Earl Grey and lemon layer cake

This month it has been Mr Colonial Cravings birthday! He’s really quite old now, so to soften the blow a little I decided to go all out and bake him a fancy cake that I knew he would love. He is an absolute tea addict so I was pretty sure that he would love a cake that was flavoured with tea of any kind. (For a birthday treat we actually went to the only tea plantation in the US. That man knows how to live it up, I tell you!)

He is also pretty particular about which kinds of tea should be served with milk and which should not so I played it safe and paired the Earl Grey in this with zingy lemon. I’ve said it before but Swiss meringue buttercream is SO superior to the usual ‘chuck all the ingredients in a bowl and beat it together’ type. It really is worth the extra effort when you’re baking for a special occasion. The results are so rich and creamy and I think that you get much better flavour from it than just an overwhelming sweetness. I think that it complements the delicate flavours of the tea perfectly.

If you want to make the Earl Grey influence a bit more subtle then just use one teabag, instead of two. It’s also worth bearing in mind that Swiss meringue buttercream does melt quite easily so you’ll need to keep the cake cool.

Earl Grey and lemon layer cake

Ingredients
serves 16(ish)

Sponge
1-2 Earl Grey tea bags, emptied out and the leaves ground up very finely
1 tbsp boiling water
120g butter, softened
350g sugar
350g flour
1 1/2 tbsp baking powder
pinch of salt
300ml milk
3 eggs

Lemon Swiss Meringue Buttercream
3 egg whites
150g sugar
200g butter (cut into small pieces)
juice and zest of 1 lemon

Earl Grey and lemon layer cake

To make the sponge you need to pre-heat your oven to 190°c and grease and line three standard size cake tins (I think mine are about 8-9″).
Use a pestle and mortar to grind up the tea so that you have a fairly fine powder and use 1 tbsp of freshly boiled water to make it into a paste. Leave this to cool.
Sift together the flour and baking powder and combine this with the salt and sugar ensuring that they are well mixed. Beat this dry blend into the softened butter until you have something that looks a bit like damp sand.
In a separate jug, whisk together the eggs and milk before incorporating the Earl Grey tea paste. Add half of this to the dry mixture and beat it together well. Add the remaining liquid and beat again to combine it all and leave you a fairly runny batter. Divide this evenly between the three prepared cake tins, level off the surfaces and pop them in the oven, all on the same shelf if your oven is big enough.
Bake the sponges for around 20 minutes, so that they are risen and golden brown, and if you poke them with a skewer or cake tester it comes out clean. Carefully turn the sponges out onto a wire rack and leave them to cool.

Earl Grey and lemon layer cake

Start on the Swiss meringue buttercream by putting the egg whites in a spotlessly clean bowl over a pan on gently simmering water. Add the sugar and use a hand whisk to whip them continuously whilst they heat up. They should become quite foamy and when they are ready to come off the heat, they will feel hot to the touch and the sugar should be totally dissolved.
Take the bowl off the pan of water and use an electric whisk to whip the meringue until it is thick and glossy. If by this stage the base of the bowl has dropped to room temperature(ish) then you can start to whisk in the butter, a couple of pieces at a time. Continue to whip the buttercream until you have incorporated all of the butter and it is thick, smooth and creamy. Whisk in the lemon juice, a splash at a time to check the flavour. Keep the zest for decoration.

Assemble the cake by covering the tops of all three sponges with the butter cream and then stacking them carefully on top of each other, making sure that the best looking one is on the top. Transfer any remaining butter cream to a piping bag and pipe little rosettes around the edge of the top layer. Sprinkle on the lemon zest for a final touch.

Earl Grey and lemon layer cake