Earl Grey Lavender Cake

Earl Grey and Lavender is surprisingly very popular. I’ve seen it around in cafés and have been dying to try it. I couldn’t really imagine how lavender tastes like, whether it will be like eating soap, and whether it pairs well with flavors like earl grey or honey. So when I stumbled upon some culinary lavender at a Japanese supermarket I had to try it out for myself.
I didn’t have an idea of how it was going to turn out, so I played safe and separated the flavors: earl grey cake with lavender buttercream. Just in case one of them did not work out. Both required infusing milk with earl grey or lavender.
In order to steep dried lavender into milk for the frosting, I went with a German buttercream. Instead of the usual butter+icing sugar concoction we are used to, the German buttercream is made by whipping butter into a custard base. I think I found a new favorite! It is as stable as the American buttercream, but much creamier, smoother, less sweet, and does not taste like pure butter. (I did only add enough butter to get a good consistency, and it turned out to be half of what the original recipe called for) The only downside is that it requires cooking and chilling the custard for two hours. Another tricky part is that the butter absolutely has to be at room temperature before incorporating into the custard. The first slice of butter I added was either still too hard, or the custard was too cold, and it did not blend well. I had to strain the mixture through a wire sieve to smoothen out the chunks. However, if you ever want a flavored buttercream that does not get overwhelmed by the amount of icing sugar required for texture, the extra work is definitely worth it.
Another thing I want to point out – layer cakes seem intimidating, but they are really not! If you are making a small layered cake, here’s a tip I learnt from Christina Tosi of Momofuku Milk Bar. Bake the cake in a 9 x 13 sheet pan, and when cooled, cut out identical circles. One of the layers will be imperfect, but just piece together pieces of cake to form a full circle. I marked out the schematic in the picture above. No cake leveler required, no multiple pans that don’t fit in the same oven, and the best part, all the leftover cake scraps that you can taste test! 😉
After you have your 3 circles of cake, it would be good to put them in the freezer for at least 10 minutes. It is a lot easier to work with cakes that are solid, not crumbly. Many bakeries pre-bake cake layers in advance, freeze, then frost as needed anyways. It has worked well for me too. The “thawing” process does not ruin the texture. In fact, frozen cakes maintain moisture amazingly. For this cake, I did not freeze it completely, just until the sides are firm and the cake won’t break. After that, sandwich the cake layers together with buttercream, and apply a thin layer of buttercream on all sides. This is called a crumb coat. Place it back to the fridge or freezer to firm up, then apply your final layer of buttercream. That’s how you get a neat, crumb-less finish on your layer cake.
Final taste test: loved the earl grey flavor, it came out so well with this recipe. When paired with the lavender buttercream, both flavors were mellowed, and neither was overpowering. For our first bite, we thought “ok… this is interesting…”, but then could not stop eating it. When the flavors developed even more the next day, it got even better. My family of 4 polished the 6-inch cake in 2 days… oops.
Earl Grey Lavender Cake
makes 1 9 x 13 rectangular cake, or 3 6-inch layers

Earl Grey Cake adapted from Sift and Whisk

3/4 cup (180 mL) whole milk
1 vanilla bean
4 bags Earl Grey tea
2 cups (250 grams) all-purpose flour
1 7/8 tsp baking powder
1 tsp finely ground Earl Grey tea leaves
½ tsp salt
0.75 cup (168 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
3 large eggs, at room temperature

Lavender German Buttercream

1 cup (240 mL) whole milk
1 tablespoon dried culinary lavender
¾ cup (150 grams) granulated sugar
2 tablespoon (15 grams) cornstarch
1 egg
1 egg yolk
200 grams unsalted butter, sliced, at room temperature
pinch of kosher salt

To make earl grey cake:

Add milk to a small saucepan. Split the vanilla beans, scrape the seeds into the milk, and add the scraped pod to the saucepan, as well. Bring the milk to a simmer over medium low heat. Remove pan from heat and add tea bags. Cover the pan and let steep for 20 minutes. Remove tea bags, squeezing them to get as much liquid back into the milk. Remove vanilla bean pod. Pour milk into a measuring cup and make sure you still have 3/4 cup of milk. If the liquid has reduced, add a bit more milk so you have a full 3/4 cup. Let the tea milk cool to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350°F and line your cake pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, ground tea leaves, and salt, then set aside. In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 5-6 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing until fully incorporated after each addition, scraping down the sides and bottom of the bowl as needed.

Pour in the flour mixture in three additions, alternating with the tea milk, starting and ending with the flour mixture. Mix until the final bit of flour is just combined.

Transfer the batter on the prepared cake pans. Bake for 20-30 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center of the cake comes out clean. Cool the cake in their pans on a wire rack for 15 minutes, then carefully turn it out to cool completely directly on the wire racks.

To make lavender buttercream:

In a large saucepan, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat. Add the lavender, cover, and remove from heat. Let steep for 20 minutes. Strain out the lavender. Return the milk to a simmer over low heat.

In a large bowl, whisk together sugar, cornstarch, egg and yolk. Slowly pour about half of the milk into the egg mixture to loosen it up, whisking constantly with your free hand. Pour the egg mixture back into the saucepan with the remaining milk, whisking constantly, until combined.

Turn burner up to medium heat and whisk until the mixture thickens and bubbles start blipping up to the surface. Cook for another minute, timing accurately. The mixture will get quite thick. Transfer the custard to a large mixing bowl (preferably the bowl of your stand mixer if you have one, because you’ll be whipping it up in there later). Press plastic wrap against the surface of the custard and chill in the refrigerator until room temperature, about 2 hours. (You can also chill it overnight; it’s okay if it gets cold.)

Place the bowl of cooled custard onto your stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Whip on medium high speed until smooth and creamy. Begin adding butter, a few slices at a time. Add the salt and continue to whip until all the butter has been incorporated. Switch the paddle attachment and beat for a few more minutes, until the frosting is silky.

To assemble:

Cut out cake circles, and if necessary, level your cake layers with a serrated knife. Place one cake layer on a cake circle or plate. Add about a cup of frosting to the top of the cake layer and spread evenly over the surface with an offset spatula. Place the second cake layer on top, wiggling it around so the top is level. Repeat for the third cake layer. Work the remaining frosting over the top and down the sides of the cake with your offset spatula.

Garnish with fresh or dried lavender, if desired

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