Sorry New York Times! You are the best at all things food-wise, except tea. The sooner you embrace the microground, the better for all concerned.
This delicious tea cake combines a classic flavour trifecta: Earl Grey, orange and chocolate. It embraces good quality loose-leaf tea (quite right!) and it skips the unnecessary step of infusing the tea (bravo!). All in a lovely, rich, simple-to-make afternoon tea cake. But it could be better.
Microground tea is the key to this upgrade. If you’re new to this ingredient, microground is tea just very finely ground tea. Known as latte blend, tea powder, superfine tea, it is tea (or sometimes other botanicals) that has been slow-ground into incredibly small particles, almost to matcha specifications. (And no, you cannot do this in your food processor.) It has that same texture and resulting versatility, except it’s made with black tea instead of green. In this case, we are using Earl Grey.
I am not opposed to chewing tea leaves in a salad or with tea-pickled onions, but it’s a bit much in your cake. Especially mid-morning. And then you get a bit of bergamot flavour throughout, but more concentrated flavour in the leaves, and it’s just not the best approach.
Microground tea will disperse the tea flavour throughout the cake, evenly and seamlessly. You can add a little for a hint of flavour, and a lot for a wallop. I love adding this ingredient for its complexity. You could just source some bergamot oil and add a drop of that. But the tea leaf itself adds a maltiness and slight bitterness that rounds out and balances the other ingredients. Tea is also hydroscopic, so it add to the tenderness of the crumb and a touch more moisture.
Microground tea is also a wonderful ingredient for dairy-based dishes that don’t receive liquid well, such as custards, mousses, ganaches, meringues and whipped cream. I have used it in crème brûlée, cheesecake, cream cheese frosting and now, the NYT fabulous tea cake. Made more fabulous with microground Earl Grey tea.
One more thing: the NTY frosting recipe incorporates mascarpone into lightly whipped cream. By adding it in at this point, you can be left with lots of little tiny mascarpone lumps. But the recipe warns you not to overmix. Thus, I have switched up the order according to the instructions of the Original Kitchen Goddess Herself, the Cake Bible Lady, Rose Levy Beranbaum. She would have you mix the sugar (and tea) into the mascarpone first. This results in a nicer, smoother texture, not a lump to be found.
- ¾ cup heavy cream
- 1 tsp microground Earl Grey tea
- ¼ cup superfine or granulated sugar
- ½ cup mascarpone
- ½ cup unsalted butter (1 stick), at room temperature, plus more for greasing the pan
- 1⅓ cup all purpose flour
- 2 tsp microground Earl Grey tea
- 1 tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp, heaping fine sea salt
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 tsp freshly grated orange zest (from 1 large orange)
- 2 large eggs, at room temperature
- ½ cup whole milk, at room temperature
- ¼ chopped dark chocolate (use best quality, bean-to-bar for best results)
To make cake
- Prepare the cake: Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter an 8-inch round cake pan and line with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, tea, baking powder and salt.
- In large bowl, beat the butter and sugar with an electric mixer on medium until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the orange zest and beat to combine.
- Add the eggs, one at a time, and beat until combined, scraping the sides of the bowl as necessary.
- Beat in the flour mixture on low, until just combined, then beat in the milk. (Don’t overmix.)
- Add the chocolate and fold it in using a spatula.
- Transfer the batter to the prepared pan and smooth the top.
- Bake just until a toothpick comes out with moist crumbs attached, 30 to 35 minutes.
- Transfer to a rack to cool for about 15 minutes. Then tip the cake out onto the rack to cool completely.
To make frosting
- Stir together sugar and microground tea. Place it a mixing bowl with the mascarpone and beat on medium speed with a whisk attachment.
- Slowly pour in cream, beating continuously. If it curdles, keep going, it will smooth out again.