I have been looking forward to this cake since I first got the book. I have been so intrigued by this tea. The cake gets its name from a special blend of tea called Marco Polo made by the French tea company Mariage Freres. It is used as a flavoring in the cake base as well as the soaking syrup and the streusel coating. Karen didn’t sell it at her store and I couldn’t find a source for it locally. Karen recommends that if you can’t get it to use any strong berry flavored tea but I was so caught up in the idea of this tea that I decided I had to have the real thing. I found a mail order source here in California and I ordered 3 ounces of loose tea just for this cake. Well, as I am sure you have all guessed it wasn’t cheap. It ended up costing around $15.00 for the three ounces and for the three days it took to get here I could not stop thinking about this tea. When it arrived I have to admit I was even more intrigued. I could actually smell the tea through the cardboard shipping container, when I opened the box the aroma was intense and intoxicating. Not only berry (which berry I couldn’t even begin to identify) but also vanilla and something else which I still haven’t been able to figure out. It was truly mesmerizing. I set to work grinding the tea and gathering ingredients. Halfway through making the cake batter I couldn’t take it any more and had to brew myself a cup of this tea. It is truly an amazing cup of tea. It certainly is full of berry and vanilla flavor but there is something about it that I just find indescribable. Straight to the top of my favorite tea list it went. I finished up the cake, put it in the oven and went directly to my computer to order the large size of the tea, and I have had at least one cup a day since then.
Suddenly the entire house was filled with this incredible aroma which of course was the baking cake. This time the center of attention was vanilla with the berries acting as a background. How ever you describe it the smell was intense and heavenly. With the cake out of the oven and cooling I noticed that this cake is much denser than the other cakes I have made from this book and it is also not as tall. As I have mentioned in other posts, the cakes in this book are very large and even the plain cake bases rise right to the top of the 3 inch pans. This one was only about and inch and a half tall. The recipe states that the cake base is sliced into three – 1/4 inch layers so I figured I was okay and that was how it was supposed to be. All was fine.
Compared to some of the cakes I have made from this book and those yet to come, this is a fairly simple cake to assemble. The soaking syrup is really just a plain sugar and water syrup with the Marco Polo tea infused in it. A note here, this syrup was so good I used some of the leftovers to flavor my morning coffee. YUM
The vanilla bean mousse is a simple custard base, loaded with intense vanilla bean seeds and rich with eggs and milk and then lightened with whipped cream.
The assembly is straight forward. Divide the cake layers. Place one layer in the mold and brush with the soaking syrup, top with the vanilla mousse, then fresh blackberries, then a layer of sweetened whipped cream. Add the second layer and repeat the process, then the top layer, syrup and the final coating of vanilla mousse and into the freezer for its overnight rest.
Next the blackberry mirror is made and poured in the top. This is really just a combination of fresh blackberries, sugar, water, corn syrup and blackberry jam which is cooked and stained and poured on top of the cake. It then rests in the freezer for an hour. The cake is then put in the refrigerator for at least 8 hours to thaw.
The streusel coating is made from butter, more of the Marco Polo tea, powdered sugar, almond flour and all-purpose flour. It is baked and cooled and then crumbled and pressed onto the sides of the cake.
I couldn’t wait to dig into this cake. It is truly delicious but really hard to describe. Based on the smells coming out of my kitchen throughout the baking process I was anticipating a rather intense flavor but what I met with was something very balanced and mild. No one flavor stood out at all. The vanilla mousse heightened the vanilla in the tea. The fresh blackberries and blackberry mirror intensified the blackberry flavor in the tea but the overall effect was simply one of balance. The cake was flavorful but not intensely rich and no one flavor came to the fore front but instead an overall all impression of the underlying flavors. All in all it was worth waiting for and a small slice of heaven.