even if the overall volume is the same, cake batter will behave differently in a deep short tin than it will in a longer shalower tin.

The cake looks better than you think it does!

Lester Fontayne said...

I see there's self-raising flour in the recipe. I always use plain flour and add my own baking powder - that way I know for sure that the BP will be active. If your SR flour is a few months old, that could be the problem. FYI it's 2tsp baking powder per 225g plain flour.

Johanna GGG said...

this cake is so plain that it scares me. Though I have heard that weather can make a difference - maybe you need to try again in December to see if that makes a difference. But I know what you mean about the fairies - it is a bit like trying to know when cute little gizmo will turn into a gremlin

Dom at Belleau Kitchen said...

happens to me a lot... sometimes everything is just perfect and other times it all goes wrong... I'm still getting used to my new oven, which is so uber hot I have to be really careful. Cake still looks good and if it tasted ok, then who cares!

Chele said...

I no - Madeira cake on the oven floor is not a good look. But I totally understand what you mean! Now I think of it though, I've never made Madeira cake in my life! Whoops ;0(

Dipika @ The Very Hungry Baker said...

I agree with Lester above - think it's best to use plain flour plus baking powder, esp. as the Nigella recipe uses plain + SR, which surely dilutes the rising agent in the latter?

Madeira cake is my absolute favourite and the only recipe I've ever used has always been successful - it's from Baking by Martha Day. It calls for vanilla extract as well, which I think makes a real difference to the flavour.

Jacqueline said...

I think it looks great and didn't think madeira cake rose that much anyway.

Foodycat said...

It's not just you - I abandoned a cake recipe that I had made successfully many times when it just stopped working for me! I think the texture of this cake looks perfect, and that is the important thing!

celia said...

C, serendipitously, I've just made madeira cake as well, using the recipe in the new Pam Corbin book. It wasn't nearly sweet enough for my liking, and the texture of the cake was very firm. I ended up slicing it and sandwiching it with jam and topping with lemon icing. Then it was quite good. I'm going to have another go.. :)

The Caked Crusader said...

I read the post and looked at the pics and don't know what the prob is - it looks awesome!

I've had an overspill once - it was a Bill Granger blueberry cake and boy was I cursing him as I was scraping batter out of the bottom of my oven!

C said...

Suelle - sometimes I need the obvious stating to me, but in this case I used the same size tin on all attemmpts - hence the confusion with whether the recipe will work or not! Loaf tins are a pain I agree!

Lester - My SR flour is usually pretty new - I bake a lot and get through a lot of it! Good thought though. I wanted to follow the specified flour as I assume Nigella wants this particular ratio of SR to plain for a successful cake.

Johanna - yes, nowhere to hide! I have a feeling that it could be weather, how warm my kitchen/ingredients are/what I've just baked in the oven etc etc hence the kitchen fairies comment!

Dom - glad I'm not the only one. It tasted fine, it just didn't look perfect.

Chele - cake on the oven floor is so disappointing!

Dipika - thanks for commenting. I assume Nigella wants that dilution effect of the raising agent, hence me not wanting to sub with a generic ratio of raising agent. Vanilla sounds like a nice addition.

Jac - thanks! It was still tasty!

Foodycat - that's exactly what I'm talking about - why do recipes just stop working for people?!? The texture and taste were fine, it was an aesthetic observation!

Celia - I'll have to look in Pam's book then and compare sugar amounts. Perhaps madeira is not supposed to be too sweet? It doesn't look that different from Nigella's in terms of sweetness, but much more eggy and lemony.

CC - yes, it tastes fine and the texture is fine, it just didn't rise as much as I wanted. I'm being picky and fussy!

Anonymous said...

I baked Nigella's Madeira cake for the first time last week and it overflowed like etna all over the oven floor. Definitely used a 1lb loaf tin. Must admit ir looked too full to me when I put it in the oven but I decided to trust the great Nige. Mistake! Not sure whether to waste another (almost) block if butter and have another go.

C said...

Anon - I used a 2lb loaf tin - you could try that. I certainly wouldn't try again with a 1lb loaf tin.

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