Chocolate Cake with Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

I know I promised scones in this post but, cake!

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A cake that is chocolatey with a dense crumb, covered in a silky, smooth cream cheese frosting with the flavor of Earl Grey tea and topped with cocoa powder and chocolate shavings. 

At four layers, it's as wide as it is tall. 7.5-inches to be exact. You must be willing to share because these pieces are big.

Baking a cake is a feat that seems more of a challenge than it really is. Seeing as I rarely ever bake cakes, I shouldn't have any excuse either, but I do. This is the primary reason.

The last time I baked a cake was a year ago for Kristen's 20th birthday. So, this year and for her 21st, I wanted to go tall. I've never exceeded 2 layers because of an issue with a lack of pans and being stuck with lots and lots of cake. But, lately, I've been fascinated with tall, pretty cakes with lots of layers likes these ones in particular. 

So I decided to take a stab at it. There really was nothing to lose. Since we were going to New York, I wanted to make the cake before we left on the trip to celebrate her birthday early.

After work, I set off to explode the kitchen in chocolate and flour. I decided to use the chocolate cake in this book since it made enough batter for a triple layer cake with 9-inch pansI had 7.5-inch pans so I figured I could split the batter into four that way. Oh my, it was a lot of batter. I had to whisk in the last batch of flour by hand in fear of creating a flour dust storm because the bowl was already almost full to the brim. I forgot the weigh the bowl so I had to guesstimate how much each layer would weigh. Needless to say, my guesstimating skills were off and I did not win the prize for guessing the right number. I'm a bit rusty on math so my logic of splitting the total weight in four didn't work. This was even after Kristen explained to me how dividing the weight of the bowl and batter would not result in equal portions of batter. Now, the weight of the bowl is written on our refrigerator door for future reference at 668 grams.

I baked the cakes with their uneven weight distribution, let them cool and wrapped them in plastic wrap to be placed in the freezer so it would be easier to frost them later in the week. It was already heavier than Gus.

And then it came to the disaster of the frosting. Kristen really wanted Chantilly Frosting—a frosting usually seen on cakes made in Hawaii and similar to the frosting on German Chocolate Cake. I've never cooked a frosting over the stove until it thickens and well, it never thickened. Two attempts, a sore thumb, 15 eggs, 4 cans of evaporated milk, 1 lb. of butter later, I finally gave up; a bit mopey that I didn't finish Kristen's cake.

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When we got back from New York, I finally did. Inspired by these Early Grey Macarons with Chocolate Ganache, I made a proper frosting. One that requires creaming butter and adding powdered sugar. At first the cream cheese overwhelmed any Earl Grey tea flavor I tried to incorporate but in the end it took 2 bags of tea plus some steeped tea and some patience. The beast of a cake was quickly assembled, we let it defrost completely, I took lots of photos, Kristen blew out candles, we shared a piece, cut and wrapped it up and now we have enough cake in our freezer to last any upcoming apocalypse.  

Happy 21st, sis!

Chocolate Cake with Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

Cake adapted from Homemade Decadence by Joy the Baker

Yields: one 4 layer 7½ -inch cake


This recipe was originally for a three layer cake using 9-inch cake pans. If that fits your baking equipment better, the cake requires a bit more baking time, about 20-25 minutes.

If you ever doubted you needed a kitchen scale, now would be a good time to invest in one. Remember to weigh your empty mixing bowl, first! 


Chocolate Cake

  • 3 cups cake flour

  • ¾ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 1 teaspoon instant espresso powder (optional)

  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1½ cups brown sugar, packed

  • 1 cup granulated sugar

  • 4 large eggs, at room temperature

  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract

  • 2 cups buttermilk

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

  • ¼ cup hot water

  • 3 Earl Grey tea bags

  • ¾ cup butter, at room temperature

  • 8 oz. package cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 5-6 cups powdered sugar

Optional Toppings

  • Cocoa powder for dusting

  • Chocolate shavings

  • Birthday candles


Chocolate Cake

Put oven racks in the center and upper third of the oven and preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease and flour two 7.5-inch cake pans. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder, baking soda and instant espresso, if using.

In a bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugars together on medium speed until light and fluffy, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating for 1 minute after each addition. Beat in the vanilla extract. Reduce the mixer speed to low, add half of the flour mixture, and beat until the flour mixture is incorporated. Add the buttermilk in a slow stream and beat until thoroughly combined. Add the remaining flour mixture and beat until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and finish stirring with a spatula. Bake in 2 batches, dividing the batter as equally as possible in four parts.

Bake until cake springs back at your touch and a wooden toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool in pans for 20 minutes before inverting on wire racks to cool completely. Repeat with the last batch.

If not frosting the cake right away, double wrap in plastic wrap and store in the freezer. When ready to frost, remove from the freezer, unwrap and frost frozen.

Earl Grey Cream Cheese Frosting

Steep one tea bag in the hot water for about 10 minutes. Let cool completely or chill in the fridge. This can be done ahead of time.

In a bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter and cream cheese until creamy. Add in half the powdered sugar until incorporated, scraping down the sides when needed. Add in the concentrated tea, the leaves of the two other tea bags and enough powdered sugar to create a frosting that's smooth and spreadable.

Assemble the cake, alternating between cake and frosting.

If desired, decorate with a dusting of cocoa powder and chocolate shavings. Once the cake layers have fully defrosted (if you froze them, this takes a couple of hours), light the candles and serve!