One of the perks of having a test kitchen in the office is that, under the right hands, it turns into something of a gift to the office. Our test kitchen is managed by someone who is as talented as she is considerate. And, in much the same way that the kitchen is often the heart of the home, once a month the entire office gathers for a little celebration. The intercom summons everyone to drop their work and enjoy a few moments of delicious fun. We ‘ooh’ and ‘aah’ and then sing happy birthday.
When I said she is considerate, I wasn’t overstating it. Some people make flavor requests (coffee, lemon, maple, cornbread) while others want a specific type of treat (I’m partial to anything ice cream). She’s creative too. One fellow employee doesn’t really like sweet treats, so we’ve also enjoyed cupcakes made from cornbread, stuffed with pulled pork, and “frosted” with mashed potatoes. There was a chicken and waffle trifle and a ‘meat cake’ (which, I assure you, is much more delicious than it may sound). There are almost always multiple birthdays which means multiple treats, each made specifically to honor one of the birthday people.
So you’ll understand that I simply had to make a cake when it came time for her birthday. Now I didn’t want to spoil the surprise but I know that she appreciates a good cocktail and that one of her passions is tea (check out her blog Tea Foodie), so I had a pretty good idea of what direction I was heading.
I found a recipe that looked both promising and adaptable, then set about selecting flavors. I settled pretty quickly on Earl Grey, since it’s a tea that holds up well to milk and sugar and figured the citrus notes would work particularly well with a botanical liquor; so, gin it was. I wanted a quick glaze that I could whip together at work, so settled on the most basic: powdered sugar + liquid. Grapefruit seemed the perfect tart, citrus flavor and I boosted the floral notes by adding Tahitian vanilla (instead of the more conventional Madagascar or woody, spicy Mexican) – though if you wanted it a bit more boozy, a splash of Gin probably wouldn’t hurt.
The cake recipe is infinitely adaptable and turns out a finished product that is the perfect balance of light and dense, moist and crumbly. You can bet I’ll be making this again (and again, and again…)!
Gin & Earl Grey Tea Cake
Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens’ Rum-Vanilla Bean Bundt Cake
1/2 cup milk
1 Tbsp. Earl Grey tea*
1 vanilla bean (or 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract)
3/4 cup salted butter** + more for greasing bundt pan
2 eggs + 1 egg yolk
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour + more for flouring bundt pan
2 tsp baking powder
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup gin
* Note: Bagged tea should be ground finely enough to use (that’s what I did), but if you’re using loose leaf tea, you may want to crush/grind the tea a bit – as you’ll be using it in the cake too.
** Note: You can also use unsalted butter + heaping 1/4 tsp salt.
Directions: Combine milk, tea, and vanilla bean in a saucepan over medium-low heat. Bring to a simmer, then remove from heat and cover; let steep for 30-45 minutes on counter.
Meanwhile, set eggs and butter on counter for 30-45 minutes to bring to room temperature. This is especially important for the butter, as you want it softened. Alternatively, I’ve heard that you can bring a bowl of water to a boil in the microwave, dump out the water and invert the bowl over your ingredients. As the bowl cools, it will warm the ingredients. (I haven’t tried it myself but it sounds awfully clever!)
Once your tea/milk mixture has steeped and your butter and eggs are at room temperature, you’re ready to move forward.
Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
Prepare bundt pan by using additional butter and flour to grease and flour. Tip: use more butter than you think you need, it’ll help the cake come out easily.
In a large mixing bowl, beat butter for about a minute. With mixer running, slowly add sugar. Cream butter and sugar for about 10 minutes, until light and fluffy.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk together flour and baking powder. Remove vanilla bean from milk mixture and add gin to milk mixture.
Turn off mixer and add about 1/3 of the flour/baking powder to the butter. Beat until combined. Add half of the milk mixture, beating until combined. Repeat with remaining flour and milk, alternating and beating after each addition.
Pour batter into prepared bundt pan. Bake for 45 minutes or until top is golden brown and a wooden skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean.
Set bundt pan on a cooling rack for about 15 minutes before turning cake onto serving platter. Cake can be made a day ahead, cooled, and wrapped loosely with foil.
Before serving, pour glaze on cake.
Grapefruit Vanilla Glaze
1 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup fresh grapefruit juice
1 teaspoon Tahitian vanilla (or your vanilla of choice)
Optional: 1 tsp. gin
Directions: Place powdered sugar in a small bowl. Mix grapefruit juice and extract. In a small stream, slowly pour juice into powdered sugar, while mixing with a fork. Pouring the liquid in slowly as you mix will help prevent lumps in your glaze. When glaze reaches desired thickness, stop pouring juice in. To thicken, add more powdered sugar.