Darjeeling-Chocolate Layer Cake

It’s almost as though I forget from year to year how profound an experience spring truly is. After four to five months of black, grey, brown and all the subtle hues in between dominating the landscape and washing over you, though, spring never ceases to surprise. In my mind, it’s nearly impossible for the subtlety and stillness of winter to gradually give way to spring. With wild colors, sharp sounds, and sweet smells, spring sneaks up on you and then completely takes over.

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Of course, such revelry can only last so long. Just like autumn, springtime seems to be gone before you’re completely sure it’s arrived. While it’s tempting to get out the record books, measuring devices, and other such things to test whether this spring measures up to last spring, I find the best thing to do is grab hold of spring and just let it be what it will; remembering that nature doesn’t abide by charts and tables.

IMG_1393As you’re hopefully standing at the window to admire nature’s handiwork, this spring, maybe you’ll want to try something new? I came across this recipe a few years ago in Cooking Light and it has become one of our favorites. Most people might have a cup of coffee or tea with a slice of cake, but this recipe pours that tea right into the cake!

When I decided to try the recipe, I was skeptical that the tea flavor would be completely covered by all of the chocolate in the recipe. As it turns out, the surprisingly strong and floral taste of Darjeeling tea enters into perfect harmony with the chocolate – such perfect harmony that it’s hard to tell which ingredient is contributing more to the taste! And yet – for someone like myself who doesn’t really care for black tea – the cake is sure to please both tea and chocolate enthusiasts.

Darjeeling Tea can be found in almost any tea aisle. If you’re unable to locate loose tea – which usually features larger leaves – you can substitute bagged Darjeeling tea by opening the bags, measuring out the amount you need, and then placing the tea in a coffee filter that you can tie closed with a bread tie. Be sure to measure the water after it has come to a boil rather IMG_1395than before (this can greatly affect the volume of water added to a recipe). Also, be sure to squeeze out the tea bags thoroughly so that every drop of the tea gets into the batter.

Cake Flour Don’t be tempted to substitute all-purpose flour for cake flour! You’ll be sorry. The finer texture of cake flour is necessary for maximum lift in this cake, so you’ll want to be sure to use it. If you can, buy unbleached cake flour as it is less likely to have a chemical taste. King Arthur is the only brand of cake flour I’ve found that is available unbleached. No worries if you can’t find it, but maybe ask your grocer to start carrying it.

While it’s a fairly easy recipe, I think it’s important to note the individual mixtures that you have to create before assembling the cake batter. Someone entering the kitchen during the mixing process might think you’re carrying out some strange experiment. In one small bowl, there’s the brewed tea. In another there’s the flour mixed with leavenings. And then there’s the big bowl – holding the butter and sugar which will eventually hold everything. As with any cake recipe, it’s important to have all of your ingredients at room temperature and in marching order so that you can assemble the batter uninterrupted and get maximum rise once it’s put in the oven.

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If you are unable to find Dutch-process cocoa powder; regular, unsweetened cocoa powder will do just as well in the recipe. I prefer the Dutch-process cocoa most often for its deeper taste which I think is slightly malty (but that might just be in my head).

Believe it or not, the small sprinkling of toasted hazelnuts on the top of the frosting will pretty well infuse the entire cake with the unique nuttiness of hazelnuts. There’s no need to add them to the batter or mix them into the frosting. That being said, if you don’t like hazelnuts, you could substitute with a nut you prefer or leave the nuts out entirely.

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Darjeeling-Chocolate Layer Cake
Adapted from Cooking Light
Serves 14-16

    Cake:
    2/3 cup boiling water
    6 tablespoons loose Darjeeling tea
    2 cups cake flour
    1 teaspoon baking soda
    1/4 teaspoon salt
    2/3 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa
    2/3 cup boiling water
    1/4 cup plain low fat yogurt
    2 teaspoons vanilla extract
    1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
    3/4 cup packed brown sugar
    1/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
    3 large egg whites (or ½ cup egg substitute)
    1 large egg

    Icing:
    1/2 cup boiling water
    5 tablespoons loose Darjeeling tea
    6 ounces Neufchatel cheese, softened
    1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
    1/8 teaspoon salt
    2 1/4 cups powdered sugar
    1/4 cup all-purpose flour
    1/2 cup unsweetened Dutch-process cocoa
    2 tablespoons chopped hazelnuts, toasted

    Preheat oven to 350-degrees. Pour 2/3 cup boiling water over 6 tablespoons tea leaves in a small bowl; steep 7 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl; cool to room temperature. Meanwhile, coat two (9-inch) round cake pans with cooking spray; line bottoms of pans with wax paper. Coat the wax paper with cooking spray; set aside.

    Lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Sift together the flour, baking soda, and salt in a small bowl; set aside.

    In a medium bowl, combine 2/3 cup cocoa and 2/3 cup boiling water, stirring with a whisk until well blended. Cool this mixture in freezer for 10 minutes, and then stir in cooled brewed tea, yogurt, and vanilla.

    Place granulated sugar, brown sugar, and softened butter in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until well blended and fluffy (about 5 minutes). Add egg whites and egg gradually while beating. Add flour mixture and brewed tea mixture alternately to sugar mixture, beginning and ending with flour mixture. Pour batter into prepared cake pans.

    Bake in preheated oven for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool in pans 10 minutes on a wire rack; remove from pans. Carefully remove and discard wax paper. Cool layers completely on wire rack.

    To prepare icing, in a small bowl pour 1/2 cup boiling water over 5 tablespoons tea leaves; steep 7 minutes. Strain through a fine sieve into a bowl; cool to room temperature. Place softened Neufchatel, vanilla, and salt in a large bowl; beat with a mixer at medium speed until fluffy (about 1 minute). Sift together powdered sugar, all-purpose flour, and cocoa. Gradually add cocoa mixture and 2 1/2 to 3 tablespoons brewed tea to Neufchatel mixture. Beat just until smooth. (Do not over beat; icing will become too thin) Discard any remaining tea.

    Place one cake layer on a plate; spread with 1/2 cup icing. Top with another cake layer. Spread remaining icing over top and sides of cake. Sprinkle with toasted hazelnuts. Store cake loosely covered in refrigerator.

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A moist cake that’s surprisingly rich while also having the distinction of being not-so-naughty; you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the swirling of floral, chocolate, and hazelnut flavors in every bite. It’s a cake with a complex taste that’s meant to be enjoyed with friends over equally complex and yet light-hearted conversation while taking in the sights and sounds of springtime.

(The last time I made this cake was last year when I made it to help show off the beautiful china we received as a surprise wedding gift from our friends James & Tom. James passed away, last December, but I wanted today’s post to be in remembrance of him and his love of all things spring and celebratory.)

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~ by Jason on May 10, 2011.

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