Madeira cake with fondant decorating techniques

Madeira cake with fondant decorating techniques

B.I.Y. Bake It Yourself

Madeira cake is perfect as the base for a birthday cake. Its dense structure holds more strongly than Victoria sponge, so it’s good for large, tiered cakes, too. If you master this simple recipe, you’ll never need to buy a shop-bought kids’ birthday cake again. It was through experimenting with my daughters’ birthday cakes that I got into baking more often, as you don’t need much artistic flair to make a great-looking cake (there are so many templates online). When it comes to fondant, I prefer to use shop-bought. As with filo pastry, it’s one of those things where home-made is a lot of effort and never quite as good. I strongly recommend gel food colours for fondant: you get a much stronger, more vivid colour without making the fondant wet and sticky. I recommend the Wilton pack of eight colours, available online; they last for ages.


Quantity Ingredient

For the cake

Quantity Ingredient
350g unsalted butter, at room temperature, plus more for the tins
350g caster sugar
6 large eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
400g plain flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
2 unwaxed lemons, finely grated zest

For filling and icing the cake

Quantity Ingredient
100g strawberry jam
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
400g icing sugar, plus more to dust
1-2 tablespoons milk, if needed
gel food colours
1kg ready-to-roll white fondant icing

Tool kit

Quantity Ingredient
2 x 20cm round sandwich tins
electric whisk
offset palette knife
wire cooling rack
25cm round cake board
rolling pin
cake/icing smoother, (optional)
piping bag, (optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 180°C. Butter 2 x 20 cm round sandwich tins and line the bases with baking parchment.
  2. In a large bowl, cream together the sugar and butter with an electric whisk until light-coloured and fluffy. Thoroughly beat in each egg, one by one, along with the vanilla bean paste. If it starts to split, add 1 tablespoon of the flour and beat again to bring it back together. Sift the flour and baking powder together and fold into the wet mixture with a silicone spatula, along with the lemon zest.
  3. Divide the batter equally between the prepared tins, smooth it out with an offset palette knife and bake for 45–50 minutes, or until a cocktail stick comes out clean when stuck into the centre of each cake. Keep an eye on the top of the cakes towards the end of the bake and, if they are browning too quickly, cover them with foil. Take out of the oven and place on a wire rack until cool enough to turn out of the tins, then allow to cool completely.
  4. To construct, cut the tops off the Madeira sponges to make them both flat. Lay the bottom sponge on a 25 cm round cake board. Spread on the strawberry jam and lay the top sponge on top of this, bottom side up. There will be a bit of a gap between the two sponges but you’ll fill this with buttercream.
  5. To make the buttercream, beat the butter in a large bowl with the electric whisk until soft. Gradually add 300 g of the icing sugar and continue to mix, adding the milk if you need to loosen the mixture. You can add food colour to this if you want. Coat the cake, sides and top with buttercream, using the offset palette knife to make it smooth all around.
  6. Take three-quarters of the fondant to cover the cake and leave the remainder, wrapped well in cling film so it doesn’t dry out, for additional decorations. For my ‘pirate face’ cake, I mix a little ivory (or pink) gel food colour into the fondant. Roll the fondant out to a circle 3–5 mm thick and large enough to cover the top and sides of the cake. Carefully roll this on to the rolling pin, then unroll it over the top of the cake. Smooth the fondant icing across the top and sides (I use a cake/icing smoother to help with this). Trim the excess icing from the bottom of the cake. The fondant icing should stick to the buttercream and stay in place.
  7. Colour the remaining fondant icing for the rest of the decorations. For my pirate face, I make a pirate bandana and its polka dots, eye patch, eye, nose, mouth, hair and freckles. Stick these pieces on to the cake with a little water.
  8. Finally, if you want to add a birthday greeting, knock up a little glacé icing with the remaining 100 g of icing sugar, food colour and a tiny bit of water: add just ½ teaspoon at a time and keep mixing until smooth. Load into a piping bag and pipe a greeting on to the cake board. Serve the cake to the grateful birthday girl or boy, who will think you’re a hero!


  • This recipe has a level 1 (beginner) difficulty.


  • Once you’ve got the hang of the Madeira sponge and the initial layer of fondant icing, this cake is a doddle. It doesn’t need refrigerating, so keeps well if you make it the day before a party, while the buttercream icing holds it together well in a party bag. It’s a blank canvas for whatever you want to do. I would recommend using the website Pinterest for templates and ideas for favourite TV characters or other designs.
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