Home Plates: Family cake recipe gets latest twist from Earl Grey tea

March 18, 2024

Earl Grey Bundt Cake is Danielle Olsen’s variation on a family recipe. Courtesy of Danielle Olsen

Rarely was there a day without bakery treats in my home when I was a child. Often the baked goods came from a family who owned a small store and bakery about 5 miles down the road. Other special treats were from the Amish farm stands in the Susquehanna River Valley in North Central Pennsylvania. When neither was an option, it wouldn’t be long until my father whipped something up.

That man had (and still has) a serious sweet tooth. Beyond ensuring we always had treats in the house, he had a grand talent of being able to cook and bake without a recipe. And when the house was empty of baked goods, he usually took it upon himself to throw a few things into a bowl, barely measuring them, and pop them in the oven until it smelled about right.

I knew the result of that habit well: a rustic plum cake. The recipe was handed down from my Eastern European grandmother, who made the cake herself many a time during one of our visits as an after-dinner snack or Saturday morning breakfast. Like my dad, she seemingly threw the ingredients together with no recipe, sometimes using pears with the plums, or apples, which were a regular adaptation in our household.

Basic and never too sweet, the cake came together in no time and was nothing fancy. But it was always delicious – you couldn’t stop with just one piece. Its simplicity, and its adaptability, always intrigued me. I found myself making that same cake time and time again, beginning as a teenager, and throwing in my own ingredients of choice as the seasons changed. Not long ago, I pulled together the Earl Grey version.

On a cold, wet day, Earl Grey tea steeped in milk and honey is my comfort beverage of choice. Last winter, during a wet, heavy snowfall, I wanted to bake. I was tired from my infant keeping me up all night. I needed a dose of sugar and the warmth of the oven. During the holidays just weeks before, I’d received a new bundt cake pan, and for days I had been dreaming about that plum cake from childhood along with a sweet, milky Earl Grey. I sought that flavor in the same basic, rustic cake.

The results were exactly what I had hoped for – Earl Grey with a sweet cream touch, brought together with the zest of an orange during citrus season. Sharing it that evening with childhood friends who’d just arrived for a visit, I felt a grand sense of comfort.


Earl Grey Bundt Cake

Recipe from Danielle Olsen. Sprinkle confectioners sugar over the finished cake to hide any imperfections or make a glaze from confectioners sugar, any remaining orange zest and juice, and a hint of cardamom.

1½ cups butter
2 cups milk
12 earl grey tea bags (or 3 tablespoons loose leaf, using a reusable tea bag or tea infuser)
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
2½ teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon sea salt
3 eggs
1½ cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
Zest of ½ orange
¼ teaspoon ground cardamom

Heat the butter and milk in a pan on the stovetop over medium-low heat until it reaches 180 F – or when it just begins to bubble. Remove from the heat and add 8 tea bags (or 2 tablespoons of loose-leaf tea). Let steep for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Prep a 10-inch Bundt pan by spraying the inside with baking spray. Set aside.

Mix the flour, baking powder and salt until combined in a large bowl.


In a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment, whip the eggs. Gradually add in the sugar, and mix for about 4 minutes until fluffy. Remove the tea bags from the cooled butter-milk mixture, pressing out as much liquid as possible. Gradually, add the strained, stepped butter-milk mixture to the egg-sugar mixture .

Add the vanilla, orange zest and cardamom, along with contents of the 4 remaining Earl Grey tea bags (or 1 tablespoon of loose-leaf tea), to the mixer bowl. Stir until combined.

Switch to the paddle attachment, then add the dry ingredients to the mixer bowl, mixing for about 1 minute. Pour the batter into the prepared bundt pan, tapping the pan on counter as needed to release any air pockets.

Bake for 45-50 minutes.

Let the cake rest in its pan for 10-15 minutes, then remove it from the pan and cool on a wire rack.

Danielle Olsen Photo courtesy of Danielle Olsen

ABOUT THE COOK: Danielle Olsen, Westbrook

“I am home cook and have zero experience out in the actual culinary world. However, my grandparents were from Kosice, Slovakia, and Krakow, Poland, and I was brought up around them always cooking from their gardens and baking delicious Eastern European foods along with interesting Italian foods they were exposed to when they lived in New York City. My father had incredible cooking skills and creativity, and the true science knowledge needed to make it all come together. I spent a lot of time cooking and absorbing what makes a dish and what it takes to make that dish work from a science perspective.

“As I moved on from college and began cooking a lot for myself, I remained attached to the linkage between food, heritage and culture. Every meal I prepared was an ode to its origin and a learning experience. I also loved learning about differences in holiday preparations, seasonal differences (at home today, we try to only use seasonal foods, and we cook primarily from scratch) and so forth. The food of my youth was 50% Eastern European, but I craved flavor, spices and fresh foods, so I set out on a journey to amplify traditional foods and give meaning – and more flavor and interest – to very simple recipes.

“Decades later, I cook for my family through this cultural experience lens and use it as a teaching opportunity for my children and a way to learn about our peers across the community. I often invite family and friends over to help. I love sharing and being part of a community, and I especially love hosting. I want to orchestrate something special and make everyone feel connected.”

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