There’s something intensely comforting about a tea loaf. It’s solid and robust, a good, proper, old-fashioned cake. It often has a lovely crunchy crust around the outside, while the inside is gloriously moist and gooey from all the fruit. The fruit is plump and sweet, having absorbed the tea or juice, while the cake itself is fluffy, often with a hint of spice. It’s the kind of thing you eat when you are feeling a bit sad, or a bit tired, or a bit peckish. I can’t think of something better to revive you in the afternoon. Also, because it’s lower on sugar than most cakes, it doesn’t give you a horrible sugar crash when you come back down to earth – the dried fruit is good, honest, slow-release energy. At least I feel it is; I’m no nutritionist.
You can eat a tea loaf spread with a little butter, but when it’s fresh from the oven it needs no accompaniment other than tea. The smell as it bakes, filling your kitchen with homely, warming aromas, is – for me – what baking is all about.
This recipe is inspired by my recent trip to the Wakefield Rhubarb Festival. There I bought a delicious rhubarb and ginger ‘brack’, an Irish name for a sweet, fruited bread that is now often used to denote a tea loaf. I gave it to my mum for Mother’s Day, and it only recently emerged from the freezer, allowing me to finally have a taste. It’s delicious – quite a dense cake, with wonderfully gingery, sweet sultanas and sticky chunks of rhubarb. The sort of thing you could almost justify having for breakfast. It feels wholesome, somehow, robust and earthy and inviting.
Inspired by a few mouthfuls of this, I decided to have a go at creating my own. Having never made a rhubarb tea loaf before, I experimented, basing my recipe on a few others I’d come across online and the taste and texture of the brack I had bought. I was a little worried it wouldn’t work, but it did – beautifully.
I soaked a mixture of raisins, finely chopped crystallized ginger and finely chopped rhubarb in strong Earl Grey tea overnight (part of me wanted to use Yorkshire tea, given the provenance of rhubarb and where I live, but I thought Earl Grey would add a lovely floral fragrance). In the morning, the raisins were plump and the ginger had perfumed the whole thing with its sharp, hot scent. To this mixture I added an egg and a little brown sugar, then folded the whole lot into flour, baking powder, ground almonds, a hefty amount of ground ginger and a little cinnamon (from JustIngredients). I wanted the whole thing to be really gingery – I almost considered adding some stem ginger syrup as well, but restrained myself. The batter was the perfect consistency (I worried I’d put in too much tea, and the rhubarb would be watery) as I spooned it all into a lined loaf tin.
This honestly is one of the easiest cakes you could ever make. I whipped it up in the time it took me to make a cup of tea to go with my breakfast. You only need a couple of bowls and spoons, and a loaf tin. And an oven, of course. I really love how simple and homely it is – just a few ingredients, no fancy techniques (not even a whisk needed), and the result is a beautiful old-fashioned loaf.
And the taste? Fantastic. It’s incredibly gingery, fiery bursts of crystallised ginger peppering the dense, moist crumb. This, though, is tempered by the gooey pieces of rhubarb throughout, and the sweet, plump raisins. I actually think it’s better than the brack I bought from the festival! Although tea loaves have a tendency to be quite dense, the juicy rhubarb in this really lightens it, while still making it seem indulgent. You could serve it as a pudding after a light meal, with some ice cream, or have it for breakfast spread with butter. I ate it still warm from the oven, unable to believe that my spontaneous experiment had worked out quite so well.
If you’re a rhubarb fan, or a ginger fan, I’d urge you to try this. It’s unlike any other rhubarb or ginger cake I’ve tasted, and perfect for lovers of very gingery cakes. For such a simple recipe, it’s immensely rewarding. And, even better, it’s low-fat – but you wouldn’t guess.