Saturday baking: tea bread

A point of cultural confusion for me in the US was that coffee cake does not taste of coffee. Instead, it is the cake that you eat with coffee. I don’t know if there other foodstuffs that are named for their function, but just to clarify, tea bread is not one of them.

Tea bread is named with pleasing efficiency, since it both contains tea and may be eaten while drinking tea. It might be ok with coffee too (in which case, would it become coffee cake?)

I’ve been making a loaf of tea bread almost every week because it is easy, quick and unless I’m a complete heiffer, will last a week. I am, in fact, finishing off last’s week loaf while I write, but for the rest of the week I was taking slices in to work as my snacks, or, when I’d run out of milk, eating it for breakfast.

This is Nigella’s recipe, only now that I check I find she calls it ‘Fruit Tea Loaf’. Whatever.

  • 250 ml tea – N says use a teabag, I use whatever tea is in the pot; so far, I can confirm that Tetley’s, Lapsang Souchong, Darjeeling and a blend of the two works perfectly well. As did the spicy, Christmas Tea that I had leftover.
  • 375g mixed dried fruit
  • 125g dark brown sugar
  • 250g plain flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp bicarb of soda
  • pinch cloves (I’m using mixed spices)
  • 1 egg
Pour the cup of tea and add it to a bowl with the dried fruit and sugar. Leave to soak overnight, or all day. (Nigella says ‘macerate’ for ‘soak’. I think this is a great word with which to impress people with your domestic prowess: ‘Sorry I’m late, I was up all night macerating the fruit’ or ‘I must dash, I’ve got some fruit macerating’. They will be left impressed by the fact that you are engaged in some cooking activity that has a specific name, and if anyone asks what it means you can just wither them with a pitying stare, or say ‘It’s too complicated to explain now.’)
You can just leave the bowl out, I tend to stir it when I’m passing but I don’t suppose that is necessary.
As for the fruit, I use the Holy Trinity of British baking: currants, sultanas and raisins, with a handful of whatever else is to hand. I’ve added dried apricots and, most recently, some particularly lush and juicy prunes. They made the cake richer, veering in the direction of Dundee cake and making me think glace cherries would be a welcome addition, too.
Preheat the oven to gas mark 3/170C/. Line a 450g loaf tin with baking paper.
Beat the flour, baking powder, bicarb and cloves into the fruit mix, then beat in the egg. The mix should be gloopy. Scrape the mix into the loaf tin and bang it in the oven for an hour and a bit.
I usually the reduce baking times in my oven, because it blasts away, but this cake consistently works the other way. So I set the timer for an hour, by which point the cake will look pretty cooked, but then I stick a knife in it and use the consistency of the mix to judge how much longer it needs: around 5-10 minutes. If in doubt, I’d say under cook rather than over because the mix will continue cooking in the tin while it cools, and you want moist rather than dry for the texture. Although if it does turn out a bit dry you could presumably eat it with butter (butter cake!) and can certainly put lemon curd on it (lemon curd cake!).
Let it cool in the tin on a rack, and it will then certainly survive a few days wrapped only in foil.
Bask in the glory of having hand baked something and realise this is a ticket out of all remaining domestic chores for the rest of the weekend. Or if it isn’t, it should be and you are surrounded by ingrates.


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I've run out of books. Again.

8 thoughts on “Saturday baking: tea bread”

  1. Oh, who knew that for years and years, I’d been doing something so accomplished as macerating? And I’ve always been disappointed in that whole coffee cake thing, too. I mean coffee ice cream tastes like coffee, not something meant to be eaten with coffee, and most coffee cakes are too sweet. This tea cake sounds delicious, but I could never be bothered to figure out how to convert the recipe for an American kitchen. Anytime you’d like to send me some, though, I’d be happy to eat it :-)!

  2. Annie – I’m just impressed you can spell ‘onomatopoeically’.

    Emily – I agree that most coffee cakes are too sweet. Also, too dry and too crumbly. If I ever get measuring cups again I will work out the conversion and send you the recipe!

  3. My physics professor would like to know what the unit of measure is on the bicarb of soda.

  4. Thanks for this recipe I’ve been looking for this for years. I used to make something similar when I lived in England and it had All Bran in it (the recipe was on the All Bran packet).

  5. Ann – I think I can see how it would work with All Bran, but I might prefer it without. Glad the recipe is useful!

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