I love reading nostalgic musings in various food books about beloved recipes passed down through the generations. It also makes me laugh when I try and come up with something similar when I think of ‘baking tips my grandmother taught me’. The summation of such knowledge passed to me by my own grandmother is actually only two things: always use more butter and that sandwiches should be constructed of more meat than bread.
My Nana was, quite simply, the most amazing person I ever had in my life. She was my mentor, role model and protector. She was not, it is fair to say, a cook or a baker if any sort. She would not mind me saying this, as it was true. She also had far too many other things to be getting on with, such as looking after four children, nine grandchildren, several ageing relatives and, oh yes, having three jobs, one of which was running one of the largest textile factories in the country. At the same time.
Although she was not a baker herself, she was always more than happy to be my taster. I first made this cake for her on one of the many occasions she came to stay with me when I was at university. She actually came to stay in my room several times whilst I was in halls. As you can probably gather, this was not the normal grandmother-granddaughter relationship. Anyway, on this particular visit she had bought me a loaf tin, a new whisk and we were on our way. I continued to make this cake for her until she died, as she really loved it. Her tastes were quite old fashioned in the sense that she enjoyed traditional flavours and familiar textures. This is the very essence of this cake; even if you have not eaten madeira cake very much before, it still tastes wonderfully comforting in its familiarity. It is dense, yet light, buttery and subtly fragrant with lemon. There is no greater cake to go with a cup of tea.
I had not felt like I wanted to make this cake without her to share it with for a few years, when I happened upon a jar of poppy seeds when I was clearing out a cupboard. It immediately reminded me of this cake and with it, thousands of warm and happy memories of my Nana and so this post is dedicated to her. This is a cake that tastes of love, comfort and home and I think she would say it deserves to be shared. Though she would probably say it needed more butter.
Lemon and Poppy Seed Madeira Cake
250g softened butter
200g caster sugar plus extra for dusting
210g self raising flour
90g plain flour
Zest and juice of one large lemon
2tbs poppy seeds
Preheat your oven to 170°C and butter and line a 450g loaf tin.
Mix the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time along with a spoonful of flour.
Add the lemon juice, zest, poppy seeds and the rest of the flour and mix until well combined.
Put the mixture in the lined loaf tin, smooth the top and sprinkle some caster sugar over the top. A tablespoon is about enough.
Bake for a hour and ten minutes, checking that a knife comes out clean when poked through the centre.
Leave to cool in the tin for 15 minutes or so and then cool on a rack.
Best served sliced thickly with a strong cup of English Breakfast tea.