Infused with a full-bodied Russian Caravan tea and finished with a ruffle of tea flavoured buttercream and faux tea leaves in the form of a few chocolate sprinkles, these simple Victoria sponge cupcakes are packed with flavour!
If you could gauge how quintessentially 'English' somebody is by the volume of tea they drink then I firmly believe that I'd be perhaps a little more 'English' than many others. I just love a good cup of tea; I drink it with all of my meals and many many times in between - you know elevenses and afternoon tea. A cup of the finest Rosie-Lee solves any problem, or so they say.
I usually brew up de-caffeinated teas these days due to the bucket load of tea I drink. I must admit it does have a slightly different flavour to regular tea but after a couple of cups I was sold. This said, I do still indulge in 'regular' tea twice a day; a green lemon tea after my evening meal rounds things off nicely. But of a late afternoon, when Chester, our feline friend is rounding me up wanting a fuss, we will sit on the sofa together with a couple of biscuits each and a teapot full of a good, full-bodied, Rosie-Lee.
Now, Mr E, knowing my love of tea, very kindly bought me a gift set of Whittard Teas (apologies for the Amazon link, we could no longer find the gift set in Whittard's on-line shop) a couple of years ago and remembering how much I had enjoyed them he spoilt me with another gift set of their teas this year. This year's gift set contained a slightly different collection of teas, however I was very pleased to see that it still held the Russian Caravan, arguably one of my favourite blends.
Russian Caravan Tea, as described by Whittard's packaging is an aromatic and full-bodied tea with a sweet & malty taste. Its name comes from the 17th century when camel caravans transported China teas to Europe. During the journey the teas apparently took on the smoky taste of the campfires. I understand that the Russian Caravan blend contains Assam for the malty taste and Lapsang Souchong for the smoky element. Now, I was actually surprised to learn that the Russian Caravan, which I love, contains the smoky Lapsang Souchong which, in all honesty, is a tea I can live without. If there ever comes a day when the only tea that becomes available is Lapsang Souchong then I will simply drink water and, perhaps, the occasional coffee! For me, I pick up more of the malty notes in the Russian Caravan than anything else, which is lovely. So, if you're not a lover of the smoky Lapsang Souchong don't let that put you off trying the Russian Caravan.
It occurred to me over the festive season that the Russian Caravan blend would be great if it could be encapsulated in the form of a cupcake. My quandary was how to go about imparting that flavour into the cake without actually popping the leaves into the sponge, that would simply be wrong - eugh! My first thought was to allow the tea to steep in milk, but that would only be useful had the sponge recipe included a decent amount of the white stuff and given that my chosen sponge was to be a Victoria this obviously wouldn't have worked. After a little internet surfing, many sites suggested placing the tea bags into melted butter to allow the flavours to impart and be caught. I tried this method and it worked well. The butter's colour was clearly darkened after the tea was infused but this reassured me that the method had worked. I used 300g of butter for the six cupcakes and frosting. This may sound somewhat excessive but after infusing the teabags in the warm butter and then allowing them to steep meant that the removed teabags held onto a fairly large amount of butter, despite trying to squeeze it out. In other words, after infusing the tea into the 300g of butter I was left with just over 200g of flavoured butter!
The tea flavour carried through beautifully in the cupcakes. I must admit that had we tasted them blind neither of us would necessarily know that they specifically contained the Russian Caravan blend, but that said you could certainly tell that the cupcakes and frosting carried a full bodied, malty, tea flavour. The cakes themselves were beautifully light, having been made with gluten free flour which I had experimented with a little in this post. As for the frosting, well it's a simple buttercream made with the tea infused butter. I tried to pipe the buttercream onto the cakes as a ruffle using a petal piping nozzle, No. 127, another gift from Mr E. I must admit I'm not terribly good at piping, it's one area I definitely need to develop, so if you want to try a ruffle for yourself this You Tube Video by My Cupcake Addiction demonstrates it really well. I then scattered a few chocolate strands on top of the cakes to, vaguely, resemble tea leaves! Well they do look likes tea leaves if you squint your eyes and imagine a little ;-)
Talking a little about Christmas gifts, I'm so excited about the main gift Mr E thoughtfully bought for me that I just have to tell you about it! Did you watch The Great British Throw Down back in the autumn? It was the pottery world's take off of GBBO. I was enthralled with it. I watched every episode and marvelled at their creations. Well, Mr E has excitedly bought me a set of 10 lessons to begin learning how to use a potters wheel! :-) Seriously, I can't wait until they begin. My home thrown tea service will probably consist of wobbly plates and leaking cups, but who cares as they'll be unique and full of character! There'll not be another set like it, with the same wobble and cracks ;-) I'll aim to tell you more about it all when the lessons start, that's if you want to know about it, or I'll probably just tell you all regardless out of sheer excitement! :-)
So let's get to it and bake!
Russian Caravan Cupcakes. Yum
Time: hands on time 20 minutes; plus 20 minutes bake time; cooling time; steeping time
Freezable: Yes, undecorated
You will need:Small Heavy Based Pan
Electric Hand Held Beater
Spatula or large Metal Spoon
Muffin size Paper Cases
Muffin Baking Tray
Piping Bag (optional)
Piping Nozzle (I used a petal nozzle, No. 127) (optional)
For the flavoured butter300g Unsalted Butter
4 Russian Caravan Teabags
For the sponge mixture90g Unsalted Butter, infused with the tea
45g Golden Caster Sugar
45g Caster Sugar
2 Eggs, lightly beaten
90g SR Gluten Free Flour (or regular SR flour), sieved
1 - 2 tbsp milk
For the tea infused buttercream120g Unsalted Butter, infused with the tea (or what ever you have remaining)
250g Icing Sugar (or to taste)
2 - 3 capfuls Milk
How to make them:1. Infuse the tea flavour into the butter. Cube the butter into the small heavy based pan, this will help it melt at an even rate rather than being in one large block. Sit the tea bags on top of the butter. Set the pan over a low to medium heat and allow the butter to melt. Once it starts to melt stir it periodically with a wooden spoon, being careful to not damage the teabags. Allow the butter to heat up until it is very warm for about 20 - 30 seconds (though not boiling). Stir again. At this point you will notice the butter is darkening due to the tea infusion. Turn off the heat. Allow the butter to cool, but continue to give it a gentle stir every 5 minutes or so.
2. Remove the teabags. Once the butter has started to solidify carefully remove the teabags. Aim to remove as much of the flavoured butter from them as possible by squeezing them (without damaging the bag as you don't want leaves in the butter). Discard the teabags.
3. Pre-heat the oven to 190c / Fan 170c / Gas 5. Place the muffin cases into the muffin tray.
4. Make the sponge. Place the soft, flavoured, butter (90g) and sugars into a good sized bowl and beat together with a wooden spoon or electric beaters until very pale and fluffy. Gradually add the beaten egg a little at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in the milk. Sieve the flour into the mixture. Using a spatula or large metal spoon fold this in gently.
5. Fill the muffin cases. Using a teaspoon, fill the cases with the batter mixture. You're aiming for them to be half to two-thirds full. You may decide to weigh each muffin to ensure equal sizes. Each cupcake will weigh about 60g.
6. Bake. Place the muffin tray in the centre of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes. You may need to rotate the tray after 15 minutes of baking. Once baked, remove from the oven and place on a cooling tray.
7. Make the buttercream. Place the remaining flavoured butter into a good sized bowl. Sieve most of the icing sugar into the butter. Use a wooden spoon to combine the two ingredients. Once combined beat well to create a creamy frosting. Taste and add more icing sugar if necessary. Add a little milk if the mixture feels particularly thick. (I added 2 capfuls)
8. Decorate the cupcakes. Once the cupcakes are completely cold beat the buttercream again for a few seconds. Place your chosen piping nozzle into the piping bag which has had a small amount cut from the piping end allowing the nozzle to fit snuggly. Half fill your piping bag with the butter cream. Decorate the cakes with your chosen style of piping. I attempted a ruffle. You may prefer to apply the frosting with a knife rather than piping it.
9. Sprinkle with chocolate strands. Once the tea flavoured buttercream has been applied, sprinkle a few chocolate strands on top of the frosting to mimic tea leaves.
Enjoy, with a good cup of tea of course ;-)
Post Script: Since publishing this recipe I have carried out a little Side-by-Side Baking experiment looking three different ways to capture tea flavour in sponges and which the preferred method is, according to my small army of tasters!
This post has been shared with
The Hedgecombers and Karen at Lavender and Lovage. This month is hosted by Janie and the theme is open.
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