This is perhaps the most ladylike cake I’ve ever created. Just looking at it, covered in a tender and fragrant tea-infused frosting, layered with delicate slivers of lemon and vibrant sprigs of lavender and rosemary… it makes me dream of sipping tea in an English garden with Kate Middleton and Elizabeth I (yes, the first one) simultaneously.
But for those of us who don’t have an English garden OR a time machine OR a friendship with either one of those dames, yet still want to feel prim and proper and fancy and fabulous, there’s this cake.
As with most of the food I make, I was inspired simply by what I had on hand. Which was a gargantuan bag of monstrous lemons from Costco. That, as well as a brick of cream cheese, and a brand new bag of loose leaf British breakfast tea. When I saw the lemons, I pondered a tart, or a quick bread, or maybe a tin o’muffins. But no, those weren’t fabulous enough. We needed a cake. It had been far too long since I went to battle with a layer cake.
So here you have it. At its base, it’s a simple lemon layer cake, tweaked just a teensy bit from Martha Stewart’s classic recipe. The cream cheese frosting is absolutely delicious and beautifully decadent, but with a twist. I steeped about three bags of Earl Grey in half a cup of warm heavy cream for a good 15 minutes, removed them and squeezed out alllll the juices, then let it chill. I used that with the basic cream cheese and butter base for the frosting, et voila – a tea-infused frosting.
When I first saw the idea for a tea-flavored frosting on almighty Pinterest, I immediately wrote it off as hipster nonsense. Buuuuuut this is incredibly subtle and delicious – the effect of the tea is more aromatic than anything, like a happy little flavor afterthought on the larger landscape of an always-perfect cream cheese frosting. Dependent on your love of British tea, you can increase the potency by adding an extra bag, decrease it by losing one, or just forego the tea component altogether.
The end product looks refined and worthy of high tea, but it’s painless to make. Fresh lemon slices make for a gorgeous topping, and I decided to capitalize on the fragrant herb-iness of the tea by adding fresh sprigs of lavender and thyme from our garden (where I discovered some creature – perhaps a mole or raccoon? – had a savage vendetta against our chives and tore them to bits. Furry bastard.)
So enjoy, friends! With summer upon us, this cake is the perfect bright and light dessert for baby showers, dinner parties, or Netflix nights on the couch in your stretchiest stretchy stretch pants.
I’ll give you one guess as to which one I will be doing.
Lemon Cake with Creamy Earl Grey Frosting
For the Cake
- 2 sticks unsalted butter at room temperature
- 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
- 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 tablespoon lemon zest
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 2 cups sugar
- 2 large eggs and 3 large egg yolks
- 1 cup buttermilk
For the Icing
- 16 oz cream cheese softened
- 8 oz 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- 1/4 cup heavy cream
- 3 bags of Earl Grey tea or your favorite black British tea
- 5 cups powdered sugar
- Sprigs of lavender and rosemary
- 1 lemon thinly sliced
- To make the cake, beat the butter and sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes.
- While the mixer is running on low, add each egg one at a time, waiting to add the next until the first is incorporated. Mix in the lemon juice.
- Mix the flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and lemon zest together in a bowl. With the mixer running on low, add the flour mixture and buttermilk in increments, starting and ending with the flour mixture.
- Once the batter is all combined, prepare 3 8″ cake pans with baking spray. Divide the batter evenly between the 3 and smooth the tops. Bake in an oven heated at 350 degrees Fahrenheit for about 25-30 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool completely before turning out of the pans.
- Once the cakes are completely cool, prepare them for assembly by using a long serrated knife to cut off the domed tops. Reserve the tops and crumble between your fingers into crumbs.
- To make the frosting, heat the 1/4 cup of heavy cream in a microwave for about 30 seconds. Add the tea bags to the cream and steep for about 15 minutes. Remove and squeeze out the extra juices. Place in the fridge and bring back to a chill.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and cream cheese together on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the tea-infused heavy cream and mix together for another minute.
- With the mixer running, add the powdered sugar in 1/2 cup increments. The frosting is finished when you can scoop a bit out with a spatula and hold it upside down without it moving. You may need to use more or less than 5 cups of powdered sugar to reach your desired consistency.
- To assemble the cake, place the bottom layer on an 8″ cake circle or a cake plate. I like to use a piping bag with a large opening to control how the icing goes on. Spread a layer of icing between each of the cake layers. Next, do a very thin layer of icing all around the cake to catch the crumbs. Refrigerate for about 30 minutes. Once the cake is chilled and a little hardened, use the piping bag to finish fully icing it. Use a spatula to give it a textured finish.
- Hold the cake over the sink and press the reserved crumbs to the bottom quarter of cake. Place the sliced lemons around one half of the cake, and place the sprigs around the other half, or on the base. Keep refrigerated for up to a week.