There's a little tea shop towards downtown St. Louis that has the best Earl Grey tea. Even better, the tea and the scones there remind me of my travels in England. I'm more into coffee than tea, but I do enjoy chai regularly and in the colder months Earl Grey is one of my favorites. My Earl Grey cake with honey buttercream and blackberry caramel is perfect for tea lovers (and even non tea lovers!) in your life. Flavored with orange zest and Earl Grey tea, this cake is tender and moist. It's filled and topped with light and silky honey Swiss meringue buttercream, and topped with blackberry caramel sauce, fresh figs, blackberries and sugar blossoms.
What is Earl Grey tea?
Earl Grey is most commonly a black tea flavored with bergamot, orange and other citrus depending on the blend. Sometimes there's also lavender, rose petals or cornflowers found in some blends. But the bergamot is what makes Earl Grey distinctively Earl Grey. Earl Grey is used in baking often for it's unique, delicious flavor and as it pairs well many different flavors.
Recently, I discovered the amazingness of fruit caramel. Essentially it is fruit purée mixed into caramel. Nearly any fruit can be used (blackberry, orange, strawberry are my personal favorites) and like traditional caramel sauce, it's made fairly quickly and can be stored in the fridge to use on ice cream, pancakes, cocktails and more. It's an absolutely fabulous way to add color and flavor to a drip cake, or filling, and really amp up a caramel sauce.
You don't have to remove the seeds or pulp from the blackberries, but strained blackberry purée will give you a smooth caramel that is easiest and prettiest to use on a drip cake. Purée the blackberries in a blender. You can add a tablespoon or two of water if the berries are having a tough time fully blending. Strain the blackberries through a fine mesh sieve, getting out as much purée as possible. There should be about one-ish tablespoon of seeds and pulp left after straining. Combine the sugar and caramel in a saucepan on the stove and let it cook until amber in color. Remove the caramel from the heat and whisk in the strained purée. If the caramel clumps up a bit, place the saucepan back on the stove on low heat and whisk until smooth and melted. Cool the caramel at room temperature.
How to make Earl Grey cake
This cake. It was so good, that after doing the first recipe test for the cake, my whole family ate it warm out of the oven. Even my littles, who don't like tea at all. It's soft and delicate with a tender, tight crumb and fragrant of Earl Grey and orange.
To get ample Earl Grey flavor, the tea is steeped in milk. This is way to get concentrated Earl Grey flavor without having to load the cake with tea leaves. Finely ground tea is also added to the batter as well as orange zest for ample flavor.
Butter is mixed into the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse bread crumbs. Mixing the butter into the dry ingredients coats the flour, preventing too much gluten formation. Then, a small amount of the milk mixture is added, just until the dry ingredients are *just* moistened and the mixture is beaten on medium-high for two full minutes until lightened in color, and thick like soft-serve ice cream. This mixing is crucial as it helps to form the structure of your cake. The remaining wet ingredients are added in three parts. The cake batter will be a bit on the thicker side.
You will also notice, a scale is also required for this recipe. Scratch cakes can be tricky to make sometimes, and the baking science is very important in the making and baking of scratch cake. We need cakes to be consistent in taste and texture, and bake up with no problems – no sinking, no overflowing, no rubbery layers, etc. A scale is key in getting consistent results. I use this one from Amazon. This recipe will not work if you convert it to volume (cups) measurements.
I also do not recommend using this recipe for cupcakes. This recipe is designed to bake up somewhat flat, and is also more compact, particularly for layer cakes. This recipe makes 3-8" layers or 2-8" taller layers that can be torted.
Honey Swiss meringue buttercream
Egg whites, honey, and granulated sugar are heated in a bowl over a pot of simmering water. This process is to cook the egg whites and melt the sugar all while whisking continuously to avoid any scrambling. Once the egg white mixture reaches 160F, it is strained through a sieve into a stand mixer mixing bowl and using the whisk attachment, beaten until stiff peaks form and the bowl is room temperature to touch. At this point, softened butter is popped in piece by piece and then, and you leave it to mix on low for a bit. It’s important to mix on low as to not incorporate air. Incorporating air into your buttercream can cause and contribute to cake disasters, such as blow-outs, air bubbles and sinking.
It’s quite possible your buttercream will look curdled, or super deflated. Keep mixing and it will come together into creamy, silky and smooth Swiss meringue buttercream. Mixing the buttercream on low for a while allows it to fully incorporate, and eliminates air pockets – which is super important if you’re making a fondant covered cake. It also helps creates that super silky, creamy texture. Add in the salt and vanilla and it's ready to be used.
Reverse creaming cakes can be delicate, so they are easiest to layer, carve, stack, etc. when they are chilled. I always chill my cakes before layering and filling. Less likely chance they'll split or fall apart, and they're easier to handle. Refrigerating well-wrapped cakes WILL NOT dry them out. More on that in a future post.
Once you have filled and frosted your cake, pipe on the blackberry caramel around the edges of the cake. The caramel will also act as a glue for the berries and figs that will go on top. I used fresh figs and blackberries for this cake as they go well with Earl Grey, but you can totally use any combination of fruit you would like. I also added some sugar blossoms to fill in some areas and make it a bit more tea time ready.
I hope that you enjoy this cake as much as I do! If you make it, let me know and leave a comment or tag me on Instagram.
For more layer cake recipes, check out these posts:
Earl Grey Cake with Honey Buttercream and Blackberry Caramel
Earl Grey Cake
- 16 oz (490ml) whole milk
- 6 tea bags Earl Grey tea or 4 tablespoons of looseleaf tea
- 4 large eggs, room temperature
- 2 oz (57g) canola oil
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- 14 oz (397g) cake flour
- 14 oz (397g) granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon + 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 2 teaspoons Earl Grey tea, finely ground
- Zest of one large orange
- 8 ounces (226g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup (170g) fresh blackberries
- ½ cup (100g) granulated sugar
- 2 tablespoons water
Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream
- 9-10 (300 grams) egg whites
- 1 ¼ cups (250g) honey
- 1 ¼ cups (250g) granulated sugar
- 3 ½ cups (793g) unsalted butter, room temperature
- ¼ teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
- Fresh blackberries and figs
- Candied oranges, optional
Make the Earl Grey Cake
- Heat the oven to 350F. Prepare your cake pans. Brush the bottoms and sides of your cake pans with melted butter. Line the bottoms and sides with parchment paper.
- In a medium saucepan, bring the milk to simmer until bubbles just start to form around the outside. Remove the saucepan from the heat.
- Place the 6 tea bags into the hot milk and push them down with a spatula to submerge them.
- Let the tea bags steep in the milk for 30 minutes.
- Remove the tea bags, wrapping each around the end of a wooden spoon to get as much milk out as possible.
- Measure out 12 oz/355ml of the tea milk into a measuring cup. If you don't have exactly 12oz, use regular milk to top it off.
- To the tea milk mixture, add the eggs, oil and vanilla and whisk to combine.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking powder, salt, tea and orange zest. On low speed, mix for 1 minute.
- With the mixer still running, add in the softened butter pieces, a few pieces at a time. Mix until the mixture resembles cornmeal. You should be able to gather a bit in your hand, squeeze and you have a solid piece. This means the butter is evenly distributed.
- With the mixer still on low, slowly pour some of the milk/egg mixture into the bowl JUST to moisten the ingredients, about 4 oz or ½ cup of liquid.
- Turn the mixer speed to medium (4 or 6) and whip for *two full* minutes. The mixture should be whipped up, thick, and lighter in color. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure everything is properly mixed.
- With the mixer speed on low, add the remaining wet ingredients in three parts, scraping down the bowl after each addition.
- Once all the wet ingredients have been added, give the bowl a final scrape and mix with a spatula. Evenly divide the batter among the prepared pans.
- Bake the layers for 35-45 minutes. Check the cake at 30-35 minutes to test for doneness. If a toothpick comes out clean, and the top of the cake feels springy and set when touched, take the cakes out.
- Tap the cake once, firmly against the counter to remove excess steam. If your cakes dome at all, use a clean kitchen towel to gently push the domes down. Cool the cakes for 15 minutes in the pans.
- Run a palette or butter knife around the cakes in their pans before turning them out to cool completely on cooling racks.
- Wrap the cakes in plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator a couple hours to firm up.
Make the blackberry caramel
- Place blackberries in the bowl of a food processor and process until pureed. Strain through a fine mesh sieve set over a medium bowl, getting as much from the pulp as you can. Discard the solids.
- In a medium sized saucepan, combine the sugar and the water. Stir just until combined.
- Place the saucepan over medium heat. Let the sugar mixture cook, without stirring, until the sugar mixture turns a rich amber color. Take the mixture off the heat to stop the cooking process.
- Whisk in the blackberry purée. If the caramel seizes, put in back on the stove on low heat, and whisk until smooth.
- Let the caramel cool in the pan for 10 minutes before transferring to a glass jar to cool completely.
Make the honey Swiss meringue buttercream
- Weigh out egg whites, honey, and granulated sugar together in a non-reactive bowl, clip a candy thermometer onto the side of the bowl and place over a pot of simmering (not boiling) water, whisking constantly and gently until temperature reaches 160F.
- Using a sieve, strain the egg white/sugar mixture into the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Mix on medium speed with the whisk attachment until the mixture is glossy, reaches stiff peaks and the outside of the bowl is no longer warm. You cannot add butter to the bowl if it is warm or the butter will just melt when added.
- Once the mixture reaches stiff peaks, switch out the whisk attachment for the paddle attachment and begin mixing on low speed.
- Add the softened butter cubes, a couple at a time, until incorporated. Now, just let it mix. It might curdle or look lumpy but that’s ok. Keep mixing. This could take some time.
- The buttercream is ready when it is smooth, satiny and creamy. Keep mixing on low and add the salt and flavorings. Mix until everything is fully incorporated.