Earl Grey Vanilla Bean Birthday Cake with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

For Matt’s birthday this year, I went into the archives and made this classic Earl Grey vanilla bean tea cake that’ll please even the tea cake skeptics out there.

Now, I’m going to share a secret: I had never actually made cake with cake flour, which shows that I’m not exactly cake savvy or cakexperienced. Previous times I’ve made this cake, it’s always been slightly denser and dryer than I like, so this time I went out of my way to grab cake flour.

Here’s why you should consider cake flour:

Cake flour contains 7-9% protein, while all-purpose has about 10-12%. This means that all-purpose flour is higher in gluten than cake flour, though not as high as bread flour. While gluten is great for bread, gluten development is not ideal for cakes. After all you probably want a cake that is nice and light and fluffy not as hole-y or gummy as bread.

If you can’t get your hands on cake flour, some bakers suggest replacing a tbsp or 2 of all purpose flour with cornstarch or arrowroot flour, but I have yet to do this.

To my more experienced cake connoisseurs, shout out in the comments sections with any other recommendations!

Earl Grey Vanilla Bean Cake with Lemon Buttercream Frosting

Surprise the Earl Grey fan in your life with this exciting birthday cake!
Prep Time2 hours
Cook Time30 minutes
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: British
Keyword: buttercream, cake, earl grey, tea
Servings: 12


  • 9" cake pans


  • 1 pod vanilla bean
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 2 tbsp loose leaf Earl Grey Tea
  • 2 cups cake flour
  • 2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp finely ground loose leaf Earl Grey tea
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3/4 cup butter at room temperature
  • 1.5 cup sugar
  • 3 eggs


  • 1 cup butter softened at room temperature
  • 2 tbsp buttermilk
  • zest from 2 lemons
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice


  • Start by heating milk, loose leaf tea, and vanilla bean in a small pot or sauce pan over medium heat. Do not boil, but bring to a low simmer and steep for at least 10 minutes. Strain tea out of milk and scrape vanilla bean paste from pod into milk for added vanilla flavor.
  • Remove from heat and set aside to cool to room temperature (or place in the fridge)
  • Preheat oven to 350F
  • Grease and flour two 9" cake pans
  • Sift dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, tea, and salt) into a large mixing bowl and mix to combine. Set aside dry ingredients.
  • Using a mixer (or by hand), cream butter and sugar with the paddle attachment on high until light and fluffy.
  • Reduce speed to medium-low and add eggs one at a time.
  • Slowly mix in Earl Grey infused milk.
  • Reduce speed to low and mix in flour mixture, making sure to mix only until smooth and well combined (over-mixing may result in a tougher texture).
  • Pour cake batter into greased cake pans, tapping pan bottom to create an even top.
  • Bake for approximately 30 minutes or until a toothpick comes out mostly clean
  • Set cakes aside to cool as you whip up the frosting.

For the Frosting

  • In your mixer, beat softened butter, and powdered sugar until combined.
  • Add buttermilk and lemon zest and cream together on low adding more powdered sugar if needed until frosting is creamy, and texture is to your liking
  • Add lemon juice until incorporated
  • You can always add additional powdered sugar or buttermilk to get to the desired consistency.

Assembling the Cake

  • Once cake is cool, carefully remove from pan and gently place first layer top down on cake stand or serving plate.
  • Top with layer of buttercream, trying your best to spread evenly across the top.
  • Place second layer of cake gently atop first and begin frosting by layering the top with frosting, leaving a slight overhang before starting on the sides. For a smooth coat of frosting, refrigerate for 15 minutes before smoothing with a final layer.