Here I am at the beginning of yet another year of baking through The Great British Bake Off. This will be my fourth season, and I will be working my way through the 2015 series. As a quick refresher, I started this journey three years ago with the first season available to American viewers, which was series 3, originally aired on BBC in 2012. For those unfamiliar with how the show was changed when it came to America, both in title and in how the seasons are numbered, check out my little tutorial here.
I was upset to find out that Netflix removed series 3-7 (called The Beginnings and Collections 1-4 on Netflix) at the beginning of 2022, making it difficult for those of us in the U.S. to watch the original team of judges, Mary Berry and Paul Hollywood, and hosts Mel Giedroyc and Sue Perkins. Those seasons were put out on DVD by America’s Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), but apparently they’re out of print, because the only source I could find was eBay, and they’re getting to be quite pricey. Fortunately, if your public library subscribes to the digital streaming service Hoopla, you can access individual episodes for free with your library card (but be aware that some libraries limit how many titles you can borrow per month, so it may take two or three months to watch an entire season).
I considered skipping these next two seasons, since many people in the U.S. won’t have access to them until some other streaming service picks them up again, but I know a lot of my readers are in countries that, hopefully, still have access to these earlier episodes. So I hope you’ll still follow along as I attempt every challenge put before the bakers in the Great White Tent and, hopefully, bake along with me!
Our first challenge of the season is a Madeira cake, which, surprisingly, doesn’t even have Madeira in it! It is called such because it became popular in the early 1800s as an accompaniment to an afternoon glass of Madeira wine. The earliest recorded recipes for Madeira cake date from around 1840, with one version published in Eliza Acton’s Modern Cookery For Private Families in 1845.
A Madeira cake could be described as a cross between a Victoria sponge and a pound cake. It has a higher ratio of flour to butter and sugar than either of them, but it has fewer eggs than a Victoria sponge. So it’s lighter in texture than a pound cake but denser than a Victoria sponge. Mary Berry described Madeira cakes as “close-textured” and said they should have a prominent dome and a visible crack on top.
Madeira cakes are traditionally flavored with lemon zest or another type of citrus, and often topped with candied peel. Paul and Mary specified that they wanted the cakes lightly glazed and topped with candied fruit (which Mary said should be “brittle,” making a noticeable sound when dropped onto a plate). Most of the bakers stuck to some variation on the citrus theme, except for Tamal, who used pistachio and rose in his, and Sandy, whose cake flavored with almond liqueur and chopped apricots was dubbed “perfect” by the judges. Flora added ground almonds to hers for additional texture as well as moistness.
I’ve taken a cue from Flora here, by both adding almonds and using blood oranges as the dominant flavor. I’m also mixing in crushed jasmine green tea leaves, however, for a more complex, slightly floral flavor profile. I really like the way these two flavors mingle on the palate, light and bright and not too sweet — a great cake to have around when you need that “just a little something” to go with your tea in the afternoon (or even breakfast)!
This is a simple cake to make and would be a great recipe for a beginning baker to try. I also like the fact that it doesn’t waste a thing. If you only have three blood oranges, you can zest and juice two of them, then cut thin strips of peel from the third before slicing it for the candied garnish. Even the syrup used to candy the orange peel is boiled down to make the glaze for the cake. The only thing I had left over was the sugar that I tossed the orange peel in at the end, and I can add that to my morning coffee.
Blood Orange & Jasmine Tea Madeira Cake
For the cake:
- 1½ c. all-purpose flour
- ¾ c. sugar
- ¾ c. (12 T.) butter, softened
- 3 large eggs
- 1 t. jasmine green tea leaves
- Zest of 2 blood oranges
- Juice of 1 blood orange
- ½ c. ground almonds
- 2 t. baking powder
- ¼ t. salt
For the glaze and topping:
- ½ c. water
- ½ t. jasmine green tea leaves
- 5 T. sugar, plus more for tossing with candied orange peel
- Juice of 1 blood orange
- 1 whole blood orange
- Heat oven to 335°F. Lightly grease a 2 lb. loaf pan (approximately 8½ x 4½ x 3 inches) and line the bottom with parchment paper.
- In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar together until light in color and fluffy (about 5 minutes at medium speed). Measure out the flour in another bowl and set it aside. Beat eggs into butter and sugar, one at a time, adding 1 tablespoon of the flour with each egg.
- Crush tea leaves with a mortar and pestle (or use the back of a spoon on a plate or bowl), then add tea leaves, orange zest and juice to the egg mixture. Stir almonds, baking powder and salt into remaining flour, then add to egg mixture, mixing just until combined.
- Tip batter into the pan and smooth the top with a spatula. Bake for 45-55 minutes, until toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Leave in pan for 15 minutes, then remove and place on baking rack to cool.
- To make the glaze, bring water to a boil in a small saucepan, then turn off the heat. Put tea leaves in a tea ball or muslin bag and place in hot water; let steep for 4-6 minutes. Remove tea leaves from the water; add sugar and juice to the pan of water, and stir to dissolve the sugar. Bring to a boil and boil for 2 minutes.
- Take the whole orange and use a citrus scorer or peeler to cut the outer layer of peel into thin strips. Cut the rest of the orange into thin slices. Transfer orange peel and slices to the syrup and boil for 2-3 minutes. Place a piece of parchment or wax paper under a cooling rack. Remove the orange slices from the syrup and place on the rack to cool. Then remove the strips of peel from the syrup and let them drain on the rack as well. When the candied peel has dried slightly, toss it in a few tablespoons of sugar, then transfer to the paper to dry.
- Cook syrup for 1-2 minutes more until slightly thickened. Brush warm syrup over warm cake. Decorate with orange peel and slices. Serve with tea or a glass of sweet dessert wine.