Earl Grey Cake with Honey and Lemon Buttercream. Just the sound of it makes me mouth water and tingle.
Justin and I are in a constant fight about whether this moist, slightly bitter, tea flavored beauty or this dense, fresh blackberry cake (his perpetual birthday dessert) takes the cake for the most delicious layer cake. I’m staunchly in the corner of this cake, which gets a big kick of flavor from freshly made earl grey butter and tangy, homemade honey and lemon buttercream frosting.
I was pulling strongly from a cup-of-tea theme, if you hadn’t caught on, and needed to celebrate both a dear friend’s birthday and to practice my layering technique to prepare for my brother’s wedding cake. So this needed to look good and taste delicious. I have no patience for failure when I’m baking for other people.
This cake takes inspiration from Christina Tossi’s (of Momofuku) fantastic birthday cake. It is a moist cake with a nice fine crumb. Think a box cake, but packed with even more moisture and flavor. Baking with tea may seem intimidating if this is your first time, but it’s really simple. You’re essentially just melting down butter and steeping tea leaves in the butter, like making a buttery cup of tea.
My biggest piece of advice is to use more tea than you think you need. You don’t only want the butter to taste like the tea, you want the entire cake to taste like tea. So keep in mind that the butter is competing with the flavor of sugar and vanilla, not to mention the additional sugar, honey, and lemon in the buttercream. You want it to be the star of the cake, not a bit player.
If you don’t need a full out, two-tier cake, you can easily divide this recipe in half, or even thirds, and have a delightful cake.
Earl Grey Cake with Honey and Lemon Buttercream
Earl Grey Butter
- 110 grams butter at room temperature
- 2 grams loose leaf Earl Grey Tea
- 55 grams Earl Grey butter
- 60 grams shortening
- 250 grams sugar
- 50 grams brown sugar
- 3 eggs at room temperature
- 110 grams whole milk
- 65 grams grapeseed oil
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- 245 grams all-purpose flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 3/4 teaspoon salt
Honey Lemon Buttercream
- 8 ounces butter at room temperature
- 375 - 400 grams powdered sugar
- 1 lemon zested
- 4 tablespoons honey
Begin by making the Earl Grey butter. Melt 110 grams of butter in a saucepan, then add loose leaf tea. Simmer for 5 minutes over heat, then remove and let steep for 5 additional minutes.
Using a cheesecloth or mesh strainer, strain butter into a small bowl, pressing hard on the tea leaves to remove as much butter as possible. You will lose some here, which is why we're preparing more than the recipe requires. Pop the bowl into the refrigerator to firm back up a bit.
Give the butter about 8 - 10 minutes in the refrigerator. It should be solid, but still soft for the cake.
Preheat oven to 350.
Prepare two round 9-inch cake pans by buttering the sides and covering the bottom with a round disc of parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, and salt and whisk well.
Using a hand mixer on medium-high speed, combine the Earl Grey butter, shortening, sugar, and brown sugar in a large bowl and cream for about 2 - 3 minutes. Make sure to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times during this process. Add the eggs and mix on high for 2 - 3 more minutes. The mixture should be fully incorporated and fluffy.
Lower your mixer speed to low and slowly pour the milk, oil, and vanilla into your creamed sugar and butter. The mixture will be extremely wet and will not want to come together.
Increase your mixer speed to high and beat for 6 - 8 minutes. The mixture will be about twice the volume of your creamed sugar mixture and should be completely mixed together (no streaks of fat or oil visible). Tossi says this step is time-consuming because you're combining too much liquid into a very fatty mixture that is resistant to making room for the liquid. But it's worth the fight!
Lower speed to the slowest setting and add about a fourth of your flour mixture to the liquid mixture. Mix for about twenty seconds and once incorporated, add the second third. Mix another twenty seconds and add remaining flour. Mix until the batter just comes together, then scrape down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula.
Distribute mixture evenly between the two prepared cake pans and bake for 30 - 35 minutes. Begin checking around the 25-minute mark. Press the middle of cake lightly with one finger. If the cake springs back up after you've pressed, take it out of the oven.
When finished, cool on a wire rack.
To make the buttercream, beat room temperature butter (you could also use any remaining Earl Grey butter here!) with hand mixer until creamy. This should only take a minute or two.
On low, gradually add the powdered sugar, erring on the side of less powdered sugar. You're looking for a creamy, fluffy texture, but you want to avoid over-sweetening since we are also adding honey.
Once all sugar is added, increase speed of mixer to medium and mix until fully combined and fluffy.
Add honey and lemon zest and mix on low speed until fully incorporated.