Saturday, July 10, 2010

Lavender Milk Tea Cupcakes for Sweetest Kitchen's Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge!

I am in law school. I study for a significant portion of my waking hours. One of the locations I like to study at is the public library. It looks like this:

This library is great. It has lots of big tables, tons of plugs, and best of all, a wonderful little coffee shop in the lobby. When I face a particularly grueling day of studying, I go to this library and promise myself the reward of their amazing lavender milky tea. I'd never had milky tea before this coffee shop, but it's quite popular in Hong Kong. (Thanks for the knowledge, Wikipedia). Anyway, what I like most about this tea isn't the it's milk + tea (that's fairly standard, I'd say), it's the lavender. Lavender is absolutely delicious in this drink and completely makes it the wonderful thing that it is.

The Great Search

Culinary Lavender

The coffee shop makes their lavender milk tea with a lavender syrup. After searching the internet, I found a few different options of incorporating lavender into baking.
  1. Lavender Oil
  2. Lavender Sugar
  3. Lavender Syrup
Unfortunately for me, these all required me to find the product, find some lavender, or pay stupidly expensive shipping costs and risk the lavender product not arriving in time to enter the competition.

Lavender is tricky. It is a flower, but it's not a flower people always eat. That means that if you're using lavender in cooking, you have to be exceedingly careful that it is food grade lavender, preferably organic, and not covered in pesticides or inedible oils meant for massages, etc.

There is a wonderful cooking store in Des Moines (Shout Out: Kitchen Collage) and I recently bought lemon and orange oil there by a brand that makes lavender oil. However, they did not carry the particular line from the brand that has lavender oil in it, so my local search continued.

There is a farm here in Iowa called Mariposa Farms that sells fresh herbs in tons of grocery stores. According to their website, one of the herbs they sell is lavender. I decided to check the local grocery store chain Hy Vee. No luck.

My next thought was that I would go to the fancy gourmet market - Gateway Market - and see if they had fresh lavender or any type of lavender product. I met a lovely store clerk there would was an absolute peach. They didn't have any lavender, but he offered to call his ex-wife (seriously, WHAT A NICE MAN!!) because she owned a bakery and might have some info. This was the low point of the day, as she told him that she got her lavender supply from Chicago and she wouldn't be willing to sell any to me since she herself is a baker. Boo.

At this point, I went to my mother's house and pouted. Considered a different theme all together. BUT NO, THIS WAS A FLAVOR COMBINATION OF WONDER. Then my mother suggested we hit up one of the health food stores right by her house. They have tons of herbs available by the scoop and also a wide selection of teas. At this point, I was just hoping for a lavender tea I could sift the lavender out of or something. But, BUT, they had a huge bin of fresh lavender and it was very reasonably priced. So, thank you Campbell's Nutrition for helping me out on this quest! I couldn't have done it without you!

Issue #1: How to get the lavender in the cake
From the list above, I quickly eliminated making lavender oil. It looked complicated and I don't know much about oils. I considered lavender sugar and it might have been preferable, but I didn't have two weeks to let it steep. I decided to go with making lavender syrup. I tried to use my skills from 7th Grade science to cook the syrup back down to just sugar crystals, but I got too nervous about burning the whole thing and pretty much just ended up with a thick and concentrated lavender syrup. It also had buds floating in it because my summer rental lacks a fine enough strainer to get them all out. Still, it smelled amazing and I decided it would work fine as substitution for a bit of liquid and sugar in the recipe.

Issue #2: How to get the tea in the cake
I didn't want a subtle tea flavor - I wanted these to actually taste like tea. I found a recipe that suggested 6 tea bags was the magic number in making the flavor actually be tea-y, so I used 3 of my family sized tea bags.
The difficult part of this was that many of the lavender cupcake recipes out there substitute the lavender syrup for any other liquid in the cupcake. But...I don't think you can steep tea bags in syrup. So, I had to come up with a way to make this work. I briefly considered using ice tea mix, but I have a deep aversion to instant tea and couldn't bring myself to do it. I ended up using a tried and true white cupcake recipe as the base and steeped the tea bags in the listed amount of milk after boiling it. I know from experience that this cupcake can be a bit dry, so instead of adding extra milk as I normally would, I added the lavender syrup instead. VICTORY.

Concentrated Lavender Syrup
  • 1 Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 1 Cup Water
  • 1/4 C Culinary Lavender Blossoms
  1. Put all the ingredients in a pot. Boil. After boiling, turn off heat, cover, and let sit.
  2. After 5 minutes sitting, strain the mixture into a sauce pan, removing as many blossoms as possible.
  3. Bring the mixture to a boil. Allow to boil for 3-5 minutes, stirring frequently to prevent burning. This will boil off some of the water and make a more concentrated syrup.
  4. Place in refrigerator and allow to cool. Make sure you use this the day you make it, as the sugar tried to escape the solution since it was beyond saturation the next day. Oh, science.
  • 3/4 C Milk
  • 6 Black Tea Bags
  • 3-6 Tbsp Lavender Syrup
  • Heaping 3/4 C Sugar
  • 1/2 C Unsalted Butter (softened)
  • 2 Eggs
  • 1/8 Tsp Vanilla Extract
  • Scant 1/8 Tsp Lemon Oil (Optional, I'm just obsessed with it right now)
  • 1 1/2 C Flour
  • 1 3/4 Tsp Baking Powder
  1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a 12 cup muffin tin with liners - you will probably have about 4 extra cupcakes on top of this, however.
  2. Bring the milk to a boil, either in your narrowest sauce pan or in the microwave. Add the tea bags and allow to steep, off the heat, covered. You want to get the most tea out of these bags as possible, and the most difficult part for me was having deep enough milk.
  3. After about 5 minutes, squeeze out the tea bags and transfer the milk/tea mixture back into a measuring cup.I lost about 1/4C of milk when it boiled, it will probably vary for you. To make up the difference, add lavender syrup. If you've added 6 TBSP and it's not yet back up to 3/4 C, add in milk until you get there. It will dilute the tea mixture, but that's better then overpowering lavender. Put in the freezer to cool down quickly - do not use right away!!
  4. Cream together butter and sugar. Do it longer than normal , at least 5 minutes. This batter needs air.
  5. Add in eggs, one at a time, and beat them in for about a minute each.
  6. Add in vanilla & lemon oil. Beat thoroughly.
  7. Add in flour and baking powder. Beat thoroughly.
  8. Add in milk/tea/lavender mixture. This is a lot of liquid for the batter to take up, so give it time. Beat until very well incorporated.
  9. Fill the cupcake liners. I would opt for just under 1/4 C of batter for each. I went above this and got weird, spread out, cookie tops that I ended up pulling off. (The muffin top was not all that.) This is probably a symptom of my janky summer oven, but just to be safe, go on the small side.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the tops are firm and stick inserted comes out cleanly.
  11. Allow to cool in the tin for at least 10 minutes before removing them. I am the worst about removing things early, but these are a pretty fragile cake, so really let them sit.
Frosting - Adapted from Our Best Bites
  • 4 1/2 TBSP Flour
  • 3/4 C Milk (I usually use skim, but I used whole milk because I really wanted a very milky flavor)
  • 3/4 C Unsalted Butter (real butter, and softened)
  • 3/4 C Flour
  • 1 TBSP of Lavender Syrup
  1. If this is your first time with a frosting like this, I highly recommend you hop over to Our Best Bites for their wonderful mixture tutorial.
  2. Add flour and milk to a pan. I like to use my 10" frying pan. Heat over medium heat, and whisk constantly to get flour to dissolve into milk.
  3. Keep whisking. As soon as you see the whisk drag and the bottom of the pan peep through, remove from heat.
  4. Strain through your finest sifter to get out clumps, and refrigerate. Make sure it's really not warm, or it will ruin everything in the following steps.
  5. Cream together butter and sugar.
  6. Add the lavender syrup to the flour/milk mixture. Pour that mixture on the butter and sugar. Beat forever. No really, it takes at least 5 minutes.
  7. This frosting looks weird for a bit, but do not despair. Keep mixing!
  8. Eventually, it will be gorgeous, poofy, and milky deliciousness.
  1. Frost cupcakes generously. Add sanding sugar or lavender blossoms as garnish. (I used this light blue sanding sugar.)

Oh right, this is a contest!
Now, about this contest! It's all explained here - it's The Sweetest Kitchen's Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge. Every month, there's a different ingredient that must be used in the cupcake. This month's ingredient was tea!

Voting starts on or about July 20th, so please go check it out! I'll remind you when the time comes!

This competition is really awesome because there are such wonderful prizes!
The winner of July’s Mystery Box Cupcake Challenge will receive prizes from:
Thanks to all our prize sponsors!


  1. I am very impressed with your commitment to these cupcakes.

  2. These sound AMAZING. I love lavender in desserts.


    why are you not HERE making me lavendar cupcakes? I had lavendar gelatto in France and I about died, it was so delicious.


  4. I agree with Allison, I am very impressed with all the time and effort that you put into these cupcakes! They look fantastic! Good luck in the competition! :)

  5. Christy, you inspire me. There is an ice cream place in New Orleans that has a delicious lavender honey ice cream and I have loved lavender-flavor things ever since I ate it.

    Lavender also has natural soothing effects like alleviating insomnia. I have a sachet on my desk at work that all employees were given. I smell it if I need to calm us down and stop my thoughts from running.

  6. These look just amazing!! I love lavender -- I've made lavender shortbread before with food-grade dried blossoms in the dough.

  7. Marcy, I was worried you would yell at me for publicly declaring the glories of the library!
    Maybe I'll make shortbread with the rest of my blossoms. I bought an unreasonable amount as I figured the whole thing would take lots of experimentation.

  8. I really can't wait to make Lavender syrup - what a lovely (and flavourful!) idea. Thanks for a fantastic recipe!

  9. The cupcakes look fantastic. I might pass along the recipe to my sister. She's the baking fanatic in our family.