Thursday, October 23, 2008

Four Tea Cake

We made this cake for a British friend's fortieth birthday party -- a tea party, of course. I came up with the "four tea" idea pretty quickly. I figured I'd just cut a flat cake into an appropriate shape and "draw" four tea cups on it. I sketched something up, thought of some decorating ideas and was quite pleased with myself. Matt the architect objected, saying it was cheating to make a flat drawing, rather than using the actual shape of the cake. Intense interspousal negotiation ensued which finally resulted in a much better plan. Or at least more ambitious. Certainly more architectural. And full of learning opportunities.

The first question was how to make teacup-shaped cakes. We envisioned using 4 small metal bowls. They didn't have anything like that at our local cake decorating store, but they had something even better - a Wilton 6 Cup Kingsize Muffin Pan. (The only problem with the pan is that I can't imagine what else we might use it for.)

The highly experimental cake turned out better than we had any right to expect. We used the White Cake from The 1997 Joy of Cooking (White Cake 1 in earlier versions) and added some tea and lemon to the batter. Then we added chocolate to half the batter and made a marbled cake, with the idea that it would look reminiscent of tea with milk swirled in. We made four cupcakes and baked the remaining batter in a 9" round pan. (Recipe details are at the end of the post.)

The sour cream chocolate frosting (also from the 1997 Joy) worked as advertised. (Our commission included a specific call for chocolate, or we probably would have ventured in another direction.) The flavor of the frosting was a bit assertive in comparison to the delicate cake, but not incompatible. It took about half of the recipe to frost the single 9" round.

Decorating with coarse sugar and lemon zest was elegant, although the zest flew everywhere when the guest of honor blew out the candles. The effect was festive, if a bit chaotic.

Then there was the crockery. It ought to have worked. We considered the qualities of our materials. Matt made a jig...

...and a prototype.

The prototype used up all of our frozen sugar cookie dough. We weren't sure what recipe we had used for the frozen dough, but figured it wouldn't matter too much. (Edited to add: I think we have finally identified the mystery recipe. You can find it in the Holiday Cookie Making Party post.) So we picked a recipe and whipped up another batch the night before the party. And made bikini cups.

Tried another recipe a couple of hours before the party. Added extra flour. And made Jabba the Cup.

The lesson here is probably that cookies are meant to be cooked horizontally. Given the success of the prototype, I am still not ready to accept this. Had there been time, I probably would have tried using a gingerbread cookie dough that is specially designed for making gingerbread houses. Fortunately, there was no time for that quixotic venture, so Matt employed surgery to salvage one of the Jabbas...

...and I made the other two cups out of rolled marzipan.

We made a paper template to help in rolling out the marzipan. The handles tended to pull off under their own weight. They might have worked better had we been able to prop them up and let them sit for a day.

The cookie saucers (baked over a greased Pyrex bowl) generally worked better than the cups, but some of them required special decanting techniques as well.

We would never let cookies go to waste, so we served the broken crockery on the side.

As usual, we came up with lots of other ideas for materials. We cannot vouch for them as we haven't tested them (and apparently even testing provides no guarantee), but here they are for what they're worth.

  • Apply decorative bits to the cup and saucer to create a china pattern - slivered almonds, flattened gumdrops, marzipan shapes, cookie shapes, chocolate candies, etc.

  • Make the cups from pie crust (we are kicking ourselves for not thinking of this earlier).

  • Make cups by frosting the cupcakes. Make sure the frosting projects above the cake so your "tea" doesn't overflow. The saucers and cup handles should probably still be made of cookie or pie dough.

  • Pour a brown glaze over the cupcakes to simulate tea - maybe caramel sauce or a thin penuche frosting (this brown sugar brandy sauce looks good). This would work best with cookie or marzipan cups, unless your frosting cups set up really firmly.

  • Omit the cupcakes altogether and just fill cookie teacups with a light brown cloud cream per The Cake Bible (colored with maple syrup, perhaps).

  • Try different tea flavor combinations. Put macha powder in your cake and frosting for green tea. Make spice cake and gingerbread cups for chai.

  • Make coffee cups instead. Use a mocha cake and top with swirls of whipped cream.

Marbled Tea Cake

Starting from the White Cake recipe in The 1997 Joy of Cooking (White Cake 1 in earlier editions), we made the following modifications.
  • omitted vanilla

  • added zest of 1/2 lemon to butter and sugar

  • for the milk we substituted 1 scant cup double bergamot Earl Grey tea, cooled, 1/3 cup nonfat dry milk, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of lemon juice

    • if you wanted to keep the whole milk, you could omit the tea and add a tiny bit of oil of bergamot instead

      • you can buy oil of bergamot at the health food store in the essential oils section
      • bergamot is a citrus fruit that actually doesn't taste a bit like tea but is evocative of tea because of its use in Earl Grey
      • there is also a purple flower native to the Great Plains called wild bergamot, which is unrelated to the citrus fruit
  • added 1/4 teaspoon of baking soda to dry ingredients (to compensate for the added acid of the lemon juice and chocolate)

  • marbling

    • before adding egg whites, divided batter into two parts and added 2 ounces melted unsweetened chocolate to one part
    • then mixed half of egg whites into each half of batter
    • alternated spoonfuls of each into prepared cake pans and drew knife through to marble
By measuring the volume of our pans, we had previously determined that about 10% of the batter should go in each of 4 muffin cups, with the remaining 60% for the 9" round cake pan. We put a little water in the empty muffin cups to prevent warping.

In retrospect, we should have made an extra muffin. Usually, when you make a cut up cake, there are plenty of tasting opportunities. Since these cakes weren't cut up, we couldn't taste them until the party - that was hard on us. It also meant we didn't have any extra "canvas" on which to experiment. We might also have made the muffins slightly larger. Had we done that, the 9" round cake probably would have cooked for more like the advertised 25 minutes. As it was, it took a lot longer.

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Anonymous mingus said...

Oh, My gosh!! You two!

October 24, 2008 at 11:27 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The blowing-out-of-the-candles-with-lemon-flying-everywhere was a definite highlight :-).

October 24, 2008 at 2:14 PM  

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