Cupcakes need two key things to work, in my opinion: a light and nicely flavoured sponge and a very well-flavoured, not-too-sweet icing that melts in the mouth.
Those dry sponge affairs with a mass of sickly icing that tastes of nothing other than sugar and cheap fat (mass-produced cupcakes: j’accuse!) are best only for the bin.
These cupcakes unapologetically veer towards the extravagant side of cupcakery, although they are easy to make – and if piping is not your thing, just spoon the luscious buttercream over the cakes! The wonderful flavour of Earl Grey runs throughout, courtesy of a very simple and highly effective Earl Grey tea butter in the sponge, which is also used in the buttercream.
The cupcakes are finished with a light Earl Grey tea syrup, which is gilding the lily somewhat, but as I had some cold Earl Grey tea left over in the pot, I didn’t want it to go to waste.
I normally go for a batter-type cupcake (the recipe for which is here), but this time I went for what is essentially a twist on a chocolate Victoria Sandwich sponge: for chocolate really does go well with tea.
I also made another, larger batch of the cake mixture and the buttercream for this month’s Clandestine Cake Club meeting: the terrific Alice in Wonderland theme had been given, and it was the 4th birthday of the group (the fabulous Fleet, Farnham & Farnborough group), so in keeping with the tea aspect of the Mad Hatter, I really had to use these flavours, along with a little decorative fun, to give my nod toward my absolute love of Afternoon Tea, too:
I will post on the Mad Hatter’s cake shortly, along with step-by-step instructions for creating the cake.
Earl Grey tea butter?
Oh yes. This is a very simple flavoured butter that is made up quickly and adds a much better tea flavour than whisking in tea that has been infused with water. It is excellent in cakes, icings and other bakes (it is particularly wonderful used in scones and spread over tea loaf).
For the flavoured butter, you melt butter with tea leaves. I went for Earl Grey here as it is the tea I drink more than any other type of tea, but any tea works. Let it simmer gently for about a minute or so before removing it from the heat and letting it infuse for about 10 minutes: basically a butter tea! The aroma is stunning.
You then strain the butter into a container, discarding the tea leaves that are collected, and leave the tea-flavoured butter to set. You then use it in exactly the same way as butter.
The butter can be made in large or small quantities, and it keeps very well in the fridge for as long as butter keeps!
This approach also works brilliantly using ground coffee to get a rich, coffee-butter: again, great used as the butter component in a cake as well as used in buttercream.
An Earl Grey buttercream
While the Earl Grey tea butter is excellent as the fat component to the sponge, it needs “diluting” a little with normal unsalted butter for the buttercream. You still get that wonderful Earl Grey tea flavour coming through, though, as well as lovely minute flecks of Earl Grey tea.
Top tip: to get one of the lightest, most mousse-like buttercreams in the simplest way, beat or whisk the buttercream for about 10 minutes: the more you beat it, the more easily the sugar dissolves into the butter, and the lighter the buttercream will be.
Base the other ingredients on the weight of the eggs
For the past few years, particularly when making Victoria Sandwich cakes, I weigh out the eggs (in their shells), using the number of eggs specified in a recipe as a guideline, and weighing the other ingredients to exactly that same amount. “3 large eggs” in a cake recipe, for example, gives a fair bit of variation, and by weighing the eggs and basing the other ingredients around that you get fool-proof cakes everytime.
That said, if you have never had cake issues, then stick to making cakes using the specified number and size of eggs.
- Use the amount of eggs specified in the recipe as a guideline eg) “3 large eggs”, and weigh them in their shells
- Whatever weight those eggs come to, use exactly the same weight in self-raising flour, sugar and butter.
- If using baking powder (for the all-in-one method to ensure lightness), go for 1 teaspoon per 100g flour.
- For chocolate cakes, split the weight of flour between flour and cocoa: twice as much flour as cocoa gives a rich chocolate flavour.
They can also be made gluten-free, by replacing the flour with gluten-free flour, which for cupcakes and general cakes works well as a 1-1 substitution (this approach is less effective in many other gluten-free bakes).
I use Dove’s gluten-free self-raising flour which has enough protein in it to give a good cake structure.
Recipe: Chocolate & Earl Grey tea cupcakes – makes 12
Earl Grey tea butter:
- 300g unsalted butter
- 4 teaspoons Earl Grey tea leaves
- 130g eggs, at room temperature (weighed in the shells – see note above): it is about 3 medium eggs, and the amounts below are based on the egg weight
- 130g Earl Grey tea butter (see above), softened
- 90g self-raising flour (or use gluten-free flour which works like a dream here)
- 40g cocoa powder
- 130g caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- the remaining Earl Grey tea butter (see above) – about 170g
- 100g unsalted butter
- 300-350g icing sugar
Earl Grey tea syrup (optional)
- 4 teaspoons Earl Grey tea leaves
- 150ml boiling water
- 40g caster sugar
(1) Make the Earl Grey tea butter (which can even be done several weeks ahead if preferred): put the butter and tea leaves in a small saucepan and heat slowly until the butter has melted. Bring to a simmer and simmer for a minute or two gently. Remove from the heat and leave to infuse for about 10 minutes. Strain into a small bowl and chill until set again.
(2) Make the cupcake sponge: pre-heat the oven to 160C (fan). Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into a bowl and add the other ingredients. Beat gently until just incorporated:do not over-beat, otherwise the cupcakes will be heavy.
(3) Spoon into cupcake cases, coming to about half-way deep.
(4) Bake in an oven for about 15 minutes until well risen and firm to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool in the tins.
(5) Make the Earl Grey tea syrup (which can be done several days ahead): put the tea leaves in a teapot or a small bowl and pour over the boiling water. Stir in the sugar until dissolved. Leave to cool fully. Strain this sweetened Earl Grey tea into a small pan, bring to the boil and simmer until you get a fairly thick syrup, that is still just pourable: don’t over-reduce to a caramel! Set aside until needed.
(6) Make the buttercream: beat the butters with the icing sugar until the sugar has dissolved and you have a very light, almost moussey buttercream. I tend to go for less icing sugar, resulting in a much more melt-in-the-mouth buttercream, but you can use more.
(7) Pipe or spoon the buttercream over the cupcakes and drizzle over some of the Earl Grey tea syrup.