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What is Madeira?

What is Madeira? It’s quite a common question, as there are two different ‘Madeiras’ –  Madeira wine and Madeira cake! In this article we will take a look at both and hopefully clear up any confusion between the two.

Spiced Mulled Wine Photo

Madeira wine is considered to be a dessert wine and became popular nearly 300 years ago! Unlike other wines that undergo different processes as they become popular, Madeira has not changed much in all those years.

Madeira is a fortified wine, which means that it has an addition of a distilled spirit like brandy. It gets its name from the island of Madeira which is located in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.

It has a higher alcohol content and quite a different flavor and smell from more traditional wines. The wine is heated repeatedly which creates flavors like roasted nuts, caramel and toffee. You may even notice hints of orange and burnt sugar too. 

Although traditionally served as a dessert wine, Madeira can also be served before a meal. Fortified wines like Madeira are thought to help encourage appetite and help with digestion.

Spiced Mulled Wine Picture

Other fortified wines include Port, sherry, marsala and vermouth. Higher in antioxidants but also higher in calories, Madeira is often served in small amounts, generally about 3 ounces or so. 

Another great way to use Madeira

In addition to enjoying Madeira after a lovely meal, you can use it in cooking to deglaze pans, reduce your sauces or as an ingredient in salad dressings. If you are unable to find Madeira to cook with you can substitute dry or sweet Marsala for a similar taste profile. 

If you have never deglazed a pan before using a fortified wine like Madeira, you are missing out on giving the flavor of dishes you are making a real boost!

Chocolate Orange Cookies Picture

Often after frying meat or vegetables, there are particles that get left behind. These are known as fond, which is the French word for base. The fond are the bits that get left behind and often caramelize and get stuck to the pan. Deglazing a pan loosens these bits up and helps to make a delicious pan sauce.

When you are deglazing a pan, be sure to scrape the pan to help loosen the particles and simmer the Madeira (or other wine or stock) until it reduces by about half. You can thicken your sauce with flour or cornstarch if needed. 

Instant Pot Chicken Marsala Pic


What is Madeira cake?

You may have heard of Madeira cake. It is often thought to have originated in Madeira and contain Madeira wine, but both of those are actually incorrect!

Instead, Madeira is a British cake, the recipe for which was first published in 1845. It is essentially a sponge cake with the addition of lemon zest and sometimes ground almonds. 

So how did this cake get its name?

Well, those living a grand and rich life in England in the 19th century would sip Madeira wine and also enjoy this cake, so the cake became known as Madeira cake. 

More interesting drinks to try…

Homemade Honey Whiskey