Assam Cake with Blood Orange Italian Meringue Buttercream by Molly Brodak



It's been a while since I have reminded you of how much I love tea, I realize. 

Assam tea in particular has such a rich, malty taste that I knew it would be delicious in a cake, especially paired with a bright, floral-ish citrus like blood orange. The flavor combination is delicate and interesting, one of my new favorites.

The design for this cake was inspired by one of my favorite local Atlanta artist, Charlotte Smith. I fell in love with her work when I purchased one of her tea cups (pictured above) from Young Blood Boutique and filled it with tea and held it in my hands. Her cups are transcendent vessels for tea lovers, just the perfect size and comfortable shape for cradling. I love her elegant minimal aesthetic, rendered here in these tiers with admiration.


Italian meringue buttercream is probably, as we've been over before, the most annoying of all the buttercreams to make because it requires extra steps, precise temperature monitoring, and a long wait for cooling. But man, it is really worth it once in a while. If you've never made one before, set aside an hour or so and treat yourself to this incomparably silky treat.

Now, one of the important things in making IMB is allowing the meringue to cool to 80 degrees F before adding the butter. BUT! If you are impatient and mess it up, as I have done many times, you will end up with a horrific cottage-cheese like mess that seems irredeemable, but it's not. Just keep letting it cool and whip, and it will come together into its true silky smooth form. I used fresh blood orange juice in place of the water used for the sugar syrup here, giving the buttercream a mellow citrus flavor and a light pink color. You could definitely use any other citrus here if you preferred, just be sure to strain the juice well to remove the solids. Blood oranges are less acidic and more floral than regular oranges and yes, add more sweetness to the buttercream but I didn't adjust the sugar since I find that often IMB can use a bit more sweetness.

I don't recommend trying to make this buttercream without a stand mixer.  You may actually die from trying to hold a hand mixer for a freaking hour. Plus trying to pour in the syrup with the other hand...just, no.

Read the instructions a few times in advance and be prepared to act fast when your sugar syrup reaches soft ball stage (240 degrees)--higher temps will result in stiff syrup that doesn't incorporate properly. I love my ChefAlarm thermometer from Thermoworks. You can set an alarm to beep at a certain temp so you don't have to stand there watching it.



5 large egg whites, cold

1 lb (4 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature, cubed

6 oz and 2 oz granulated sugar, separated

1/4 c. fresh blood orange juice, strained

1/2 tsp fine sea or kosher salt

pinch cream of tartar

1/4 tsp. vanilla extract

Place egg whites in a stand mixer bowl with cream of tartar. Whip with whisk attachment on medium speed, no higher, to soft peaks. Add 2 oz of sugar and salt gradually, beat to stiff peaks then turn off mixer.

Heat juice and 6 oz of sugar over low heat until sugar is dissolved, stirring constantly, then raise the heat to medium and clip in thermometer. Bring to a low boil until temperature reaches 240 degrees F. As soon as thermometer hits 240, remove from heat, turn mixer on low, and slowly pour a syrup in a thin stream between the mixer bowl and the whisk; do not scrape bowl or whisk if unincorporated syrup remains. Beat on medium until meringue is fully incorporated. Place mixer bowl in the freezer or fridge to cool for about 15 minutes, or until mixture lowers to 90 degrees.

Return mixer bowl to stand and mix on low until temperature reaches 80 degrees F. Add soft butter, one piece at a time, waiting until each cube is fully incorporated before adding more. This process can take up to 25 minutes. Once all the butter is added, beat until mixture is smooth and fluffy. Add vanilla extract or other extracts as desired.

If mixture breaks and looks curdled, allow to cool further then keep mixing until mixture comes together

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I had been making a Chai cake recently using a homemade Chai extract, and that was pretty good, but the flavor didn't have quite enough depth. Following the time-tested rule of putting flavor as close to fat as possible for maximum power, I decided to steep the tea in my heavy cream and boy oh boy did that work. The cream carries incredible flavor to the finished cake and the tea payoff is incredible. I thinned the cream a bit with water just to make it looser and easier for the tea to absorb. 

I doubled this recipe so was using a full half cup of tea in this cream, which seemed like a hilariously large amount of tea to use for anything, and with the intensity of the results, I almost felt like it was too much! But the day after baking, the cake had mellowed a bit in flavor and it seemed exactly right.


Spring is now melting away into summer, aka berry season. But it might not be until late summer when I'll be posting again, undoubtedly with some transformation of the season's treasures into some little art project, as I'll be in Europe soon to do some writing for a few months. Find me on Instagram to track my progress on my next adventure!


3 c. (350 g.) cake flour (White Lily)

3 1/4 tsp. (12 g.) aluminum-free baking powder

5 large egg whites

2 c. (400 g.) sugar

1  tsp. white vinegar

1 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

1/4 c. loose Assam tea

1 1/4 c. heavy whipping cream

1/4 c. water

3/4 c. (155 g.) sour cream

2 Tbsp. vanilla extract or one vanilla bean, scraped

2/3 c. canola or vegetable oil

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Whisk flours and baking powder together thoroughly in a large bowl and set aside.

Bring cream and water to a simmer over low heat in a small saucepan. Add the tea leaves and turn off the heat, allowing the tea to steep for about 15-20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Drain leaves from cream and allow the cream to cool in the fridge for another 15-20 minutes.

Beat egg whites, sugar, salt and vinegar for one minute (use a timer) on medium high until mixture is thick. Add sour cream to heavy cream and beat until smooth. Add cream mixture gradually to sugar mixture, then vanilla, and beat until smooth for 30 seconds.

Add oil to the flour mixture and beat until a dough forms. Add 1/3 of the cream mixture and beat until smooth and lump-free. Repeat with the remaining 2/3rds, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure no lumps remain.

Divide batter among three greased and floured 8" or 9" pans and tap on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Bake for 15-25 minutes until centers are fully set and spring back when pressed. Allow to cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then level, fill, and frost.


Chamomile Lime Swan Cake with Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream by Molly Brodak


My birthday cake has come early this year.

Oh man, this cake makes my heart explode! Confetti shreds of heart all over everything!

I was inspired by those 50's style swan planters you used to see everywhere, and thinking about a very pastel palette since I've got wedding brain right now. Flavorwise, I'm ready as hell for Spring right now, and I wanted to make a cake that tasted like Spring.



I'm an enormous fan of tea, as you might realize from this post, but chamomile has never been my favorite...for the central reason that it is not actually tea, but a herbal infusion. That being said, chamomile is such a wonderful flavor, light and fresh and floral without being perfume-y like rose. Lime adds a nice balance to the sweetness, and the honey Swiss meringue buttercream triangulates the Spring attitude of this cake.

I don't expect you'll make your chamomile-lime cake into a swan as I have done, but in case you're interested in how I made it happen I've shown a bit more behind-the-scenes type pics in this post than usual.

You'll start by making a very strong tea by letting six tea bags infuse in a cup of hot water for 10 minutes. There's no danger of it turning bitter since, ahem, this is not actually tea. Be sure to use a brand that is composed of 100% chamomile flowers, or just buy them in bulk at your health food store.

This cake is a sturdy, somewhat coarse-crumbed cake but is made very moist by the sour cream and the tea soak that comes after baking. Its flavors are very subtle and light, and would be delicious plain or with a simple whipped cream topping instead of the admittedly elaborate Swiss meringue buttercream I used.

Speaking of that, let's start there. Let me first say, I don't really like Swiss meringue buttercream all that much. For some bakers, it is the only kind of buttercream they use. It's supposed to be more sophisticated and refined than regular old American buttercream (the kind with just butter and powered sugar) but to me this idea is sort of, I don't know, elitist and untrue. I've got this and this meringue-free buttercream to prove it. Logically, making meringue then cramming a pound of butter into it while it deflates just doesn't make sense to me in any case.

BUT still, I thought I'd give it a whirl. With the honey addition, this buttercream whips up a bit more stable and rich, plus the honey flavor is amazing.

Honey Swiss Meringue Buttercream

4 large egg whites

1 c. (213 g.) sugar

1 lb. (4 sticks) very soft unsalted butter

1/2 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

1/3 c. (60 g.) honey

1 tsp. vanilla extract

Wipe bowls and beaters with white vinegar. Combine egg whites and sugar in a glass or metal bowl and set over a saucepan of simmering water. Cook, stirring constantly, until sugar is dissolved and temperature on a candy thermometer reaches 140 degrees F (warm, not hot).

Remove from heat and transfer to a large glass or metal bowl. Using a stand mixer or a hand mixer, whip mixture until very stiff peaks are reached and the bowl feels neutral to the touch (no longer warm). Add chunks of softened butter in small amounts and whip until fully incorporated. If mixture becomes soupy/warm, refrigerate for a few minutes and whip again until it comes together.

Add salt, honey, and vanilla, whip until combined.

Oh, this cake is so good, so fragrant right out of the oven. You might be tempted to add more lime to this cake, because it doesn't seem like enough, but trust me, you don't want to lose the delicate chamomile flavor under the power of lime. The tea soak at the end of this recipe is crucial to keeping the balance of flavors in order.

For my cake, I carved the body of the swan from cake and added a wired gumpaste head/neck, all of which was covered in fondant. This is actually not the best cake for carving because of its open crumb, so if you're looking to make a swan cake like mine I would suggest this cake recipe instead, which is very fine-crumbed and ideal carving material.

 no template, I was JUST WINGING IT -.-

 no template, I was JUST WINGING IT -.-

I picked some peonies and roses from my box of leftover sugar flowers and made a bunch of dusty miller to match the pastel palette I had in mind. The wings were attached with sugar glue, and I let them firm up with some saran wrap stuffed behind them so they'd stick up a bit.

this is the fun part

this is the fun part

I loved making this cake, and I loved eating it just as much. Sometimes people ask me if I have a hard time cutting into these creations I spend hours and hours making. Not at all. It might actually be the best part. Cakes are ephemera, after all, just like all good things are.


Chamomile Lime Cake

1 3/4 c. (201 g.) cake flour (White Lily)

1 3/4 tsp. (8 g.) aluminum-free baking powder

1 1/2 c. (298 g.) sugar

1 c. strongly-brewed chamomile tea (6 teabags, steep for 10 minutes)

3/4 tsp. fine sea salt or kosher salt

2 large eggs, room temperature

2 large egg yolks, room temperature

1/3 c. canola or vegetable oil

1/3 c. sour cream

1 tsp. vanilla extract or 1/2 vanilla bean, scraped

Zest and juice of one lime

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour two 8" pans and line bottoms with parchment.

Whisk flour and baking powder together thoroughly in a small bowl and set aside.  

Place sugar, salt, and 1/3 c. of tea (reserve the rest for later use) in a small saucepan and heat until sugar is mostly melted--do not allow to boil. Pour sugar mixture into a large bowl. Zest lime and squeeze juice into the sugar mixture. Add oil, vanilla, sour cream, and beat until smooth, about 2 minutes. 

Add 1/3 of the flour mixture and beat until smooth and lump-free. Repeat with the remaining 2/3rds, scraping the bottom of the bowl and making sure no flour lumps remain. By hand, mix in eggs, then yolks, one at a time until fully combined. 

Divide batter between pans and tap on the counter to remove large air bubbles. Bake for 20 minutes or so until centers are fully set and spring back when pressed. Allow to cool for 10 minutes, then invert cakes onto cooling rack.

Prepare tea simple syrup soak by mixing the remaining strong tea with 1/3 c. of sugar in a microwavable container and microwave for about a minute or until the sugar is completely dissolved.

Level cakes by slicing off their crown and brush or drizzle with tea soak. Allow cakes to cool and rest, then fill, and frost.