Alright guys, first things first: Look. At. This. Cake.
Let me give you the lowdown: Fluffy Earl Grey vanilla bean cake. An Earl Grey-steeped milk soak to keep it moist. Silky chocolate frosting. Oh, and some crunchy milk crumbs mixed in there, a la Momofuku Milk Bar.
The idea of using Earl Grey tea in baked goods has compelled me for quite some time now. There’s something about that slightly citrusy, floral flavor of Bergamot that keeps me addicted. So when it came time to brainstorm a recipe worthy of that wonderful ingredient, I turned immediately to the Milk Bar-style layer cake.
To me, Christina Tosi’s infamous cakes are the perfect vehicle for any sweet flavor combo. They always consist of a cake, a soak, a frosting (or two!) and a crunchy element, which means 4 different ways to meld a bunch of ingredients. At Milk Bar, they make everything from the birthday cake that I recreated earlier this year to an apple pie cake to a chocolate malt version with charred marshmallows (I know, right?) While they take a bit of time and preparation, the finished product never ceases to be an impressive crowd-pleaser.
The day I made this cake, I knew everything had to be perfect–especially the photo shoot I would have afterwards. My photos are always important to me, but when they’re of something that took hours to make I know the pressure is really on. After all, no matter how amazing a writer someone is, their blog will (almost) always thrive on great quality pictures.
So I was in my backyard. This beautiful cake I had made was sitting on top of some reclaimed wood planks on our patio table and the shots were turning out good–all was well. I guess you could say I was in the zone. So “in the zone,” in fact, that I didn’t even think twice about stepping both feet up onto one edge of the oblong table, putting all of my weight onto a foldable side leaf.
Everything tumbled down with a crash: the cake, the wood, my pretty little white cake stand, and me. The cake stand was shattered, I was scraped up, but the cake? Totally fine. And hey, that’s all that matters right?
Soon I was back out in the yard, this time with a blue cake stand and a bit more caution to say the least. I swear, the things I do for this
insane wonderful passion of mine.
To make the cake, start by creaming butter, white sugar and light brown sugar in a stand mixer on medium high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula and add in some eggs, beating for another 2-3 minutes.
Next turn the mixer to low and stream in some grapeseed oil, 1/2 cup of tea milk (milk that’s been steeped with earl grey and vanilla bean), and vanilla extract. Now the important part: Turn the mixer back to medium high and beat for a good 6-8 minutes, until the batter is very pale and completely homogenous and there are no streaks of oil.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together cake flour, some tea leaves, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, add this to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour into a quarter sheet pan that’s been sprayed with baking spray and lined with parchment and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched lightly and is golden. Cool on a wire rack.
Meanwhile, make the frosting (recipe below)…
And these crumbs! They’re pretty much just tiny crunchy cookies made of milk powder and rolled in white chocolate. They’ll add some nice texture to the finished cake!
You’re ready to assemble! Use your cake ring to cut out two full circles and two (almost) half circles. The rest of the directions are below!
Earl Grey Vanilla Bean Layer Cake with Chocolate Frosting
Makes 1 tall 6-inch cake
1 6-inch cake ring (no, not a cake pan)
1 quarter sheet pan
For the cake and soak:
3/4 cup milk
1/2 vanilla bean
3 earl grey tea bags
1 stick butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
1/4 cup light brown sugar
1/2 cup grapeseed oil
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
3/4 teaspoon finely ground earl grey tea leaves
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
For the milk crumbs:
½ cup milk powder
¼ cup flour
2 tbs cornstarch
2 tbs sugar
½ tsp kosher salt
4 tbs butter, melted
¼ cup milk powder
3 oz white chocolate, melted
For the frosting:
6 ounces good semisweet chocolate
1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg yolk, at room temperature
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups sifted confectioners’ sugar
1 tablespoon instant coffee powder
For the cake:
First, make the soak: Split the vanilla bean down the middle and scrape out the seeds. Add the seeds and pod to a small saucepan and whisk together with the milk. Bring to a simmer over medium low heat, then turn off the heat and add the tea bags. Cover and let sit for 20 minutes before removing the tea bags, making sure to squeeze out any excess liquid. Add a touch more milk if it’s boiled down to less than 3/4 cup, then set aside to cool to room temperature.
Spray a quarter sheet pan with nonstick baking spray and line the bottom with parchment. Preheat the oven to 350 F.
Cream the butter and sugars in a stand mixer on medium high for 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl with a spatula and add in the eggs, beating for another 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the bowl again and turn the mixer to low. Stream in the oil, 1/2 cup of the tea milk, and the vanilla extract. Turn the mixer back to medium high and beat for a good 6-8 minutes, until the batter is very pale and completely homogenous and there are no streaks of oil.
In a separate medium bowl, whisk together the cake flour, tea leaves, baking powder and salt. With the mixer on low, add this to the wet ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour into the prepared sheet pan and bake for 30-35 minutes, until the cake springs back when touched lightly and is golden. Cool on a wire rack.
For the crumbs:
- Heat the oven to 250 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat.
- In a medium bowl, combine 1/2 cup milk powder, flour, cornstarch, sugar and salt. Add the melted butter and toss together until small clumps form. Spread clusters onto the baking sheet and bake for 20 minutes, or until the crumbs are sandy and just starting to brown. Cool completely.
- Put the crumbs in a bowl and toss them in the 1/4 of milk powder. Pour the white chocolate over the crumbs and toss every 5 minutes until the chocolate is no longer sticky. Set aside.
For the frosting:
Melt the chocolate (either in the microwave or over a double boiler) and set aside to cool to room temperature.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream the butter for 2-3 minutes, then add the egg yolk and vanilla and cream for another 2-3 minutes. With the mixer on low, slowly add in the confectioner’s sugar. Beat at medium speed until smooth, scraping the bowl as needed. Dissolve the instant coffee powder in 2 teaspoons of hot tap water and, with the mixer on low, add this to the frosting along with the chocolate. Stir until combined.
- Turn your cake out onto a piece of parchment and peel the top layer of parchment away. Use a 6-inch cake ring to cut out 2 circles, then cut half circles in the leftover cake (refer to the images above).
- Place the cleaned cake ring on a piece of parchment that’s been put inside a rimmed baking sheet and line the ring with a strip of acetate. To build the bottom layer, take the two halves you cut out and place them inside the cake ring, filling in the gaps with any extra cake. Use a pastry brush to layer on about half of the remaining tea milk. Spread on one fifth of the frosting and top with one third of the crumbs (I actually used a bit less). Spread on an even layer of another fifth of the frosting (you’ll need to apply a fair amount of pressure to keep the cake and crumbs from coming up), then take another strip of acetate and tuck it between the former strip and the cake ring. Place another cake layer inside the ring and repeat the cake soak/frosting/crumbs/frosting process.
- For the last layer, use up the last of the frosting in any way you want (I opted for a flat top), then decorate with the remaining milk crumbs. Place the sheet pan with the cake on it in the freezer for at least 12 hours so the cake can set. It’ll keep for up to 2 weeks in the freezer, or 5 days in the fridge (wrapped tightly in plastic wrap).
- 3 hours before you’re ready to serve, take the cake out of the freezer and pop it carefully out of the cake ring. Peel off the acetate and let it defrost in the fridge.