The Twinings tea shop at 216 Strand is so tiny you could very easily walk past and overlook it. But clearly that hasn’t stopped it from thriving – in fact Britain’s first known tea room has been in the same location since 1706, that’s over 300 years! Inside, the shop is narrow but long, with practically floor to ceiling shelves neatly packed with boxes and jars of delight – exotic artisanal teas from around the world, as well as some of the more recognisable products that Twinings is so well known for. I am here to attend a tea tasting led by one of Twining’s master blenders, Rishi, and to learn a bit more about the rich history of tea.
Rishi is clearly passionate about tea – his coveted title of Master Blender doesn’t come about easily. Master Blenders have to train for seven years and travel the world learning about the different varieties and peculiarities of each growing region. Mind you, each location looks more breathtaking than the last judging by the photographs we are shown. Small wonder that becoming a MB apprentice draws literally tens of thousands of applications. Hearing Rishi speak about the types of brews he is serving us it becomes clear that tea, like fine wine, has characteristics shaped by climate, growing conditions, soil type as well as plucking standards. Knowing how to recognise and harness these characteristics allows the Master Blenders to create the blends we know and love. More importantly perhaps they also have to maintain the high quality standards and flavour profile of these blends year after year. It is quite a feat considering the average British consumer drinks nearly 1000 cups a year! So next time you drop a teabag into your favourite mug spare a thought for the history, time, training and effort behind your cup… and make sure you brew it according to instructions!
Once we learn about the different varieties that make up some of the most popular Twinings blends like Earl Grey, English Breakfast and Chai, it is time to taste the blends themselves paired with cake… quite the hardship, I know. Earl Grey, which happens to be my favourite blend, pairs well with lemon drizzle cake and other citrusy bakes – my lemon mascarpone scones would be a perfect match. The breakfast blend with its lively ‘wake up’ profile is probably the most versatile blend pairing well with vanilla cupcakes and scones. Chai tea meanwhile is fragrant with spices like cinnamon, ginger and cloves – practically a cake recipe list already. It goes down a treat with a bite of banana or fruit cake. Its flavour profile reminds me of carrot cake which is why I decide to create a recipe inspired by, and containing, Twinings Chai blend.
This post is in collaboration with Twinings. A tea tasting at the Twinings store at 216 Strand in London is available for £30.
This carrot cake contains chai tea infused raisins as well as the most totally addictive chai tea caramel. Despite its undeniable good looks and towering height – I made mine four layers deep although it appears smaller in the vintage cake stand I used – it is a doddle to make. Yes, even the caramel is easy. It makes a spectacular celebration cake that keeps well and is sure to be a huge crowdpleaser. The caramel will keep well in the fridge for several days and tastes incredible with ice cream or drizzled over waffles.
- For the cake
- Makes 3x20cm/8in layers or 4x15cm/6in layers
- 300g | 10.5oz soft light brown sugar
- 300ml | 10fl oz rapeseed (canola) oil or melted coconut oil
- 3 large eggs
- 300g | 10.5oz plain (all purpose) flour
- 1 tsp bicarbonate of soda
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cinnamon
- ½ tsp ground ginger
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp salt
- 300g | 10.5oz grated carrots (about 3 large)
- 100g | 3.5oz pecans, roughly chopped
- 100g | 3.5oz raisins or sultanas
- 4 Twinings chai teabags
- cinnamons sticks and cape gooseberries (physalis) to decorate
For the chai caramel
- 125ml | ½ cup chai tea (see above)
- 200g | 7oz golden caster sugar
- 125g | 4.4oz double cream, heated in microwave for 30 seconds
- 125g | 4.4oz créme fraiche
- 2 tbsp butter
- 500g | 1.1lbs full fat mascarpone
- 200g | 7oz icing sugar
- 100g | 3.5oz chai caramel
- 3-5 tbsp double cream
- ¼ tsp ground cinnamon (optional)
- Steep the chai teabags in 250ml (1 cup) boiling water for 10 minutes. Discard the teabags and add the raisins. Leave for a couple of hours or overnight until they are plump. Strain and keep the tea for making the caramel.
- Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Grease and line 3x20cm/8in or 4x15cm/6in cake tins.
- Put the sugar, oil and eggs in the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat for two minutes until the ingredients are incorporated.
- Sift the flour, spices, salt, bicarbonate of soda and baking powder into a bowl. Gradually add to the mixing bowl while beating on medium-low speed. Increase the speed once everything has been added and beat for a minute.
- Stir in the grated carrot, pecans and raisins and divide the batter between the prepared cake tins. Bake for 25 minutes or until the cakes are springy to the touch and coming away from the edges of the tins. Cool in the tins for 10 minutes before carefully turning out onto a cooling rack.
- Make the caramel. Bring the tea and sugar to a boil in a deep sided saucepan. Continue to boil for several minutes until it reads150 C (300 F) on a digital thermometer*. Reduce heat slightly and when the caramel reaches 175 C (350 F) take it off the heat and add the double cream - be very careful it will bubble volcanically! When it calms down a bit add the créme fraiche and butter and mix together with a balloon whisk until smooth. Cook for a further five minutes over medium heat until it thickens slightly. Cool before using.
- To make the frosting, put the mascarpone, icing sugar and caramel in your stand mixer. Beat together on the lowest speed setting until combined and then increase the speed and gradually add the double cream. Beat until the frosting is smooth and forms firm peaks - won't take long at all. Transfer to a piping bag fitted with a plain round tip.
- Pipe a generous layer of frosting over each cake layer, drizzle with a little caramel and sandwich together. Add frosting around the sides and top and smooth using a pastry scraper. Chill and add a second layer of frosting for a totally smooth effect.
- Pipe some caramel around the perimeter of the cake letting it drip down the sides. Decorate with cinnamon sticks and physalis (cape gooseberries).