Cambric Cake (This is What My Memories Taste Like)

Cambric Cake came about while I was brainstorming ideas for my This is What My Memories Taste Like project.

When I was in college, I took an Astronomy class that started at the ungodly hour of 8 am. Though usually a stalwart coffee drinker, a small cart sat near the classroom serving, among the usual fare, Cambric Tea.

The large white paper cup filled with warm, frothy whole milk, a shot of hot Earl Grey Tea, and a big dose of honey, became an addictive joy. I think (I hoped) it made me seem a little mysterious and poetic (oh, youth) so, though broke, I downed two a week for the entire semester.

And then, perhaps because I never had a class in that particular building again (or perhaps because my new thing became drinking coffee with a straw. Oy), I never went back to that cart.

Over the years, I occasionally scanned coffee shop menus for Cambric Tea, and even attempted to order one here and there, much to the confusion of whomever what behind the counter. I made one at home sometimes, but generally (especially after having a kid) preferred the beautiful buzz of coffee.

Lately, though, I’ve been reaching for the comfort of a sweet cup of tea (perhaps I am watching too much British television, but it really is a lovely balm) and a few days ago, finally went to the Google to look up my old friend.

Turns out, this mysterious and poetic drink of my past is actually very much from the past, and was for centuries a common children’s beverage, sometimes nicknamed Nursery Tea. Classic.

Believed to originate in France, the name of the drink comes from Cambric cloth, a lightweight, thin, white fabric. Considered a suitable beverage for children, invalids, and the elderly, it was widely popular and commonplace, especially as the basic ingredients became readily available.

Laura Ingalls Wilder even writes of Cambric Tea in The Long Winter

 At noon Ma sliced bread and filled bowls with the hot bean broth and they all ate where they were, close to the stove. They all drank cups of strong, hot tea. Ma even gave Grace a cup of cambric tea. Cambric tea was hot water and milk, with only a taste of tea in it, but little girls felt grown-up when their mothers let them drink cambric tea.

It is a really lovely drink, one that I have both started drinking again, and sharing with Bea. But sometimes you just need a cake. That’s where this comes in.

Cambric Cake
Serves 8

Hot Milk Cake
Adapted from The Joy of Cooking

1 ½ c (150 g) cake flour (all-purpose can be used in a pinch: 188 g)
1 ½ tsp (6 g) baking powder
½ tsp kosher salt
3/4 c (180 g) whole milk
5 tbsp (70 g) unsalted butter, divided into 5 pieces
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 ½ c (300 g) granulated sugar
1 tsp (4 g) pure vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350°
Prepare one 8” x 4” round cake pan (see note) with butter or cooking spray and parchment

In a small bowl, whisk together the cake flour, baking powder, and salt. Set aside.

Measure the milk into a small saucepan and add the pieces of butter. Place the pan over medium heat until the butter has melted, stirring often. Remove from heat and set aside.

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, or with a large bowl and a hand mixer, beat the eggs on medium-high speed until lighter in color and increased in volume, about three minutes.

Slowly add in the sugar, a little at a time, beating on medium speed until all is incorporated.

Turn the mixer to low speed and add in the dry ingredients. When most of the drys have been incorporated, slowly pour in the hot milk and butter along the edge of the bowl (avoid pouring directly onto the whisk attachment as the hot liquid will splatter). Once all of the liquid is in, add the vanilla and continue beating on low speed for 30 seconds; This last bit can also be done by hand.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, smoothing the top with an offset spatula.

Bake until the scent of cake blooms, the sides begin pulling away from the pan and a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, or with just a few small crumbs, about 30 minutes.

Let cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then remove the cake to a rack to cool completely.

Note: this recipe can also be baked in two 8” x 2” pans. Divide the batter evenly between the two pans and start checking for doneness after 22 minutes.

Earl Gray Simple Syrup

1 Earl Grey Tea Bag
1 c (230 g) water
1/2 c (100 g) granulated sugar

Stir water and sugar together in a small pan. Set over medium heat. When it comes to a boil, lower heat to medium-low and place tea bag in pot. Continue at a nice simmer for 3-5 minutes, or until the sugar has dissolved. Remove from the heat. After two minutes, discard the tea bag. Let cool. Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week.

Honey-Sweetened Whipped Cream

1 c (240 g) heavy cream
1/4 c (85 g) honey, or to taste

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, beat the cold heavy cream on medium speed until soft peak stage. With the mixer running, slowly drizzle in the honey, then turn the speed up to medium-high and beat until firm peaks. Stop to taste occasionally, adding in more honey if desired. Do not over beat.

To prepare the Cambric Cake

Place the cooled cake layer onto a cardboard round or serving dish. Using a clean pastry brush, gently brush the syrup all over the top of the cake, letting it soak in. Spoon the whipped cream on top of the cake as desired.

Should you care to taste my memory, or just a delicious beverage, here’s how to make a cup of my Cambric tea.

Cambric Tea
Serves 1

1 bag Earl Grey Tea
1/2 c (115 g) Hot Water
1 c (240 g) whole milk
2 tsp honey

In a large mug, slip the tea bag into the hot water. While steeping, heat the milk and the honey in a small saucepan over medium heat, stirring frequently, until bubbles begin to form around the edge. Remove the tea bag from the mug, and pour the hot milk and honey in. If you have one of those frothing gadgets, go to town. Otherwise, just stir and enjoy.