The mornings and evenings are properly cold in Delhi now; quilts are out, I’m eyeing the hot-water bottle and Horlicks is the tipple of choice. If we had one, I’d be toasting crumpets on the open fire, and for those of us who celebrate Christmas, to-do lists feature mincemeat and plum puddings. I don’t feel quite ready for mince pies and mulled wine yet, but this spiced fruity tea bread is definitely nudging me in the right direction.
Tea bread (actually it’s a cake) is both eaten with and made from tea, a nifty way of using up what’s left over in the teapot to make a cake for the following afternoon. A mixture of dry fruit is soaked in tea overnight, then the following morning egg and flour are added. Use any tea you fancy, preferably one with a good strong flavour—I’ve made nice versions with Earl Grey and Assam but pulled back from green tea—and any combination of dry fruit. I’d leave the raisins in—they plump up so beautifully—but perhaps replace the currants with dried cranberries, chopped dates or dried apricots. You could also spice it up a bit more with mixed spice or cinnamon.
Perfect brew: The dry fruits used in the cake are soaked overnight in tea.
Something I’ve noticed is that men, even those who solemnly inform you they don’t have much of a sweet tooth, devour this cake. Perhaps it’s the aura of leather chairs in the library that makes it so appealing, but in the course of my (very unscientific) research I’ve seen men who wouldn’t thank you for a cupcake or macaroon put away half a loaf.
Even if this cake weren’t so easy to eat, it would be worth making just for the way it makes the kitchen smell; inviting citrusy, spicy wafts both while the fruit is soaking and when the cake is in the oven. I can think of few things more comforting to make or eat. With a cup of tea, thickly buttered, this tea bread hits the spot, even without a roaring fire.
Orange and Lemon
Masala Tea Bread
150g Demerara sugar
Finely grated zest of one large lemon
Finely grated zest of one orange
Juice of one orange (approx. 100ml)
Approx. 200ml strong hot masala tea (without milk)
1 egg, lightly beaten
275g plain flour
1 tsp baking powder
Line either a loaf tin (I used one that was 26x13cm) or a 20cm cake tin with parchment paper. Put the raisins, currants, sugar, lemon and orange zest in a large bowl. Put the orange juice into a measuring jug and add enough masala tea to come up to the 300ml mark. Pour this over the fruit and give the whole lot a good stir. Cover and leave to soak overnight.
In the morning, preheat the oven to 150 degrees Celsius, stir in the egg, then sieve in the flour and baking powder. Stir well and pour into the lined baking tin.
Place in the oven and bake for about one-and-a-half hours. The top of the cake should be golden brown, and if you insert a skewer, it should come out completely clean. Leave to cool before slicing.
The tea bread will keep well, wrapped in foil, for about a week (although perhaps not if there’s a man around).
Also Read | Pamela’s previous Lounge columns
Pamela Timms is a Delhi-based journalist and food writer. She blogs at Eatanddust.com
Write to Pamela at email@example.com