I feel like even when I get into trouble with a recipe – be that forgetting an ingredient, messing up a cooking temperature or missing a step – I have enough creativity to get myself out of it. That said, last year for Fourth of July I attempted to make this Arnold Palmer cake from Momofuku Milk Bar’s Christina Tosi and it was an epic fail. It reminded me of the cake the three fairies try to make without magic in Sleeping Beauty (something like this). I tried to get by without a couple of key ingredients, but I could not resuscitate this thing. The cake was dry (the first major sin), my iced tea jelly was liquid (gasp), the mascarpone filling wouldn’t firm up and my almond tea crunch tasted like clumps of dirt. I still served it, because I had to have something to show for all of my surgical efforts, and my family was nice enough to grin their way through a slice.
A bit of background on my relationship with Ms. Tosi (Well, I don’t have one, but I do have her cookbook and sometimes curse at it.). Her sweets-focused cookbook, Momofuku Milk Bar, has recipes within recipes that are very much an uphill marathon. For me, they take a week of planning, reading, mentally preparing, rereading and always a couple of days to execute (please don’t close the browser now, it gets better). However, once I have finished, it’s the greatest sense of cooking satisfaction I’ve ever felt. And they are damn tasty. The kind of tasty where people ask you what you put in there. I highly recommend trying some (like her Funfetti-style birthday layer cake or blueberries and cream cookies), just go in with your game face.
It’s a year later, and I decided to face the five-page recipe of sweet tea cake, lemon mascarpone, tea jam and almond tea crunch once again. But this time I had a plan, the right ingredients and a weekend of solitude in the apartment. It took me a couple days (and a couple bottles of wine I think), but the results were fantastic. It’s one of the most unique cakes I’ve ever made and really emulates the golfer’s classic sweet tea and lemonade concoction. It definitely checks all the boxes with the sweetness of the cake, creamy mascarpone, crunchy filling and that punch of tea throughout.
If you have the second issue of Lucky Peach magazine (a literary foodie publication I highly recommend), refer to page 65, or refer to the recipe below. I’ve included my bits of editorial comments within the instructions, since I did take a few small liberties with the recipe. Heading into the Fourth this time, I can say that making the Arnold Palmer cake this year felt much more like when the three fairies played to their strengths and used magic to make Aurora’s cake. Enjoy your holiday!
Note: Plan ahead. Several ingredients used for this cake (acetate strips, feuilletine, cake ring, etc.) you will need to get from a specialty baking store or online. I’d also suggest purchasing the unsweetened iced tea powder online, since I found it difficult to find anything but sweetened version in grocery stores.
Arnold Palmer Cake
Makes a 6″ Cake, Serves 6 to 8
Lemon Tea Cake
Bitter Tea Soak
6″ x 20″ strip of acetate
parchment paper or Silpat
6″ cake ring (I used an 8″ ring and it worked great, and served about 10-12 people)
LEMON TEA CAKE
8 tbsp. butter
1 1/2 cups sugar
2 egg yolks
1/3 cup grapeseed oil
1/2 cup buttermilk
1/4 cup lemon juice
1 tsp. lemon extract
1 1/2 cups cake flour
9 bags Lipton black tea leaves
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. kosher salt
Preheat oven to 350° F. Cream the butter and granulated sugar in a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. After 2 or 3 minutes on medium-high, scrape down the sides of the bowl and add the eggs and egg yolks one by one until they disappear into the butter and sugar.
Scrape down the sides again and turn the mixer to low speed. Stream in the oil, buttermilk, lemon juice, and lemon extract. Mix on medium until everything is homogenous and fluffy—about 5 to 6 minutes.
Combine the flour, tea leaves, baking powder, and salt in a separate mixing bowl. With the mixer running on low, incorporate the dry ingredients into your main bowl. You don’t want to overmix the cake; just mix until the dry ingredients disappear (45 seconds or so).
Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment or a Silpat. Spread the cake batter on the pan and give it a little jiggle to even things out. Bake for about 30 minutes, then give it a gentle poke. You’re looking for it to bounce back and for the cake to have pulled back from the edges a bit. (You are probably not going to use the cake immediately, so make sure to wrap it in plastic so it retains moisture.)
BITTER TEA SOAK AND TEA JELLY
(makes a little more than you need)
2 1/4 cups water
8 bags Lipton black tea
1 3/4 cups sugar
1/4 cup instant Lipton unsweetened iced-tea powder
1/2 tsp. pectin NH
1 1/2 tbsp. lemon juice
(Because I used an 8″ cake ring, I doubled this recipe just to be safe. I ended up with the perfect amount of jelly.)
Bring the water to a boil in a small saucepan. Remove it from the heat and add the tea bags. Let the bags steep for 5 minutes, or until the tea is very bitter. Discard the tea bags and store the bitter tea soak in an airtight container.
In a heavy-bottomed saucepan, whisk together the sugar, pectin, and tea powder until thoroughly combined. Over high heat, slowly whisk in 3 cups of bitter tea soak and the lemon juice, and bring to a full rolling boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for at least 2 minutes. This activates the pectin and will turn the tea and lemon into a beautiful jelly. Transfer the jelly to an appropriate container and refrigerate. Once set, the jelly will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge.
(I’m not a frequent jelly maker, so I became very nervous when my jelly didn’t become it’s beautiful jelly form in the pan. But once I put it in the fridge and let it cool, it came out just like she says. Be patient. Don’t freak out like I did the first time and start spreading Orange Marmalade on the cake.)
LEMON MASCARPONE INGREDIENTS
(makes a little more than you need)
1/3 cup lemon juice (about 3 lemons), plus the zest
1/2 cup sugar
1 gelatin sheet (1/2 tsp. powdered)
8 tbsp. cold butter
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1/2 cup cold mascarpone
(Again, for my 8″ cake ring, I used about 1 1/2 of this recipe and it was just right.)
Bloom the gelatin in cold water.
In a saucepan, whisk together the sugar, lemon juice, lemon zest, and eggs. Cook the mixture over low heat, whisking constantly. The mixture will thicken as it comes to a simmer. Once it does, take the pan off the heat.
Whisk in the bloomed gelatin, butter, and salt. Mix until everything is fully incorporated, shiny, and smooth. (You can do this in a blender if you like.) Transfer the lemon curd to a container and cool in the fridge for a few hours or overnight. (I found my lemon curd was a bit chunky with the zest, so I put it through a fine mesh strainer, and it was the perfect texture.)
In a stand mixer outfitted with the paddle attachment (or a mixing bowl, using a spatula), fully combine the lemon curd and the mascarpone. It’s important that both the cheese and the curd are cold, or they won’t come together properly. (So true!) Lemon mascarpone will hold in the fridge for a about a week.
1/4 cup instant Lipton lemon iced-tea powder
2 tbsp. slivered almonds
1/4 cup almond butter
1/2 cup feuilletine
3 tbsp. confectioners’ sugar
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
Note: The unique texture of feuilletine is the secret to the almond-tea-crunch layer in the middle of the cake. Feuilletine is made of little pieces of crispy broken crepe or cookie. You can mix it with any amount of fat – or anything oily – and it will never go soggy. But the second you moisten it with milk or water – anything that’s not pure fat – sogtown. Its texture is impossible to replicate at home, so it’s worth seeking out. (You can find it on Amazon or, if you are in the Los Angeles area, it’s sold at specialty food stores like Surfas.)
Lightly toast the slivered almonds in a preheated 325° F oven, just until they start to take on a little bit of color.
Combine everything in a stand mixer. Mix over low speed with the paddle attachment for about a minute, until it comes together as a nice sandy crunch.
BUILD THE CAKE
Invert the sheet pan of lemon tea cake onto a cutting board and peel off the parchment or Silpat from the bottom of the cake.
Use a cake ring to stamp out two circles from the rectangular cake. Reserve them for your top two cake layers. You’ll bring together the remaining cake “scraps” to form the bottom layer of the cake.
Clean the cake ring and place it in the center of the parchment-or-Silpat-lined sheet pan.
Use your fingers to stamp the cake scraps together into a flat, even layer—the base layer of your cake. No one will ever know you faked it.
Dunk the pastry brush in bitter tea soak, and give the first layer of cake a good, healthy bath. Use about half the batch.
Use the back of a spoon to spread half of the lemon mascarpone in an even layer over the base of the cake. Sprinkle half of the almond-tea-crunch evenly across the top of the lemon mascarpone. Finally, use the back of a spoon to spread one-third of the tea jelly as evenly as possible over the crunch. (This step wasn’t easy, so I just did little dollops of jelly, and you could still taste it in the finished cake.)
Repeat the process of building the first layer, using one of the completed cake rounds as the base. (Laying the cake rounds into the ring is a bit tricky, but don’t worry if they crack a little. No one will know once it’s layered and set.)
Nestle the remaining cake round on top of the second layer of tea jelly. Cover the top of the cake with the remaining third of tea jelly, and spread it into an even layer.
Transfer the assembled cake, sheet pan and all, to the freezer. Freeze for a minimum of 3 hours to set the cake and its filling. The cake will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks.
When you’re ready to serve, pull the sheet pan out of the freezer. Using your fingers, pop the cake out of the cake ring, and transfer the cake to a platter or cake stand and let it defrost. It usually takes about 3 hours to defrost at room temperature, or 6 hours to defrost in the fridge. If you want to jazz up the presentation, cut paper-thin slices of lemon and arrange them on the top jelly layer. Then slice wedges and serve. Wrapped well with plastic, the cake will keep fresh for up to 5 days in the fridge.
This is what nine bags of Lipton tea looks like. It gives a really distinct, powerful flavor to the layers of cake.
The Almond Tea Crunch layer is one of the features that really sets this cake apart. If you’re at all hesitant to take the extra steps to get feuilletine, I think it’s completely worth it, at least this once. It’s truly a unique texture and flavor, and stolen pinches out of the jar taste pretty great.
What are some of the recipes that you’d want a second chance at? Leave your comments below.