Photos Alex Harris
If I were only allowed to keep one of my dozens of cookbooks (a strange notion I know, but bear with me), I would choose Nigella Lawson’s ‘How To Be a Domestic Goddess’. I love to bake, and this book celebrates baking on every single page. Nigella wrote it almost as if she was talking to the reader, and whenever I make a recipe from it I feel somehow as if she is there in the kitchen with me.
Although I rarely work my way through a cookbook from beginning to end, this Madeira Cake, the first recipe in the book, was also the first recipe I cooked from it. I’m not sure why I chose to make Madeira cake before any other recipe – perhaps it was the fact it contained so few ingredients, and seemed so very simple. I was intrigued by the fact that it had no Madeira in it, and also by Nigella’s assertion that this cake ‘is one of those plain cakes you think you can’t see the point of, until you start slicing and eating it’.
From the first time I made it, Nigella’s (or rather her mother-in-law’s) Madeira Cake became a family favourite, and a hugely versatile addition to my baking repertoire. Moist, firm but tender, meltingly delicious, it is beautiful served plain, but you can also top it with strawberries and ice cream for a makeshift strawberry shortcake. It makes a fantastic trifle as well. It’s the sort of cake I like to have on hand just in case someone drops by. Pure comfort food, I can’t think of an occasion when this cake would not be appropriate.
I wish I could say I had adapted this recipe in some way, because then I could reprint the recipe here with a clear conscience. However, I have made it the way Nigella suggests every single time, without amendment. If you know me well, you will realise just how unusual this is, but if something is perfect, I know enough not to mess with it.
You can find the recipe here on Nigella’s own website. You really do need to make this cake, and you probably have most of the ingredients on hand already. The method is easy and a little over an hour later you truly will feel like a Domestic Goddess. Go on, what are you waiting for?