My brother celebrated his birthday last weekend, and, of course, I offered to make him a cake. He loves Earl Grey tea, so he requested that the cake somehow incorporate this flavor. After some brainstorming, I came up with the idea to flavor the cake itself with the tea. I like to make my cakes such that they have some sort of fruit filling and, if it works, some sort of nut on top of a flavored frosting. For this cake, I picked kumquats because their tart citrus flavor would complement the bergamot in the tea, and almonds for their mild nuttiness.
This cake isn’t very hard to make, but, as I learned while making it, you should definitely make the kumquat marmalade in advance – between the slicing and seeding, simmering, reducing of the syrup, and cooling, it takes a good 2 hours. The marmalade can be made up to a week in advance, and you should definitely make it before you start making the cake. (Learn from my mistakes!)
The cakes can also be made in advance; once they are fully cooled, wrap them tightly in two layers of plastic wrap and then in foil. They can be frozen for up to a week or refrigerated for a few days. When you’re ready to use them, put them out on the counter (don’t unwrap them, though) and let them come to room temperature. As for the frosting, I usually make it after the cakes have been cooling for at least 30 minutes so that I can use the frosting immediately after it’s ready. You could also make the frosting in advance and refrigerate it in an airtight container, but in order to use it, you’ll have to leave it out at room temperature for a few hours, then beat it for a good 8-10 minutes in order for it to regain its fluffiness. This adds extra time to the whole process so I prefer to just bake and frost the cakes all in one session.
Regardless of however you choose to do it, the results will be well worth it. This cake is really sophisticated – it features flavors that are not likely to be found at your favorite bakery, it’s incredibly moist and flavorful, and it’s not overly sweet – and for these reasons, I think it’s my favorite cake that I’ve made to date.
Earl Grey Cake with Kumquat Marmalade
and Almond Meringue Buttercream
(makes one two-layer 9-inch cake, serves 12-16)
and Almond Meringue Buttercream
(makes one two-layer 9-inch cake, serves 12-16)
For the cake:
8 bags of Earl Grey tea
1 1/3 cups whole milk
6 large egg whites, at room temperature
2 teaspoons vodka
¾ teaspoon vanilla extract
¼ teaspoon almond extract
2 ¼ cups cake flour, sifted, plus 2 tablespoons for the pans
1 ¾ cups granulated sugar
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
12 tablespoons (1 ½ sticks) unsalted butter, cut into teaspoon-sized chunks and at room temperature
For the kumquat marmalade:
8 ounces (2 cups) of kumquats
½ cup sugar
½ cup water
For the almond meringue buttercream:
4 egg whites
¾ cup + 3 tablespoons sugar
2 ½ sticks (10 ounces) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks and at room temperature
½ teaspoon almond extract
***************Make the cakes:
Set an oven rack in the middle position. Heat the oven to 350 F. Spray the bottoms of two 9-inch cake pans with cooking spray or lightly butter them. Line the pans with parchment paper rounds and butter or spray the parchment paper. Dust each pan with 1 tablespoon of flour. Invert the pans over the sink and bang out any excess flour.
Cut open 4 of the tea bags and pour their contents into a small bowl. Bring ½ cup of the milk to a strong simmer. Pour the hot milk over the tea and let it steep for 5 minutes. Pour the milk and tea mixture into a fine mesh sieve and strain the milk into a small bowl, pressing on the tea leaves to extract all of the milk. Pour the tea-infused milk into a measuring cup and pour in the remaining milk to make 1 cup. You may not need all of the remaining milk.
Pour the contents of the remaining 4 tea bags into a clean spice grinder. Grind the tea leaves to a fine powder.
Using a fork, mix the milk, egg whites, vodka, and extracts together in a bowl and set it aside.
Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, and ground tea into the bowl of a standing mixer or a large bowl. Using the paddle attachment of the stand mixer, mix the dry ingredients together on the lowest speed for 5 seconds. (If using a handheld mixer, stir the dry ingredients with a large spoon.) Add the butter and increase the speed to 2 or mix on low speed of a handheld mixer. Mix until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs.
Add all but ½ cup of the wet ingredients and mix at medium speed (6 on a stand mixer) for 1 ½ minutes. Add the remaining ¼ cup and mix for another 30 seconds. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and mix for another 20 seconds.
Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and spread it out to the walls and smooth out the tops. Bang the pans against the counter a few times to even out the batter.
Arrange the pans on the oven rack so that there is at least 3 inches of space around each pan. (This allows for proper air circulation and even baking.) Bake for 23-25 minutes; a toothpick should come out clean.
Let the cakes cool in the pans for 5 minutes, then invert them onto a plane and then onto a cooling rack. Let the cakes cool completely before assembling.
Wash and dry the kumquats. Cut them into thin slices (no thicker than 1/8”) and remove all seeds.
Bring the sugar and water to a boil in a small saucepan. Boil the mixture for 2 minutes, then add the sliced kumquats. When the mixture starts to bubble, reduce the heat to medium and cook until the kumquats are very tender and the mixture is thick, about 20-25 minutes.
Strain the mixture over a bowl. Reserve the kumquats in a bowl and return the syrup to the pan. Cook on medium low heat until it has reduced in volume by half, about 10-12 minutes. Add the reduced syrup to the kumquats and stir well to combine. Let the marmalade cool completely.
Almond meringue buttercream:
Add the egg whites and sugar to the bowl of a standing mixer. Put 1-2” of water in a small saucepan and bring it to a boil. Reduce the heat so that the water simmers. Put the mixer bowl on top of the saucepan and whisk the egg whites and sugar until all of the sugar has dissolved, the mixture becomes opaque, and the temperature reaches about 110 F. (If you do not have a thermometer, don’t worry. Just make sure that all the sugar is dissolved and that the mixture is very warm – this will take about 3-4 minutes.)
Put the bowl on the mixer and whip the whites (using the whisk attachment) for 8 minutes on high speed (mixer speed 10). They whites will be very thick and glossy and the bowl should be completely cool the touch. If the bowl is not cool, continue beating until it is.
With the mixer running on high speed, add the butter to the bowl one piece at a time, waiting until each piece is incorporated before adding the next. After all the butter has been added, continue beating until the mixture becomes very thick and smooth and looks like frosting.
Add the almond extract and mix on medium speed for 10 seconds to fully incorporate. Switch to the paddle attachment and beat on low speed (2 or 4) to remove air bubbles from the frosting.
Assemble the cake:
Put the cakes on flat surface. Using a long serrated knife or a cake leveler (I have this one and I really like it), cut off the tops of the cakes so that their surfaces are flat. Put a small dollop of the frosting in the center of a cake stand or a cardboard round. Flip one cake over onto the stand/round so that what was originally the bottom of the cake is now facing up.
Spread the kumquat marmalade in a thin, even layer over the cake. Put the remaining cake on top of this layer with the cut side facing up (the bottom of this layer should still be the bottom).
If you are going to decoratively pipe the cake (I like to add a border of large stars), put ¾ cup of the frosting in a piping bag and set it aside.
Put ¾ cup of the frosting on top of the cake and evenly spread it in a thin layer all over the sides and top, making sure to fill in the space between the layers. Add a little more frosting if you need to. This layer will be very thin – it is the crumb coat. (The crumb coat does pretty much what its name implies – it seals in any loose crumbs so that your finished cake doesn’t have crumbs in the frosting. It also helps to seal in the moisture of the cake.) Put the cake in the fridge or freezer until the frosting is hard.
Remove the cake from the fridge/freezer, evenly spread the remaining frosting on the cake, and decorate with the reserved frosting.