Earl Grey Velvet Cupcakes

by horseradishsauce

I found this Earl Grey Red Velvet Cake recipe a while ago and I’ve been wanting to try it. My friend had a Mary Kay party yesterday, so I decided to make these. The majority of people at work are Army guys who eat frozen food or eggs and protein powder for the majority of their meals, and they tend to class all food into “good” or “bad”, which is not the audience you want to try out new and unusual recipes on.

‘The Island of Dr Gâteau’ is a very cool blog by a cognitive neuroscientist who experiments with food and writes about the biology and psychology of eating. She makes many variations of red velvet (Vanilla Chai White Velvet and Burnt Butter and Pecan are the next ones I’ll try, I think) and I decided to try her Earl Grey Black Tea Red Velvet Cake.

As it turns out, all the ladies at this party were middle-aged school teachers and they were all on diets. My friend who was selling Mary Kay is a triathlete, so she ate two cupcakes. I’m working on a six pack so I wasn’t planning to eat any, but I love Earl Grey so I had to try it. It was amazing. I think this is my favorite cake I’ve made. Dr. Gâteau said the taste was subtle, but I think it was quite strong in mine–a deliciously light, almost citrus flavor from the bergamot.

I didn’t follow Dr Gâteau’s recipe exactly–rather, I used her idea of steeping Earl Grey in butter the night before and used that butter in the Red Velvet recipe I usually use. The only issue I ran into was that, while I steeped the tea in enough butter for both the cake and the frosting the night before, after melting it, steeping the tea, refrigerating it, melting it, and putting it through a sieve, I was 4 tablespoons short and had to use non-Earl Grey butter in the frosting. In the recipe below, I’ve added my guessed amount of extra butter needed for the flavoring.

The original ‘Anne’s Eats’ recipe uses vegetable oil instead of butter. I don’t know how steeping tea in vegetable oil and then refrigerating it would turn out, though. As Dr. Gâteau points out in her recipe, fats hold odor and flavor molecules better than water, so I think it would still work. I don’t suppose vegetable oil would quite solidify, but I think the point is to let it absorb the flavors for 24 hours more so than have it solidify.

I also didn’t add food coloring, and they turned out a nice pale brown. I found a recipe for red velvet using grated beets to color the cake, so I might try that next time, for I do love the color of beets.

Earl Grey Velvet Cupcakes
Adapted from ‘The Island of Dr. Gâteau” and “Annie’s Eats”
Yield: 1 9 x 13 sheet cake or about 24 cupcakes

For the Earl Grey Butter:

  • For a full 24 cupcakes, use 4 sticks of butter. For a half recipe, try 2.5 sticks. Expect to lose about 4 tablespoons in the melting/solidifying process.
  • 3 heaping tablespoons loose-leaf Earl Grey (1 heaping tablespoon is about 5 tea bags)

For the Cake:

  • 2½ cups cake flour
  • 1½ cups sugar
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 tablespoon cocoa powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1½ cups Earl Grey butter
  • 1 cup buttermilk*
  • 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) liquid red food coloring (optional. Or use any color you choose OR 1 cup finely-grated beets)
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon distilled white vinegar

*OR make your own buttermilk:

  • 1 tablespoon white vinegar or lemon juice
  • 1 cup minus 1 tablespoon milk

Put vinegar/lemon into 1 cup measuring cup. Add milk to complete 1 cupful. Let stand for 5 minutes. Utilize.

For the frosting:

  • 8 oz. cream cheese, room temperature (if you use cold cheese and butter, the consistency will be better. If you’re beating the frosting by hand, use room temperature cheese and butter)
  • 5 tablespoons Earl Grey butter, at room temperature (add regular unsalted butter if you didn’t make enough tea butter)
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup strong Earl Grey tea (steeped for 10 minutes)
  • 2½ cups confectioners’ sugar, sifted


The night before you want to make the cake:  If you’re making a sheet cake, save the wrappers for greasing the pan on baking day. Melt the butter in a saucepan over very low heat. Once it is melted, take it off the heat. Add in the loose-leaf Earl Grey tea and stir. Leave at room temperature for an hour, then transfer to covered bowl and place in the fridge overnight.

The next day: Place the re-solidified butter in a saucepan again (you may have to microwave the bowl for 20 seconds or so to get the butter to dislodge) and melt over a very low heat until liquid. Strain out the tea by pouring the liquid butter through a sieve into a bowl (when I did this, some of the leaves got through the strainer. You could hardly see them in the final cake and they weren’t noticeable in texture). Press the tea into the sieve with a spoon in order to squeeze out the butter that it has absorbed. Leave the butter at room temperature for an hour, then place it back in the fridge for an hour or so, checking it regularly, until it has firmed up and is the consistency of soft butter.

Preheat the oven to 350° F.  If making cupcakes, line cupcake pans with paper liners. If making sheet cake, grease and sift a little flour into a sheet pan (this just keeps the cake from sticking. It’s unnecessary. I use the butter wrappers so you may as well…).
In a medium bowl, combine the cake flour, sugar, baking soda, cocoa powder and salt; whisk to blend.  In a separate bowl, combine the eggs, butter, buttermilk, food coloring, vanilla and vinegar.  Beat until somewhat blended (it won’t really blend, and as soon as it’s smooth, it’ll separate again. Don’t worry about it).  Mix in the dry ingredients and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes.

Divide the batter evenly between the prepared liners or pour it into the single sheet pan.  Bake, rotating the pans halfway through baking, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 18 minutes (more like 30 for a sheet cake).  Let cool in the pans 5-10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.

To make the frosting, combine the cream cheese and butter in a bowl and beat until well combined and smooth, about 2-3 minutes.  Mix in the vanilla extract and the tea.  Gradually beat in the confectioners’ sugar until totally incorporated and then beat until smooth.  Frost cooled cupcakes as desired.

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