The 1-2-3 Madeira Cake


Baking with my mother is one of my earliest childhood memories. My mother didn’t work outside the home when we were little and of school-going age. I have many fond memories of her mending and sewing clothes, knitting school jumpers and dollies clothes, shining up silverware and mahogany, and …baking. (To name but a few).

Small enough to sit on the high kitchen windowsill, I remember peering into the big baking bowl: the creaming of the sugar and butter, the mixing of the eggs (and mind they don’t curdle), the sifting of the flour and the lining of the tins. It was forbidden to touch the bowl, to avoid accidents with the electric mixer, but the prize for being patient was the scraping out of the bowl and the licking of the spoon.

Apple tart, apple cakes, apple and rhubarb crumble, chocolate cake, lemon cake, coffee cake, fruit cake, Dundee cake, Madeira cake, Christmas cake, Christmas pudding, mince pies, meringues, buns, scones, pavlova, Swiss roll, roulade, soda bread.

One afternoon in sixth year, a classmate, who came to school from Ring by bus and therefore “stayed in for lunch” with sandwiches and a cup of packet soup everyday, asked me what I had for lunch.

“Roast chicken.” I replied

“With what?”, she continued.

“Eh, carrots and roast potatoes”

“And gravy?” She was licking her lips by now.

“Eh, yeah!”

“And dessert. Don’t tell me you had dessert.”

“Apple tart and custard.”

“You lucky b****!”

From then on, every afternoon she used to quiz me on my daily menu and I was beginning to get a small inkling about the kind of privileged upbringing I had.

The baking utensils were dropped in college but I was reminded once again when a French Erasmus student asked me for the recipe for scones to keep in her diary of baking recipes. (Now why hadn’t I thought of that?). That was the start of countless frantic calls back home,

“Mum, what was that recipe for…?”

As a working Mum, I have kept my baking minimalistic, sticking to the simplest and favored in my household: buns, scones, the staple chocolate cake for all the birthdays, traditional Christmas cake and a Spanish-influenced version of the plain Madeira cake.

It is called familiarly by my in-laws the 1-2-3 cake, by virtue of the fact that all the measurements are either 1, 2 or 3 yogurt-cartonfuls of any particular ingredient in the cake. So, it’s 1 carton of natural yogurt, 1 of light olive oil, 2 of sugar, 3 of self-raising flour sifted, 3 eggs, the rind of 1 lemon, a spoon of baking powder, all mixed up in a bowl, poured into a ring tin and baked at 180 degrees until it’s done. It couldn’t be easier and even my children can almost do it with their eyes closed. And it’s delicious with a glass of milk or a cup of tea.

I haven’t baked since this whole BC saga! And I’m beginning to miss it. You know you’re healing a little when you start thinking about other things. So thank God for baking.

Ever since I started chemotherapy, I’m on a quest to keep the body healthy, the inner tissues alkaline, the liver detoxified and the immune system strengthened. So I’m believing what I’m reading about food being your best ally. Plenty of fresh fruit and vegetables, organic and in season, sugar and salt to a minimum, very little meat, legumes and lots of whole grain everything.

So where does that leave my baking?

This afternoon, I’ve decided to adapt my 1-2-3 cake and I’ll cheekily call it Aunty C’s Madeira Cake and it goes like this:
1 carton of organic natural yogurt (if I had been hippy enough, I’d already be living on a farm and of course it would be home-made but I wasn’t and so shop-bought will have to do)
1/2 carton honey, 1/2 carton agave syrup (very in vogue natural sweetener with low glycemic index. Incredibly expensive and hence the half carton).
1 carton of light olive oil (not first cold-pressed extra virgin which is of course the best in salads but since this is not an olive oil cake, the light refined version will have to do.)
3 eggs, the luminescent yellow kind you get from neighbour’s chickens (I did from my sister-in-law’s in Galicia) or the free-range organic ones from the shop.
3 cartons of organic whole grain spelt wheat flour (a more nutritious version of wheat flour, which you can read about here:
The rind of 1 unwaxed organic lemon
1- 2 Heaped teaspoons of baking powder (depending on the results of my experiment with spelt flour, which by The Internet’s account, can require more raising agent than if using normal wheat flour).

I haven’t made it yet but I’m looking forward to experimenting. I hope it will be differently delicious but still familiar enough to enjoy with a cup of tea and good company.



  1. Olga Walsh

    Oh Dee! You say you have changed but you really haven’t!!! Baking no matter what!!! Your grandchildren will get so excited every time they hear: “We are going to nana’s” cuz there will be a freshly baked treat waiting for them! Xxx 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • deleanbh

      Yes Olga…I really love that idea. I’ll latch on to that. I can see you’re kept busy with your own intricate baking too. I love your inventions! Xxx


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