Sunday, August 26, 2012

Tea Cakes Fit for a Princess

I love a good tea party. With fancy tablecloths, clinking silverware, chitchat and tiers of tiny cakes and finger sandwiches, they are how little girls pretend to be ladies, and often how grownups pretend to be, too. I hosted a tea party for the ladies in my family a couple of years ago, which we still talk about today.

I enjoy the tradition of tea very much. First of all, because I am a tea drinker. I find the warming calm of a cup of tea much more invigorating than the jittery slam of energy that comes from a cup of coffee (though that does come in handy sometimes!) I also like an excuse to put on a dainty dress and a string of pearls and act fancy every once in a while, and because when foods are smaller as they are with tea, they are more fun and always seem to taste better.

My mom and I have spent many a special occasion (or just because) at tea times and cute little tea houses. They are a nice change of pace from the average daily hustle and are always so enjoyable. Every once in a while it’s good to take a cue from the folks in England and stop in the middle of the day for a spot of tea. Don't you agree?

These are mini princess cakes. Princess cake is a Swedish cake, also called prinsesst√•rta. It’s traditionally a regular-sized cake made of layers of sponge cake, pastry cream, jam, and stiffly whipped cream that’s topped with thinly rolled out marzipan. I skipped out on the jam and made them mini for a perfect little tea time petit four. Some were muffin-sized, while others mini muffin-sized just to be even cuter.

For something so small, the process that went into making these tiny cakes was pretty lengthy, but well worth it. Tea time is special and these are definitely special as well. The sugary almond marzipan, the airy sponge cake, and the fluffy whipped cream and pastry cream inside, combine for light, sugary bites of heaven. Topped with a dusting of confectioner’s sugar and decorative sugar flowers, they are just the type of thing I personally would delight in seeing on a tier of tea snacks.

Princess Tea Cakes:
Yield: 12 muffin-size cakes or 24 mini muffin size cakes

Sponge Cake:
- 3 eggs, separated
- 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 1 ½ cups sugar, divided
- ½ cup warm water
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon lemon zest
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
1) Preheat the oven to 325 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a 12 count muffin tin or 24 count mini muffin tin with nonstick spray.
2) In the bowl of a stand mixer, beat the eggs until slightly thickened. Gradually add 1 cup sugar, beating continually until thick and lemon-colored. Blend in the water, vanilla, lemon zest and juice. Add the dry ingredients; mix well. Transfer to a large bowl.
3) Clean the mixing bowl, then add egg whites and cream of tartar and beat on medium speed until soft peaks form. Gradually beat in the remaining sugar, about 1 tablespoon at a time on high, until stiff glossy peaks form and the sugar is dissolved. Gently fold ¼ of the egg whites into the batter, then fold in the remaining whites.
4) Spoon into the greased muffin tins. Cut through the batter with a knife to remove any air pockets. Bake for about 30-35 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through, until the cake springs back when lightly touched. Immediately invert the pan onto a cooling rack. Cool completely.
5) Run a knife along the edges of each muffin cup to carefully release the cakes.

Pastry Cream:
- 8 ounces milk
- ¾ ounce cornstarch
- 1 ounce sugar
- 2 ¾ ounces egg yolks (from about 4 eggs)
- ¼ tablespoon vanilla extract
- ½ teaspoon grated lemon zest
1) Heat 6 ounces of milk in a sauce pan and bring to a boil over medium heat.
2) Meanwhile, combine the cornstarch and the sugar in a medium bowl. Add the remaining 2 ounces of milk, the egg yolks and vanilla and stir with a whisk until smooth.
3) Temper the egg mixture by adding about 1/3 of the hot milk to the bowl, stirring constantly with a whisk. Return the mixture to the remaining hot milk in the saucepan. Lower the heat to medium-low and continue cooking, stirring vigorously with the whip, until the pastry cream comes to a boil and the whip leaves a trail. Shut off the heat immediately and stir in the lemon zest.
4) Pour the pastry cream into a large shallow container or bowl. Placed plastic wrap directly on the surface of the cream and cool over an ice bath.
5) Store the pastry cream, covered, under refrigeration.

Whipped Cream:
- 8 ounce heavy cream
- 1 ounce confectioners’ sugar
- ½ tablespoon vanilla extract
1) Whip heavy cream to soft peaks. Adds sugar and vanilla and whip until stiff peaks.

- Sponge cake
- Pastry cream
- Whipping cream
- Confectioners’ sugar
- 10 ounces marzipan
- Food coloring of choice
- Decorative sugar flowers
1) Use desired food coloring to color the marzipan to your liking. Dust the table with confectioners’ sugar and roll the marzipan out into a thin sheet. Add more sugar if needed to keep the marzipan from sticking to the table.
2) Slice each sponge cake horizontally to make two layers. Pipe a bit of bit of pastry cream onto the first layer, then cover with the second layer. Top the second layer with a dollop of the whipped cream.
3) Cut out circles of the marzipan with a cookie cutter large enough to cover the cakes. Gently place the marzipan over each cake and form it around, being careful not to squish the whipping cream.
4) Add a few drops of water to a tablespoon of confectioners’ sugar to make a royal icing/sugar paste. Dip the base of the sugar flowers into the mixture and adhere to the top of each cake.
5) Sprinkle the cakes with a light dusting of confectioners’ sugar and serve.