If it hasn’t already become apparent, the thing I love most behind dessert is tea. As a non-coffee drinker, tea is my go-to beverage (something I have in common with the people of Iran). An entire shelf in my kitchen is devoted to teas of all varieties. I even have a 42 oz travel mug that I faithfully fill up every morning with delicious earl grey vanilla tea, a smidgen of steamed milk, and a dollop of honey. Given my love of tea and my love of sweets it only made sense to combine the two. After many rounds of combining various teas and flavorings I found my favorite: an eat-straight-off-the-spoon earl grey cake, jazzed up with slightly tart lemon curd, and topped off with a velvety vanilla frosting.
Adding tea to a recipe is fairly straightforward and is typically accomplished in one of two ways. First, the tea can be steeped in whatever liquid is being used in the batter. If you use this method, please note that steeping in milk takes slightly longer than steeping in water and will require more tea bags. Second, raw tea leaves can be added directly to the batter. But I say, why not do both? The flavor of tea can be very subtle and may be lost when combined with other strong flavors, like the lemon curd in this recipe. I found that for this recipe, using both methods ensures the tea flavor does not get lost in the mix.
The addition of tea leaves also has the added bonus of making the cake beautifully speckled. One word of caution – while loose leaf tea is great for drinking, it is not great for baking. Loose leaf tea is not cut and crumbled like processed tea and often includes hard twigs that do not dissolve when baked, which results in crunchy bits in your cake – a texture nightmare! If you absolutely have to use loose leaf tea, grind the tea into a fine texture with a mortar and pestle before adding it to the batter.
The Moment of Truth
A cake this good leaves you no choice – you must consume gigantic slices for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I brought the cake into work and my coworkers were thrilled. Given the number of them who proactively reached out wanting the recipe, I don’t think they were just being nice.
Many varieties of Earl Grey cake recipes exist. They are all roughly the same and honestly, your go-to vanilla cake batter will probably work as the base.
1 cup milk
1 tbsp vanilla
5 bags Earl Grey tea
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
3 cups flour
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Line the bottom of two round cake pans with parchment paper and spray with cooking spray. Alternatively, butter and flour the pans well. Note: I made two cakes and cut them in half. If you are hesitant to slice cakes in half use three round cake pans instead of two.
Heat the milk in the microwave until steaming. Add the vanilla and two tea bags and steep for five minutes.Remove the tea bags and allow the milk to cool.Note: steeping for longer will just result in a more bitter brew. If you want a stronger Earl Grey flavor add more tea bags.
Cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, approximately 5 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, mixing until combined. In a separate bowl combine the flour, baking powder, the remaining three tea bags, and salt. Alternate adding the flour mixture and the milk mixture to the butter mixture, starting with the milk. Mix until just combined. Poor into prepared cake pan and bake for about 30 minutes. Remove from the oven and let cool.
Nothing special here – any vanilla frosting works great. I like a heavy frosting-to-cake ratio and since the frosting will be doing double duty by covering the outside and serving as a layer in the middle, make sure you prepare a hefty quantity.
8 tbsp room temperature butter
4 cups powdered sugar
4 tbsp milk
1 tsp vanilla
Pinch of salt
Beat the ingredients together until light and fluffy. Make sure to add the powdered sugar in portions so that it doesn’t end up looking like a sugar-bomb went off inside your kitchen.
Any lemon curd will work – either store bought or homemade. However, before you go and buy lemon curd, try making it at home. You’d be surprised at how easy it is to make lemon curd that looks and tastes like it belongs in the poshest of tea houses. There are many ways of making lemon curd, all of which are slight variations on the same basic technique. Here is my favorite method:
3 large lemons
1 1/2 cups sugar
Pinch of salt
1 stick butter
Remove the zest of the lemons with a microplane grater or the small-holed side of a cheese grater. Squeeze the juice of the lemons into a small pan and combine with the remaining ingredients. Heat on medium until thickened (about 10 minutes) stirring constantly. The lemon curd will thicken at about 170 degrees Fahrenheit and will change color from a bright to a mellow yellow. If your wooden spoon / spatula / whisk leaves a trail along the bottom of the pan the curd is done. Pour the curd from the pan into a bowl and set aside to cool. Note: the curd will also thicken slightly when cooling so it is better to undercook than overcook. Overcooking results in scrambled eggs!
Once all three pieces are made, place the ugliest looking cake top side down on a plate. Cover with half of the lemon curd. Add another layer of cake and then a layer of frosting. Continue with a layer of cake, a layer of lemon curd, your prettiest layer of cake (top side up) and a layer of frosting. Finish by covering the sides with frosting.
Earl Grey tea is supposedly good for your teeth and helps fight anxiety, depression, stress, and colds. It may even help you lose weight. Another cuppa? Yes, please!