Doesn’t Earl Grey Tea make you think of Victorian parlors, Anne Shirley reading books by the fire in her room at Windy Poplars, and Jo March scribbling away between sips from a beautiful but chipped cup? Do you think of Badger deep in his winter home in the Wind and the Willows, or Mr. Tumnus and Lucy enjoying a snowy afternoon tryst in Narnia?
It conjures up all kinds of images and fantasies that pull me back into all of those books I read when I was a child. It is a comforting tea, the deep flavor of the black with the bright citrussy bergamot scent dancing around your nose and staying just far enough away from your taste-buds to be tantalizing without being obvious. I have tried a lot of variations on the theme and I love them all. I even have a teacake recipe here on Restless Chipotle, so the idea of baking with this cozy beverage isn’t something new to me. I love the combination of Earl Grey and chocolate.
It speaks to me. No, really. It does. It says, “Come here, Marye. Relax, taste, ingest…”
And then when I am all happy, and warm, and Earl Grey cozy my body pipes up in a snarky tone, “Now, go work off those calories, missy.”
There is a definite tie between food and books for me. And I will be honest, I would rather read kids books and classics than modern fiction any day of the week. I was shy as a child – well I still am – and we moved several times. I think I would have been outgoing had we stayed in Pennsylvania. I had started school there and I knew everyone, everyone knew me. When we moved I had to start over and I just couldn’t find my niche. Just about the time I got comfortable we moved again and I think I gave up trying to be social and just retreated into my books.
Still, I have great memories of climbing high up in our old Seckle pear tree and reading while munching on the sweet, sugary flesh of the sun warmed pears – juice dribbling down my chin, hands sticky. It was fun to watch the bees get drunk on the slowly fermenting windfalls at the base of the tree, to feel the heat from the sun, and to hear all of those summer sounds that seem to be almost muffled in the heat. For some reason that tree was my safe place, a spot where I was absolutely not required to be anything other than I was. The scent of pears still takes me there.
And there were other things. You can’t read Farmer Boy without having your mouth water at the descriptions of the food being served. I know I couldn’t wait to be 18 and be old enough to taste blackberry cordial (the legal age for drinking was 18 when I was a teen). I still, to this day, check the vanilla bottle three or for times compulsively to ensure I don’t make Anne Shirley’s mistake with the lineament or iodine or whatever it was.
Earl Grey is my magical portal, my wardrobe, between my life and the lives of my friends that live in books. I can’t explain it — it just is. Anyway, now that I have talked your ear off about the tea I guess I should chat a bit about this recipe.
The cake is moist with the distinctive flavor of the tea and that evasive touch of orange which I enhanced with a little orange zest. Be sure not to cook these too long or they will dry out fast! Ask me how I know.
I decided on the classic Hershey’s Perfectly Chocolate Chocolate Frosting for the buttercream. I used the Hershey’s Special Dark cocoa for depth of flavor but I wanted that old fashioned kind of fudgy chocolate frosting, not the elegant Swiss buttercream. I guess it was a nod to my childhood and the characters in the books that I love. These could be fancy cupcakes but they aren’t. They are the kind you grab in the afternoon, or as an after school treat, or put in a lunch box. The cake is dense and won’t fall apart easily, the frosting is not going to melt off the top. I can guarantee this because it was well over 90 degrees when I took these pictures.
Get your favorite book, you don’t even have to climb a tree… just make a batch of these and be good to yourself.
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- 1½ cups sugar
- ½ teaspoon vanilla
- 3 eggs, room temperature
- 2 tablespoons orange zest
- 2 cups flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon baking soda
- ¼ teaspoons salt
- 1 cup buttermilk
- 3 Earl Grey teabags or equivalent loose leaf tea + strainer
- ½ cup unsalted butter, softened
- ⅔ cup Hershey's Special Dark cocoa
- 3 cups Confectioner's sugar
- pinch of salt
- 1 teaspoon of vanilla
- ⅓ cup milk
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
- Prepare 16 muffin tins by lining with cupcake liners or spraying with baking spray.
- Heat the buttermilk to just boiling.
- Add the teabags and steep for 15 minutes.
- Squeeze the bags out and throw them away.
- Let the buttermilk mixture come to room temperature.
- In a large bowl, cream together the butter and sugar until light and fluffy.
- Beat in the eggs one at a time, mixing well after each.
- Combine the flour, baking powder, baking soda,orange zest,and salt.
- Stir into the creamed mixture alternately with the buttermilk until just blended.
- Spoon into the prepared muffin tin.
- Bake for 15 - 20 minutes, or until the cake springs back when touched.
- Cool completely before frosting
- Beat the softened butter until creamy.
- Mix the cocoa and 2 cups of the Confectioner's sugar.
- Beat in enough of the remaining Confectioner's sugar to achieve a thick frosting.
- Add the vanilla.
- Add the milk a little at a time, if needed.
- Whip the frosting until fluffy.