When part-time communications officer Sarah Tan ordered a 400g bag of dried lavender, she did not realise how much she was getting.
Even after giving batches away, she was still left with three big portions of the fragrant flower.
She says with a chuckle: "While 400g does not sound like a lot, I had forgotten that each flower is so light. It's like ordering 400g of feathers.
"And I can't just use a lot of it at a go for food or drinks as the lavender flavour can be very strong and overpowering."
So besides making her "sleepy digestion tea" concoction of lemon juice, ginger, mint and lavender, she pairs lavender with Earl Grey tea and adapts a lemon pound cake recipe she found online.
For the cake, she recommends using Earl Grey tea from British tea brand Twinings as its tea bag contents are of a powdery consistency. This allows some of the tea leaf bits to go through the sieve when the infused buttermilk and tea are strained.
Both the infused buttermilk and tea in the recipe are a must, she says, to pack on more flavour from the Earl Grey tea. In her first experiment, she baked the cake with only an Earl Grey lavender tea infusion and felt the flavour was too light.
The result of her experiments is an aromatic Earl Grey lavender pound cake, an 8cm-long mini loaf perfect for breakfast or a teatime snack. The batter can also be used to bake one whole 9-inch cake, or 12 muffins.
Her love for baking started in primary school, when she first learnt how to bake an orange butter cake from her mother. "I would help her and make a mess of everything. My job was to beat eggs and sift flour. I would then sit in front of the oven in anticipation," recalls Ms Tan, whose 29-year-old husband is a corporate events planner.
Now, she gets her inspiration from cafes and restaurants that she dines at, or from Internet recipes.
And the experimental baker is not afraid to make mistakes.
Giggling, she takes out a chocolate mousse cake with a red mirror glaze from her refrigerator and says: "Doesn't this look like ang ku kueh?" Ms Tan explains that she did not use enough gelatin for the mirror glaze.
Next, she takes out her sourdough bread, which she baked in a muffin tray. However, the baking paper had stuck to the bread.
She says: "All these learning lessons make baking fun. Even trying out different brands of butter and flour for baking has taught me a lot."
Other bakes in her repertoire include red velvet cake, carrot cake, Christmas fruit cake and moist chocolate cake with sour cream. For Chinese New Year, she is likely to make pineapple tarts and is now working on perfecting her shortcrust pastry.
Ms Tan does not rule out opening a baking business one day. She already has an Oh My Sweet account (@oohmysweet) on Instagram and labels to stick on her creations.
She says: "I thought it would be fun to brand my bakes first, so that I'm ready if I ever start something. My concern is that running a business would require a lot of work and take the fun out of baking."
EARL GREY LAVENDER POUND CAKE
For the Earl Grey lavender milk (prep one day before baking)
- 2 tea bags of Earl Grey tea
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- 1 Tbs dried lavender
For the Earl Grey lavender buttermilk (prep one to two hours before baking)
- 1/2Tbs white vinegar or lemon juice
For the Earl Grey lavender tea
- 1 tea bag of Earl Grey tea
- 1/2 Tbs dried lavender
- 1/2 cup hot water
For the cake
- 11/2 cups plain flour
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/4 tsp baking powder
- 1/4 tsp baking soda
- 115g unsalted butter
- 3/4 cup sugar
- 3 eggs
For the Earl Grey lavender glaze
- 1/2 cup icing sugar
- Lavender flowers for garnish
For the Earl Grey lavender milk: Cut open the tea bags and pour the contents into an airtight jar. Add the whole milk and dried lavender, cover and refrigerate overnight.
For the Earl Grey lavender buttermilk: Add 1/2 tablespoon of white vinegar or lemon juice to the milk mixture from step 1. Leave to curdle in the refrigerator for no more than two to three hours.
For the Earl Grey lavender tea: Cut open the tea bag and pour the contents into a bowl. Add the dried lavender and pour in the hot water. Leave to cool.
When ready to bake: Preheat oven to 175 deg C.
In a small bowl, strain the Earl Grey buttermilk mixture from step 2 through a sieve. Do the same with the Earl Grey lavender tea from step 3. Then, combine 90ml of the buttermilk mixture with two tablespoons of the Earl Grey lavender tea. Set aside.
In a separate medium bowl, sift the flour, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Whisk the ingredients to combine.
Using an electric mixer, cream butter and sugar on medium speed for a few minutes until light and fluffy. It should be a very pale yellow.
Add eggs, one at a time, and continue to mix until incorporated.
Turn the mixer to low speed and add the flour mixture from step 6 in three parts, alternating with the Earl Grey mixture from step 5.
Grease a mini loaf pan tray (each loaf is 8cm in length) with butter and dust with flour. You can also use a muffin tray or make one cake in a 9-inch loaf tin.
Scoop batter into each mini loaf tin and lightly tap the tin on the table to remove any air pockets inside the batter.
Bake for about 30 minutes, or until a skewer inserted comes out clean. Muffins would require the same timing, while a 9-inch pound cake will take about 50 minutes to one hour.
Allow to cool in the pan before turning out the cakes onto a wire rack. Let the cakes cool completely before glazing.
For the glaze: Whisk the icing sugar and one to two tablespoons of the remaining Earl Grey lavender tea from step 3 in a bowl until you get a smooth paste-like texture.
Place the cakes on a wire rack over a baking sheet or tray. Spoon glaze over the cakes, letting it run down the sides.
Garnish with dried lavender flowers. The cakes can be kept in the refrigerator for one to two weeks. To serve, just re-heat in the microwave for 20 to 30 seconds.
Makes 8 mini loaf cakes, 12 muffins or a 9-inch pound cake
Source: The Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Limited. Reproduced with permission.
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