A big mug sat in front of me, lemon seeds dotting the surface. Sugar crystals lay beside the mug, spilled onto the table despite my deliberate watchfulness to not spill any. It wasn’t as much carefulness as prolonging the time until I would have to touch my lips to the concoction in front of me. The brown mug, covered with spider-vein like cracks held a drink that I despised: tea.
Almost every morning for fourteen years I was faced with a mug of tea. It was the reason that I didn’t want to get out of bed. It was a jolt of caffeine that tasted like water. I can understand why people drink coffee, but tea? I wasn’t a big fan. The black leaves that sat in the bottom of the cup, like bitter shreds of confetti, were avoided at all costs as I took sips from the cup.
As the amount of tea in the cup went down I drank more carefully, and slowly, to avoid the shreds of leaves. Whenever I came close to finishing a cup I placed it aside, black leaves successfully avoided. Unfortunately I was often prompted to take another mouthful. I acted like a sieve, separating the bitter leaves from the fluid they brewed in. It wasn’t how I liked to spend my mornings.
A few years ago I put my foot down. Or rather, my mug. I refused to drink the vile liquid it contained. It was an uphill battle to convince my parents to stop brewing tea for me each morning. They argued that everyone started their morning with a cup of tea, and that I wouldn’t be able to function without one. While I had believed that argument at first, I later realized that no – not everyone drank a cup of tea in the morning. I also realized that my parents and more than a billion people like them had become addicted to the caffeine and were no longer able to make rational decisions about tea drinking.
I drank tea less and less until I was no longer faced with a mug each morning. It wasn’t as much saying that I wouldn’t drink tea anymore as avoiding the cup each morning. Eventually, however, the cup no longer greeted me each morning. I was free!
Now though, I realize that tea can be pretty awesome. I realized that it wasn’t that I didn’t like tea; it was that I didn’t like the tea that I had each morning. I still can’t drink black tea without remembering the brown mug with its spider-vein like cracks but other teas are a different story.
Earl Grey is one of my favourite flavours of tea, a black tea with a distinctive flavour and aroma from oil extracted from the rind of a bergamot orange. It isn’t black tea, it’s orange tea. It’s awesome orange tea. Earl Grey is a flavour that matches well with both chocolate and maple and that is what makes it a perfect base for a cake. The delicate flavour of Earl Grey is not overpowered by the chocolate but instead enhanced with it and the maple meringue is also a subtle but tantalizing flavour that compliments the cake.
- 2 Earl Grey tea bags
- ¾ cup boiling water
- 8 egg whites at room temperature
- ½ tsp cream of tartar
- 2¼ cups pastry flour (or 4½ tbsps cornstarch and 2 cups minus ½ tbsps flour)
- 1½ cups sugar
- 2½ tsp baking powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- 5 egg yolks
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 1 tsp finely grated lemon zest
- 3 oz milk chocolate, chopped and melted
- 4 egg whites at room temperature
- 1 tsp cream of tartar
- 4 tbsp sugar
- 1½ cup pure maple syrup
- 1 tsp vanilla
- Preheat the oven to 325 F. Keep three 9-inch pans ungreased. Steep the tea bags in the boiling water, until the water cools to room temperature. Remove the bags, without squeezing out excess liquid, then top up the water to its original ¾ cup measure. Whip the whites with the cream of tartar and sugar until the whites hold a medium peak. Set aside. Sift the flour, the remaining 1 ¼ cups of the sugar, the baking powder, and salt into a large bowl or into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whip attachment. Add the cooled tea, the vegetable oil, egg yolks, vanilla and lemon zest. Whip this mixture on high until it is thick, about 4 minutes. Add the melted milk chocolate and whip in on low speed. Fold in half of the whipped egg whites by hand until they are incorporated, then fold in the remaining whites (the batter will be quite fluid). Bake the cake layers for 50 to 55 minutes, until the top of the cake springs back when gently pressed. Invert the cake pan onto a cooling rack and cool the cake upside down in its pan. To extract the cake, run a spatula or knife around the outside edge of the cake, then tap the cake out onto a plate.
- Whip the egg whites with the cream of tartar and sugar to a soft peak. Bring the maple syrup to a boil and cook uncovered and without stirring until it reaches a temperature of 242 F (softball stage) on a candy thermometer. While beating on medium speed, carefully pour the maple syrup into the meringue by pouring it down the side of the bowl (this will help prevent splashing of hot syrup) and continue whipping until the mixture has cooled but is not quite room temperature, about 3 minutes. Stir in vanilla.
- Level the layers of the cake using a serrated knife and then place into the fridge until cold. Use a spatula to spread the meringue over the entire surface of the first layer of the cake. Place the second layer of the cake on the frosting and then repeat. Frost the outside of the cake and remove the extra frosting to crumb coat the cake to avoid crumbs getting into the outer layer of frosting. Place in the fridge for half an hour and then frost with the remaining frosting.