This is a recipe handed down to me by my grandmother, handed down from her mother and possibly even farther back than that. During the war, tea, like most other foodstuffs was rationed in the UK, so this was a way of using up tea leftover in the teapot.
My grandmother used to collect the leftovers throughout the week and make this on a Monday. In the war, this would have been made with powdered egg and very little fruit so I have changed those ingredients to reflect modern availability.
It is virtually fat-free, having no added fat other than the egg and is traditionally served sliced and spread with butter so it’s a cross between a cake and a bread. It will keep well in an airtight container for up to a week and the flavour tends to mature and improve after a day or two.
- 350g mixed fruit or you could use a mixture of raisins and sultanas and add the zest of an orange
- 300ml hot very strong tea: at least four tea bags steeped for at least half an hour
- 1 medium egg, beaten
- 250g self-raising flour
- 200g soft brown sugar or you could use Muscavado for a richer taste
- butter, for greasing, plus extra to serve
- Mixing bowl
- A 900g loaf tin preferably a good quality one made of carbon steel
- Baking parchment: I use Bacofoil’s Baking Paper
- Steep the fruit in the tea by placing it in the mixing bowl and pouring the hot tea over it. Cover and leave for at least an hour but preferably overnight to allow the fruit to soak up as much liquid as possible.
- Heat the oven to 180C/160C fan/gas mark 4. Grease the tin with butter and line with baking parchment. Add the flour, egg and sugar to the soaked fruit and mix thoroughly, ensuring everything is well combined.
- Spoon the mixture into the tin ensuring it’s evenly distributed Place the tin in the centre of the oven for 1 hour or until firm to the touch.
- Leave it to cool in the tin for at least 15 mins. Transfer onto to a wire rack and allow it to cool completely.
Cut into thick slices and, if you wish, spread with butter. Salted butter is a good choice as the recipe contains no salt.
Wrap tightly and keep in an airtight container for up to five days. It tends to mature over the first few days so if you can, try to resist eating it until the third day.
It is possible to vary this basic recipe by adding other ingredients to make it even tastier. Some ideas for variations on the basic tea loaf are:
- Adding flaked almonds, either in the main mixture, or scattering them over the loaf in the tin before baking. If you do this, brush the top with a little beaten egg before putting it in the oven to prevent the almonds from burning. You could also try walnuts or any other nut.
- Using Earl Grey or Lady Grey tea in place of standard black tea. This will enhance the citrus flavours if you are using orange zest.
- Using Lapsang Souchong tea in place of standard black tea. This will result in a darker loaf with a deep smoky flavour. Some people might find this overpowering, especially if they are not used to Lapsang Souchong.
- Adding matcha tea to the mix. Matcha tea’s powdered form makes it one of the easiest ingredients to add to baking. Depending on how much of the powder you add, you will get a green tea loaf. It will also “brighten” the flavour somewhat. My advice would be to add a little at a time and not overdo it the first time you try adding matcha to a recipe. For some easy starting points with cooking with matcha see this post here.
- Adding alcohol. Just as with fruit cake, it is possible to add a little of your favourite spirit to the soaking liquid. I have seen this done with Jack Daniels and Scotch whisky. I am not a fan of either of these things but if you are, try it and let me know the result.
- There’s no reason why this couldn’t be made with other types of tea, for example, fruit tea but the flavour of those may be too subtle to come through in the final product.
Featured image: MShev / shutterstock