This is the cake you’re likely to spot on a side table at the Crawley family’s afternoon tea on “Downton Abbey.” Madeira cake, named after the fortified Portuguese wine with which it was often paired, was a favorite throughout the 19th and 20th centuries. We can see why: It has a delicate citrus flavor and a tender crumb that holds together well enough to not mar a beautiful dress. It may remind you of a lightened-up pound cake.
Dusting the pan with sugar instead of flour gives a slightly crunchy exterior. Feel free to swap in orange or lime zest for the lemon.
Active: 25 minutes | Total: 1 hour
8 to 10 servings (makes one 8 1/2-inch loaf)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons sugar, plus more for the pan
1 cup flour
Finely grated lemon zest from 1 large lemon (about 1 tablespoon)
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
3 large eggs
8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus more, at room temperature, for the pan
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with the rack in the middle. Grease an 8 1/2- by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan, then lightly coat with sugar, tapping out the excess.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, lemon zest and baking powder. Beat the eggs in the bowl of a stand mixer or handheld electric mixer on medium-high speed, until thick, pale yellow and creamy, 3 to 5 minutes. Gradually beat in the sugar until thoroughly combined, followed by the melted butter and vanilla. Carefully fold in the flour mixture just until combined, taking care not to deflate the egg mixture. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top.
Get the pan into the oven quickly, before the eggs have a chance to collapse. Bake for about 35 minutes, until the top of the cake is a rich golden brown and the sides have just started pulling away from the pan. (The cake will not rise to the top of the pan.) A skewer inserted into the center of the cake should come out clean.
Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes, then carefully turn the cake out onto the rack (a round-edge knife can help loosen it, if necessary), turn the cake upright and let cool completely before serving.