A nice plain cake



I can count my true cake repertoire on one hand. I’ve flirted and made others with varying degrees of success, but I invariably return to one these five: the ginger onethe chocolate onethe clementine one, the other chocolate one and this, the nice plain one.

I make this cake about once a month, maybe twice if Vincenzo is lucky, he really likes cake and milky coffee for breakfast and mumbles buona with his mouth full. It is golden yellow with a moist but firm crumb that tastes of what it is butter, sugar, flour, eggs, milk and a flick of vanilla.I am quite partial to a slice for breakfast myself.


I have always called it a nice plain cake although I think it would be just as happy to called a kind of pound cake or a madeira cake. I like that it is both dainty and workaday at the same time, not too sweet, straightforward and very nice.

My mum made two of these nice plain cakes while we were away in Umbria, she used a loaf tin which worked perfectly – this cake is not fussy about it’s tin, she’s a flexible kind of cake. Mum got up early while the rest of us were still rolling around in bed wondering if we drank a little too much Rosso di Montefalco and then remembering we didn’t care if we did, because we were on holiday. By the time we reached the kitchen the scent of warm cake led us to the breakfast table.

Fruit salad, plain yogurt, coffee and cake…



It is happily nice and plain to make, you only have to remember to take the butter out of the fridge some time before so it’s nice and soft.

A nice plain cake

Based on Jane Grigsons madeira cake from her book English food and shaped by numerous attempts and advice from Nigella Lawson.

  • 120g / 1 stick of butter
  • 250g /1 1/4 cups of fine sugar
  • 3 large eggs
  • 2 small teaspoons of vanilla essence
  • 260g / a cup and a half of plain flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • pinch of salt
  • 8tbsp/1/2 cup of whole milk

Set the oven to 190°/375F and butter a deep 8″ round tin or a loaf tin (a 9″x 5″ x 3″ I think !!)

Cream the butter and together until it is pale and light and fluffy.

Beat the eggs into the butter and sugar one at a time until you have a smooth silky batter and add the vanilla essence.

Sift the flour and baking powder into the batter gradually, stirring firmly after each modest addition and add salt.

Stir in the milk a bit at a time.

Pou the mixture into your greased tin and bake at 180°/350F for about 30 – 40 minutes or when a toothpick comes out clean.

Allow the cake to sit for a a nice 20 minutes before turning it out of the tin.

I think this cake is best eaten the day it is made, best of all when it is just just warm. It keeps well for another two days, just wrap it carefully in a layer of baking parchment and then another of foil.


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40 responses to “A nice plain cake

  1. Oh, I do like a slice of buttery, slightly lemony cake now and then. I’ve bookmarked this recipe as I’ve got just the right size tin – thanks!

  2. Oh, I am partial to nice plain cake for breakfast too.

    Been meaning to contact you, am headed to Rome and would LOVE your recommendations. Where should we eat?

  3. You can’t beat cake for breakfast. And that is a fact.

  4. aromasysabores

    oh, absolutely my kinda of plain cake as well

  5. that looks really good, thanks for the recipe!

  6. that first picture is enough to make me want to make this cake. it would have been perfect for tonight since my husband and i were jonesing for dessert, but didn’t want to leave the apartment. i have all those ingredients on hand!

  7. That looks like a perfect weekend breakfast. Maybe this weekend to soften the realisation that on this, probably grey, bank holiday weekend we will be in London and not joining the hordes to escape the city!

  8. That sounds like a perfectly lovely holiday breakfast, especially waking up to it already prepared!

  9. Mmm, perfect and delicious, what a wonderful blog you have!

  10. Plain cake always wins.

    What a great breakfast idea. I did wonder, when in Italy, why cake was so often offered for breakfast. I now see why…

    Summer’s been good to you. Excellent.

  11. Looks so lovely! Haven’t made a cake yet, this may have to be the first one! (Your other cakes look great too though, hmmm, decisions…)

  12. Chelsea

    I can’t wait to bake this tonight (and eat if for breakfast tomorrow)! Is whole milk absolutely necessary, I’m not in the mood to run to the store?

    • rachel

      I hope I ‘m not too late because you don’t need to run to the shops skimmed or semi skimmed is really just fine.
      happy cakey breakfast to you x

  13. Chelsea

    Thanks. I just risked it and made it with skimmed milk, and it was SOOO good.

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  15. I’m making this cake tonight. It sounds like a jewel.

  16. Josie

    I made this cake last week and it was just plain wonderful. My kids tried it and begged for me to put it in their lunches. I’m craving it again.

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  18. Inga

    Saw this recipe and was so excited to make it. Unfortunately, it’s been a bit of a disaster. It rose high in the oven, then caved in. After 40 minutes it still shook like a custard. I’m trying to figure out what went wrong. Does your “plain flour” have anything extra in it? Is it a self-rising? Hoping you can help. . .

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  20. Susan

    Fantastic recipe! First time I made it in a loaf pan, but my family finished the entire cake within an hour! So tonight I made it again but this time in a large bundt pan. I reduced the sugar slightly and sprinkled the top of the cake with a little which made it extra crunchy, It was delicious! Thanks for the great recipe!

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  22. Rachel

    Rachel, will this cake be sturdy enough to use in a giant cupcake mould? I found that only the thickest of loaf cakes work…
    From Rachel!

    • rachel

      Hi rachel,
      I have to say I am not sure! The mixture is pretty thick and you could make it even thicker by leaving some of some of the milk I suppose. There is only one way to find out! Fingers crossed and let me know!

  23. Manisha Bolina

    I just made this, it turned out delicious!!!!!!

  24. Jyotika

    I just made this and it was amazing! really lovely light flavor and so moist.
    I do have a question though. Why is 2 cups of flour here mentioned as 260 grams? according to my cup measurements, it should be around 400 grams.:/

  25. T

    It would have been useful to me if you had specified the depth the 8 inch “tin” needed to be – as an inexperienced American cook, I used an 8″ cake pan and ended up with most of it on the bottom of my oven. : (

    • rachel

      Hi T – I am so sorry that I didn’t note you need a deep tin. No cake and an oven to clean! I eally should buy you a beer, or some cake – Really sorry. But thank you for letting me know I will amend the post. R

  26. you are speakin’ my language sister! this cake looks fantastic!

  27. Gwen

    I baked this today, it was delicious. I wanted to make in a sheet pan so I doubled the recipe, little did I know I was a 1/2 cup short of flour so i opened a box of lemon cake mix an substituted a 1/2 cup of that and continued. I took a little longer to set in the middle but it was perfect for my families taste. My mother is from North Carolina and this cake taste very much like something she made quite often for us, her family from the South calls this sugar pudding. Thanks for this recipe because now it will be my sugar pudding because I never wrote the recipe not before my mom passed so thank you, it brought back wonderful childhood memories. I can not wait to try it on my siblings.

    • rachel

      Hi Gwen, I am happy you made the cake and even happier you liked it and that it brought back good memories. thank you also for taking the time to tell me rachel

  28. saabirah

    I made this cake today and it was brilliant! Absoloutely delicious. My family enjoyed it. Im definatly making it again. Thank u sooo much 4 d recipe!!!!!!!

  29. Thanks for this recipe, it was so simple and a lovely tasting moist and delicious cake. I did it in my loaf tin and it turned out great! Will definately use this recipe again 🙂

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