Chocolate Empress Cupcakes

How many times as a kid did I say, “I’ll never _____ when I grow up.”

One of those was always, “I’ll never drink tea.” I was determined that it looked and smelled gross, and only coffee would suit me when I was old enough to have it. If only I could have seen myself now! 🙂

I continued this self-promise until I was invited to a real Tea Party when I was 12 or 13. The only thing that tempted me to try the brew was the smell – this was no ordinary tea! My host had made a generous pot of Earl Grey, and once I’d tasted it, I knew I’d never go back.

Now I drink all kinds of tea, of course – from regular Lyons Original Blend black tea to Solaris Organic Rooibos Chocolate Chai to Celestial Seasonings Sleepy Time. I love tea. I don’t know how I’d make it through the day without it! And these Kellys I married into are a bunch of tea addicts! It’s true – from the first day I visited, I’ve watched them go through at least 5 – 6 cups a day each, more in the winter, and it seems like every new conversation is punctuated by turning on the kettle.  They say that Frank’s brother, Noel, even had it in his baby bottle! Wow! In general, though, kids start drinking tea very young here, probably a long-held tradition in this country where the cold and damp can go right to your bones.

I’ve long wanted to try tea-infused food, and this weekend I did. Perhaps it’s the dropping temperatures and rain, or all the baking blogs I’ve been reading, or the new season of The Great British Bake-Off, but I’ve been pining for some cupcakes.

Chocolate Empress Cupcakes

It’s quite common these days to see recipes that use Earl Grey Tea infusions. I still love Earl Grey Tea, but I know it can be a bit strong and overpowering if you’re not fond of that telltale bergamot and lemon taste. So I decided to go a bit milder and try something using one of my all time favourite teas, Empress Grey (sometimes named Lady Grey). This is a lighter tea with similar flavours to the Earl, but it’s delicate and a bit sweeter.

My basis for these cupcakes was this recipe from The Food Network – but as I said above, I adapted the recipe to use Lady Grey and orange juice. I also used a chocolate cupcake recipe from The Hummingbird Bakery Cookbook rather than the one on the web site – since the tea was milder, I thought I should use a cupcake made with cocoa powder rather than melted dark chocolate so that the balance would be right.

I read and re-read the recipe before making these, sure I was missing something. When do you strain the tea leaves out? Certainly you’re not meant to eat them? But I was wrong, you don’t take them out and they’re actually fine to eat – you hardly notice them. It seems a bit strange, when you think of strong, dry black tea in your food, but they soften and release their flavours and aromas beautifully. No worries needed.

The frosting is a kind of boiled frosting, such as the White Mountain variety you might find in old Betty Crocker cookbooks, a relative of the Italian Meringue. It takes a bit more time, but it is so different than normal buttercreams and ganaches I didn’t mind the extra toil. The end result is a sweet, light, marshmallowy confection that makes a complete mess on your face when you bite in. Lovely.

Tea Flecks in the Frosting

There’s a funny little sidenote here, though – by the time the cupcakes had cooled and I made this frosting last night, Evelyn was in bed (in the room directly above the kitchen) and Frank was watching a TV show he’d been anticipating. So… when it came to the part of the recipe where you beat the frosting with your mixer for 5 minutes… I had to take the bowl and hand-beaters into the utility room and balance the lot of it on my lap while I awkwardly sat on top of the vacuum! And of course, it took longer than 5 minutes to get to the stiff peak stage (doesn’t it always in situations such as these…)!  Haha on me!!  I’m sure I looked a fool, but that is the price we must pay for beautiful food.

I have to say, these are some of the nicest cupcakes I’ve made.  They’re not for everybody, but they’re unique and were a satisfying way to spend a Saturday night after what was actually a pretty nasty week. I’m quite proud of them. 🙂

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have tea with the Empress. Yum.

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Copright Maryann Koopman Kelly 2011. All Rights Reserved.

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4 thoughts on “Chocolate Empress Cupcakes

  1. Have you tried putting a generous pinch of tea leaves (green tea, like genmaicha) into the water when making rice? It turns ordinary rice into something slightly nutty-tasting and extraordinary…

    • Hi Morgen! I’ve tried a Jasmine flower/tea in my rice, but never green tea! Will have to give that a go next time! What kind of food does this rice pair best with? Thanks for the tip!

  2. The price we pay to enjoy amazing food, but keep the household peace is right! I’ve awakened some mornings to find Regan missing from bed only to find his sitting on the front porch grinding coffee beans to give me an extra few minutes.

    Maryann, these are amazing and I must try. Lady Grey is my absolute favorite tea. I think Bergamot and I must be soul mates. Delicious! Thanks for sharing.

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