I would be lying if I didn’t say that the tea party holds a very special charm for me.
As with so many little girls, I loved "hosting" pretend tea parties and insisted that all my dolls and stuffed toys attend. Once I was grown, my very first experience hosting an event on my own was a tea party that I held in the backyard for a handful of dear friends. I became addicted to the defunct (but soon to be revived) Victoria magazine, which always featured the beauty of the art of taking tea. And one day, I will make it to London where I will have a proper tea at one (or more) of the city’s best establishments.
Strangely enough, it wasn’t until very recently that I actually began to learn a bit more about tea. As a child, my experience of tea was limited to Italian chamomile and Tetley tea bags. But a burgeoning love of the beverage has led me to slowly begin learning a bit more about it. Tea originates from the bush known as Camellia sinensis. Tea can be divided into four basic types including black tea, oolong tea, green tea and white tea. In recent years, green and white teas have increased in popularity due to the numerous health benefits associated with them. Used to drinking black tea, I’ve come to love green tea and more recently white tea. I’m also a big fan of herbal teas, which are usually herbal infusions.
While I wish I could tell you a lot more about tea, I’m only just learning myself, although the history of this beverage is more than fascinating. If you’re interested in reading about the history of tea I recommend Liquid Jade: The Story of Tea from East to West by Beatrice Hohenegger or The Empire of Tea by Alan and Iris Macfarlane, both very interesting reads.
This month, though, I’m particularly interested in the taking of tea. That’s why, when given the opportunity to review Tracy Stern’s gorgeous book Tea Party, I just couldn’t resist. What I particularly love about this book is the presentation of the tea party in many different forms. Tea is not just for the afternoon. The book is divided into menus for twenty themed parties ranging from the traditional afternoon tea to a Moroccan Valentine’s Day dinner to a Russian tea. There’s even a menu for a gentleman’s tea! I just can’t wait to spend the month of May exploring this book and I’m especially excited because I think a tea party is the perfect way to celebrate Mother’s Day.
To begin my look at the book I started at the beginning with a tea party planned around a New Year’s Day brunch. Stern’s menu for the occasion includes bibb lettuce, avocado, and green apple salad; steamed white and green asparagus with herbed goat cheese sauce; mini spinach quiches and vanilla tea-infused sponge cake. It’s the sponge cake that got me.
The original recipe is a very basic sponge cake recipe consisting of eggs, sugar and flour. The cake is flavoured by the addition of brewed vanilla tea leaves. This cake sounded so intriguing! While I didn’t have any vanilla tea on hand, I did have a variety of loose chai teas. I adore chai teas, especially in winter when their spiciness seems perfect for the season.
I decided to use a tea called Chai Indienne from one of my very favourite tea purveyors. Distinctly Tea is a charming tea shop based in Stratford, Ontario, home of the famous Stratford Festival. The Chai Indienne is a black tea with warm and spicy notes, but not too spicy. I brewed some of the tea and then let the tea leaves cool. Once cooled, I began mixing my batter.
This particular sponge cake has a very interesting preparation method. The eggs are separated and the yolks are mixed with the sugar in a pot over very low heat. I’m guessing this technique helps to dissolve the sugar quickly in the warming yolks. As the original recipe indicates you have to be very careful not to let the yolks get too hot or they will cook.
After heating the yolks and sugar, I removed the mixture from the heat and added the chai tea leaves. I immediately felt the urge to add cinnamon, which I did, and I also added a few drops of vanilla extract for good measure. I left the mixture alone for about five minutes so that the yolks could cool completely and the tea could infuse.
While the yolk mixture rested, I whipped the egg whites to stiff peaks. I added the flour (self-rising flour) to the yolks and then carefully folded in the whites. I decided to bake little Bundt cakes rather than one larger cake. The batter had a lovely golden tinge thanks to the tea and the cinnamon and I just couldn’t wait to see the end result.
After about 35 minutes in the oven, I ended up with six beautiful little cakes. Once cooled, I cut into one of them and I could see the flecks of tea leaves dispersed throughout the cakes. Biting into one, I experienced the familiar comfort of a good old sponge cake combined with the unique flavour of chai.
If the rest of May is going to taste this good, it’s just going to be one big tea party!
Mini Chai Sponge Cakes
Adapted from Tea Party by Tracy Stern.
Note: The original recipe calls for vanilla tea leaves but I found this worked very well with what I had on hand, which was chai tea. The flour called for in the recipe is self-rising flour. I used Brodie Self-Rising Cake & Pastry Flour. I baked the cakes in a bundt pan that yields six mini bundt cakes. But you can bake this in a standard 10-inch Bundt pan. If baking in a large pan, bake for 50 minutes or until a cake tester inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- 4 large eggs
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. brewed chai tea leaves (if the leaves are larger, chop them into very fine pieces)
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. vanilla extract
- 1 cup self-rising flour
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Butter and flour a mini bundt pan.
- Separate the eggs, placing the yolks in a pan and the whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer.
- Over very low heat, combine the yolks and the sugar and whisk until the sugar is completely incorporated and has dissolved. Continue whisking for a minute or two until the egg yolks have become very pale in colour and increased in volume. Be very careful not to get the yolks too hot or they will cook.
- Remove the yolk mixture from the heat and add the tea leaves, cinnamon and vanilla extract. Mix and let sit while you whip the egg whites.
- Using the whisk attachment, whip the egg whites until stiff peaks form (4 to 5 minutes).
- Sift the flour into the egg yolk mixture and combine. The mixture may be stiff but don’t worry about it.
- Add one-third of the egg whites to the yolk and flour mixture and stir until combined.
- Add the remaining egg whites and fold them into the lightened batter.
- Once done, spoon the batter into the prepared Bundt pan. If using a mini-Bundt pan, bake your cakes for 30 minutes and then check for doneness by inserting a cake tester into the centre of the cake. If it comes out clean, the cakes are done. If not, bake for an additional 5 minutes and test again.
- Once the cakes are baked, remove from the oven and let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Unmold the bundt cakes and let cool completely.
- Serve with tea and enjoy!