I took him into the pantry where he looked a little reproachfully at the Finn. Together we scrutinized the twelve lemon cakes from the delicatessen shop.
"Will they do?" I asked.
"Of course, of course! They're fine!" and he added hollowly, "...old sport."
The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chapter V
In a novel filled with excess - Gatsby's extravagant parties, Tom's second apartment (and second partner) in New York, Daisy's general attitude to life - Nick Carraway acts as an 'everyman' (of sorts) for the reader. The kind of man who, when asked to host an afternoon tea orchestrated to allow Gatsby and Daisy to meet again on common ground, has to request help from Daisy's 'Finn' in order to organise the afternoon. His trip to the delicatessen and subsequent purchase of twelve lemon cakes (which Gatsby labels as just 'fine') inspired these very simple madeira cakes.
Made with very accessible store-cupboard ingredients, the madeira cake doesn't appear very impressive. However, with a dense crumb and rich lemon flavour, this humble afternoon-tea treat more than punches above its weight. The recipe below will also make a great loaf cake, which slices perfectly into sturdy pieces to take to work/school. If kept in an airtight container it can stay fresh all week, though I doubt it will last that long!
The cake is a classic - something not worth tampering with - and I've therefore always stuck to the recipe I used the first time I made it - Nigella Lawson's from How to be a Domestic Goddess.
Makes 12 little cakes, or 1 loaf cake
200g caster sugar + an extra 2tbsp for sprinkling
Zest and juice of 1 juicy lemon
300g plain flour
2.5tsp baking powder
12-hole muffin tin
Electric hand whisk
1. Preheat the oven to 170C. Grease the muffin tray.
2. Cream the butter and sugar until smooth then mix in the lemon zest. Add the eggs, one at a time, adding a tablespoon full of the flour if the mixture separates. When the eggs are well incorporated, add the lemon juice and finally fold in the flour.
3. Divide the batter between the 12 muffin cups; each should be around 2/3 full.
4. Bake for 20-25mins (or around an hour for a loaf cake) until the sugar is cracked on top and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. Cool the cakes in the tin for 10 minutes until turning out onto the wire rack.