They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Well it seems that Earl Grey tea was originally made as a copycat alternative to the expensive Chinese tea blends that were the height of sophistication in the early 19th Century. In essence it is just a normal black tea that has been flavoured with orange bergamot. It gets its name from an old Prime Minister – the 2nd Earl Grey. Legend has it that a grateful Chinese mandarin whose son was rescued from drowning by one of the Earl’s men presented the Earl with the original blend as a perquisite in 1803. The original formula was then passed on to Jackson & Co tea manufacturers in 1830. The secret recipe never left their hands and has been in continuous production ever since. Unfortunately, the story does not seem to stand up to close scrutiny. For two reasons. The use of bergamot oil to flavour tea was unknown in China at that time. And Earl Grey never set foot in China. Still. You can’t let the truth get in the way of a good marketing strategy, can you?
Take it out or leaf it in?
I’ve been wanting to try Earl Grey cake for a while now so I have quite a collection of recipes stacked up. For the most part they are all much of a muchness. They would usually have you scalding whole milk before adding either loose leaf tea or tea bags. You then leave the mixture to steep for a while before straining out the tea. It’s this infusion of milk and Earl Grey that will impart the tea flavour into the cake. That can be somewhat problematic because tea can be a bit delicate in the taste department. Even if the tea packs a wallop in the teapot it can be a difficult business getting the flavour to translate into your baking. You will be lucky to get the merest hint. And that’s why this recipe interested me. You see, there is no need to waste time with any of that time-consuming infusion nonsense. The finely chopped tea leaves are just added directly into the cake mixture. And that means maximum flavour for minimum effort. Or to put it another way, not only is this cake much quicker and easier to make. It should be a lot more taste tea.
Bag yourself a bargain.
A survey taken in 2010 revealed that quite a large number of people in the United Kingdom still regard Earl Grey tea as the preserve of the upper classes. Something to be drunk by the nobility while they are sitting in the drawing room of their 120 bedroom stately home, complaining about the proles. That may have been true in the past but you can buy decent Earl Grey for next to nothing these days. It’s common as muck. The tea bags I used for this cake were from Morrison’s own brand range for goodness sake. You can’t get much more down to earth than that. The packet had a whopping 100 tea bags for just £2.00. That works out at just 2p a bag. The leaves were already finely chopped so there wasn’t even any need for grinding them down. You just cut the bags open and you’re ready to go. To be fair, there was an element of you get what you pay for involved. The flavour needed a little bit of help in the orange bergamot department. Nothing too drastic. I just added some Valencian orange extract. Problem solved. Or as Mario Lanza almost sang: Valencia – where the orange trees forever mend the leaves inside the tea.
A tin to bake it in.
This is another recipe for the 1kg loaf tin. It would probably have been fine in the smaller 900g loaf tin too. If you want to chance it don’t let me stop you. You might just need to alter the cooking time accordingly. But I kind of like the way it turned out. The larger tin helps the cake rise more evenly for a wider and slightly shallower cake. In turn that gives the cake a much flatter top that makes for easier icing too. I should point out that although this cake was lovely and moist to start with, after a few days the dried tea leaves took their toll and started to draw the moisture out of the cake. You would be best to eat it fairly quickly to avoid the cake getting too stale. All in all, this Earl Grey made for a decent cake. And it doesn’t matter whether you are entertaining gentry or slumming it with the hoi-polloi. It’s great for a spot of afternoon tea. You don’t need to take my word for it though. Have a go at baking this cake and you will aristocra-see for yourself. Now here’s that recipe… Enjoy.
Earl Grey Loaf Cake.
- 5 Morrisons Earl Grey Tea Bags.
- 110g Margarine.
- 110g Greek Yoghurt.
- 300g granulated Sugar.
- ¼ tsp Salt.
- ¼ tsp Orange Extract.
- 3 Eggs.
- 230g Plain Flour.
- ¼ tsp Bicarb.
- 150g Icing Sugar.
- ¼ tsp orange Extract.
- Place a shelf in the centre of the oven. Preheat the oven to Gas Mark 4. Grease and flour a 1kg loaf tin.
- Grind the tea leaves from the tea bags using a pestle and mortar if necessary. The tea does not need to be a fine powder but there should be no big lumps.
- Place the tea, margarine, yoghurt, sugar, salt and orange extract in the bowl of a stand mixer.
- Beat on a low speed until just combined.
- Increase the speed to medium and cream together until light and fluffy.
- Add the eggs one at a time, beating well and scraping down the bowl after each addition.
- Sift the flour and bicarb into the bowl. Fold in using a large spoon until just combined, taking care not to over mix.
- Spoon into the prepared loaf tin. Bake for 50 minutes or until a skewer inserted into the centre of the cake comes out clean. Check the cake after 40 minutes and cover with foil if necessary. This cake browns quite quickly.
- Cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes then remove to a cooling rack to cool completely.
- Mix together the icing sugar with the orange extract and just enough water to form a thick and barely spreadable icing.
- Spread over the top of the cooled cake, taking care not to let it run down the sides of the cake.