Easy Madeira Cake With a Sugar Crust Topping

updated Aug 22, 2022

This British take on lemon pound cake might just be the best pound cake — especially with that sugar crust topping.

Serves8 to 10

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(Image credit: Paola Thomas)

A Madeira cake is the sort of plain cake that looks like it might be dull and dry, but instead turns out to be exceptionally moreish. Many people are misled by the name, thinking that it must be made with Madeira — a sweet fortified dessert wine akin to sherry or port — or come from the Portuguese island of Madeira.

Instead, it was intended to be served with Madeira, the sort of afternoon decadence at which the Victorians excelled, and which I can confirm is a very good idea.

A relative of the old English (and American) pound cake, this cake uses the same creaming method as the Victoria sponge and keeps to similar ratios, with just an increase in the quantity of flour, to create a denser sponge that keeps for longer. A cookbook I have from the ’60s just calls this “basic cake recipe.”

(Image credit: The Kitchn)

Most traditional recipes keep the butter and sugar in proportion, but Nigella Lawson’s (from her mother-in-law) ups the proportion of butter, which makes for a moister, more delectable cake, and is a change I’ve kept here.

A Madeira cake is traditionally flavored with lemon — all the better to cut through the sweet stickiness of the Madeira wine — and is sometimes topped with a large piece of candied lemon.

I prefer to sprinkle a thick layer of sugar over the top to create a crackled surface. You should expect this cake to dome and crack during baking.

(Image credit: Paola Thomas)

This cake keeps for longer and is slightly less naughty than the filled and frosted layer cakes, and so is something I often make just because for the family, or when friends come to stay and we need a steady cake supply.

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

When it comes to British baking there’s cake and everything else. From afternoon tea to an exuberant birthday cake to the classic Vicky sponge, baking cake is a national pastime. We teamed up with ex-pat Paola Thomas to bring you five favorite cakes that you can whip up in a jiffy.

Easy Madeira Cake

This British take on lemon pound cake might just be the best pound cake — especially with that sugar crust topping.

Serves8 to 10

Nutritional Info


  • 2 1/2 cups

    all-purpose or cake flour

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons

    baking powder

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 2 1/2 sticks

    (10 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the pan

  • 1 cup

    plus 2 tablespoons granulated sugar, divided

  • Finely grated zest of 1 medium lemon

  • 3

    large eggs

  • Juice of 1 medium lemon


  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 325°F. Coat a 8x4-inch loaf pan with butter, then line the bottom and sides with a parchment paper sling.

  2. Place the flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl and whisk to combine; set aside.

  3. Place the butter, 1 cup of the sugar, and lemon zest in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat on medium speed until very pale and fluffy, 3 to 5 minutes, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed; set aside.

  4. Add 1 of the eggs and a spoonful of the flour mixture into the butter mixture and beat to combine. Repeat with the remaining eggs, accompanying each egg with a spoonful of flour and beating thoroughly and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula between each addition.

  5. Add the lemon juice and remaining flour mixture, then beat to combine. You should end up with a stiff batter that holds its shape. Spoon the batter into the prepared pan. Use a spatula to push the batter down into all the corners, then smooth the top. Sprinkle the remaining 2 tablespoons sugar evenly over the cake.

  6. Bake until the cake is firm and golden-brown and a skewer inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean, about 1 hour. Let cool completely in the pan on a wire rack before removing the cake from the pan.

Recipe Notes

Storage: This cake is almost better eaten the day after you make it and can be stored in airtight container for up to 1 week. Leftover Madeira cake makes the perfect base for trifle. It also freezes well.