The first time I sipped earl grey tea (not sure exactly when, maybe as a preteen?), I thought it was vile. I don’t quite remember why — maybe the unexpected citrus notes, maybe the particular cup I had was brewed way too strong, who knows. All I know is that it turned me off from earl grey for at least a decade.
Well, many years and cups of caffeinated drinks later, I finally gave earl grey another chance and am happy to report a complete change of heart (er, taste?). It’s actually become one of my favorite flavors to infuse into baked goods; it adds such a lovely hint of brightness and sophistication that pairs equally well with either fruit or chocolate.
Infusing earl grey flavor
This recipe is a twist on the classic caramel slice or millionaire’s shortbread, a three-layer bar cookie with a shortbread base, caramel middle, and chocolate topping. Many caramel slice recipes use condensed milk as the basis for the caramel layer; but since I wanted to add the earl grey flavor, here I make a classic caramel with earl grey infused cream. At first I tried infusing both the caramel and chocolate, but the flavor wasn’t as prominent as I wanted. So I ended up nixing the earl grey in the chocolate and adding some tea to the shortbread for the right balance.
When adding tea directly to a baked good as in the shortbread, I prefer using leaves from regular old tea bags (Twinings is my go-to for earl grey). The leaves are small and unobtrusive. But for infusions, I prefer loose leaf. There will naturally be some cream (or butter) that sticks to the tea leaves during straining, but using the larger loose leaf tea seems to minimize the loss. However, if you don’t have both kinds of tea I would opt for tea bags in this recipe — you may just need to top up the cream a bit after the infusion.
- You will need a digital thermometer to make the caramel layer. For candy-making I prefer the clip-on style; I have both a Polder and Thermoworks Dot and both work well. While you want to use a pot large enough to prevent overflow, using one that’s too large can make it difficult to get an accurate reading with the probe. A 2.5L saucepan is my favorite size for this amount of caramel. As always, use caution when working with hot sugar — have all your ingredients scaled out nearby and keep small children and animals out of the kitchen.
- I use a small amount of corn syrup in both the caramel and chocolate layers. In the caramel, the corn syrup helps prevent crystallization. In the chocolate topping, it adds a little shine. You can omit it if you don’t have it; just increase the sugar in the caramel to 200g. No need to adjust other quantities for chocolate layer.
- I prefer to let the chocolate layer set completely at room temperature (about 4 hours or overnight) rather than refrigerating it so the caramel won’t be too hard to slice through neatly. If you’re in a rush and need to refrigerate it to set, make sure to let the slab sit at room temp for at least 15 minutes to let the caramel soften a little.
- Love earl grey in baked goods? Check out the earl grey bundt cake and the earl grey variation of the chocolate caramel tart in my cookbook Baked to Order!
Earl grey caramel slice (millionaire’s shortbread)
Makes one 9″ x 5″ pan
For the earl grey shortbread:
- 113g (1/2 c) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 35g (1/4 c plus 1 tsp) icing sugar
- 4g earl grey tea (from 2 regular tea bags)
- 1/4 tsp fine sea salt
- 1 tsp orange zest
- 125g (1 c) all-purpose flour
For the earl grey caramel:
- 160g (2/3 c) heavy cream (35% fat), plus more if needed
- 8g earl grey tea (1 3/4 Tbsp loose leaf, or about 4 regular tea bags)
- 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
- 1/2 tsp pure vanilla extract
- 180g (1 c minus 1 Tbsp) granulated sugar
- 20g (1 Tbsp) corn syrup
- 60g (1/4 c) water
- 42g (3 Tbsp) unsalted butter, at room temperature
For the chocolate topping:
- 75g (3/4 c) good-quality dark chocolate (~50-60%), chopped
- 50g (3 1/2 Tbsp) butter
- 7g (1 tsp) corn syrup
Preheat the oven and prepare the pan: Preheat your oven to 350F with a rack in the middle. Lightly grease a 9×5 loaf pan or 9×4 pullman pan and line with two pieces of criss-crossed parchment. Ensure all sides of the pan are lined and leave at least 2-inches of overhang on the long sides to ensure easy removal. Lightly grease the parchment.
Make the earl grey shortbread: In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the butter, icing sugar, tea, salt, and orange zest. Beat on low to combine, then raise the speed to medium and beat until smooth and combined, about 2-3 minutes. Scrape down the paddle and sides of the bowl a couple times during this process. Add the flour and mix on low just until combined and no streaks of flour remain. Scatter the dough evenly into the prepared pan and use your fingers or a small glass to press the crust firmly and evenly across the bottom. Use a fork to prick the dough all over. Chill until just firm, about 10 minutes in the freezer or 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Bake the shortbread until lightly golden and set, about 25-30 min. Cool on a wire rack while you prepare the caramel layer.
Make the earl grey caramel: In a small saucepan, heat the cream over medium heat just until steaming. Stir in the tea, remove from the heat, and cover. Let cream infuse for 30 minutes. Strain the cream to remove the tea, pressing on the tea to extract as much cream as possible. Measure 130g of cream back into the small saucepan (add additional cream if necessary to reach the correct amount). Stir in the salt and vanilla. Place back over medium heat and bring back to a bare simmer, then turn off the heat, cover, and keep warm while you prepare the rest of the caramel.
In a medium (I used a 2.5L) heavy-bottomed saucepan, combine the sugar, corn syrup, and water. Place over medium heat and stir with a fork to ensure the sugar is evenly moistened. Once the mixture starts to bubble, stop stirring. Place the lid on the pot and let boil, covered, for 3 minutes. After 3 minutes, remove the lid and continue boiling until the mixture turns the color of a copper penny. Once the caramel reaches this color, remove the pan from the heat. Slowly pour in about a third of the cream mixture, stirring constantly. Take care as the mixture will bubble up! Once the first portion of cream is smoothly incorporated, slowly drizzle in the remaining cream followed by the butter, stirring constantly the entire time. Once the caramel is smooth, clip on a digital thermometer and return the pot to medium heat. Cook the caramel, stirring and scraping the pot frequently, until it reaches 250F. Immediately remove from the heat and pour over the shortbread. Do not scrape the pot; those bits of caramel tend to overcook and may leave hard bits in your squares. Let caramel cool completely before preparing the chocolate layer — about 4 hours at room temperature or 30 minutes in the refrigerator.
Prepare the chocolate layer: Combine the chocolate, butter, and corn syrup in a small, microwave-safe bowl. Heat in 20-second bursts, stirring well between bursts, until 80% melted; then continue stirring until completely melted and smooth. Pour over the set caramel, tilting the pan to spread the chocolate in an even layer. Let set at room temperature, about 4 hours. (You can speed this along and refrigerate for about an hour, but let stand at room temperature for about 15-30 minutes before cutting.)
Slice the bars: Once the chocolate has set, use a sharp chef’s knife to cut into desired sizes. For the cleanest slices, heat the blade and clean after each cut. Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 5 days or freeze for longer storage; bring to room temperature before eating.