Before I heard that Tea and Sympathy was a play, a restaurant or a song, I only knew it as a soothing cocktail: hot tea with a splash of Grand Marnier. A warm mug of tea is my go-to drink for relaxation and comfort, and I’ve always loved the idea that sympathy can be added to it with a splash of orange liqueur.
When I recently discovered a remarkably delicious Earl Grey tea – fragrant with vibrant bergamot and speckled with beautiful, tiny flower petals – I found myself drinking it daily and, naturally, I couldn’t help but think of turning it into a dessert. It wasn’t long before I decided to pair it with orange liqueur and create my very own version of Tea and Sympathy: the cake. Despite its length, this recipe is actually quite easy – but if you are short on time, don’t miss the simplified version at the very end of this post.
Tea & Sympathy: The Cake (Serves 8-10)
- 1 cup flour
- 1.5 teaspoon baking powder
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup oil
- ¼ cup honey, at room temperature or a little warmer
- Scant ¼ cup sugar
- 1 large egg
- Finely grated zest of 1 orange
- ½ cup strongly brewed good quality black tea (see preparation)
- 2 teaspoons crushed good quality dried black tea leaves (see preparation)
Preparation: Line the bottom of an 8” round baking pan with parchment, or grease and lightly flour pan. Brew the tea far enough ahead of time to let it cool to at least warm room temperature. Be sure to brew it with more than ½ cup water, as you will lose some liquid due to soaking into the tea leaves/bag (brew, then cool, then measure out ½ cup). Use a mortar and pestle or spice grinder to finely crush the dry tea leaves. Be sure to use more than 2 teaspoons of tea leaves, as they will shrink as you crush and sift them (crush, then sift, then measure out 2 teaspoons). Zest the orange; set aside. Preheat oven to 350 F.
Make the batter: Beat the oil, honey, sugar, brewed tea, and egg together until smooth. Sift or sieve over the honey mixture: flour, baking powder, and salt. Mix until smooth and even. Add the orange zest and the crushed, pre-sifted tea leaves, stirring until evenly distributed. The batter will be thin and will seem shallow when poured into the pan; this is intentional, as the custard will make it very rich. Bake about 25 minutes, until the edges have browned, reveal bubbles, and center bounces back when pushed gently. Let cool in pan 20 minutes before removing.
For the custard, a.k.a. “sympathy sauce” (this can be done while cake is cooling):
- 3 egg yolks
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 2 tablespoons Grand Marnier*
- 1 cup heavy whipping cream
- ½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- 1 tablespoon sugar
Whisk together the first three ingredients in a heat proof bowl. Set bowl over a pot of simmering water and whisk constantly, cooking for about 6 minutes, until mixture has thickened enough to coat the whisk, and a trail stays in the mixture when whisk is dragged through it. Set bowl on counter and keep whisking about 5 more minutes, until bowl is no longer hot but just warm to the touch. Cover and chill. Meanwhile, beat together the remaining three ingredients until stiff. Just when custard is at room temperature (after about 5 minutes in the fridge) fold it into the whipped cream gently.
When the cake has cooled, slice it into 8-10 pieces, or use a cookie cutter to cut circles from it (I used a 2.25” cookie cutter and was able to make 8-9 circles). Top each serving of cake with a few generous spoonfuls of the custard. In other words, be liberal with your sympathy.
Moist, rich and fragrant, this cake is equally wonderful as a breakfast, a snack, or a dessert. You might serve it in decorative teacups for dainty presentation, or try topping each piece with a fresh berry or a candied violet flower. Whatever you do, don’t be ashamed to mindfully devour every bite – after all, everyone deserves a little sympathy sometimes.
Maybe next time… *If you like a boozier dessert, use a pastry brush to paint a little more Grand Marnier on the cake before topping it with the custard. Or, to make a much quicker, simpler, milder version of this cake, omit both the crushed tea leaves and the orange zest, and instead of making a custard sauce, just brush the baked cake with a few tablespoons of Grand Marnier, then dust with powdered sugar — the flavors will be tamer but still delicious. Enjoy your cake with a cup of tea… or a glass of liqueur for that matter!