These Earl Grey Lavender Cupcakes start with a moist cake batter, infused with Earl Grey and lavender flavor. The tea is steeped in the milk that goes into the batter, so it’s still a light flavor, not too overpowering or assertive.
Place the milk in a microwave-safe bowl, and heat it for 90 seconds, or until it is hot but not boiling. Add the tea bags and dried lavender, stir briefly, and cover with a piece of foil. Infuse the hot milk for 12-15 minutes, until the milk is a caramel color and very fragrant. Pour the milk through a wire strainer into a measuring cup, to remove the tea bags and lavender. Squeeze the bags over the milk to extract all of the flavor. You should have 1 cup of milk. If you have a little more, discard the extra, and if you don't have enough, add a bit more milk until it measures 1 cup. Cool the milk until it is room temperature.
Preheat the oven to 350, and line cupcake tins with paper liners. Whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt, and set aside for a moment.
Combine the butter and granulated sugar in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment. Beat them on medium-high speed for about 5 minutes, until very light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the vanilla and mix it in as well.
With the mixer on low speed, add a third of the flour mixture, and once it is incorporated, add half of the milk. When that's mixed in, add half of the remaining flour, then add the rest of the milk, and finish by adding the last of the flour. Stop the mixer when there are a few streaks of flour remaining. Use a spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl.
Scoop the batter into the prepared cupcake tins, filling them about 3/4 full. Bake for 20-25 minutes, rotating halfway through, until the tops are golden brown and spring back lightly when pressed. Cool completely on a wire rack before frosting them.
To Make the Buttercream and Assemble:
Place the water in a microwave-safe bowl or measuring cup, and heat it for 90 seconds, or until it is hot but not boiling. Add the tea bags and dried lavender, stir briefly, and cover the bowl with a piece of foil. Infuse the hot water for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, pour the water through a wire strainer into a medium saucepan, to remove the tea bags and lavender. Squeeze the bags over the pan to extract all of the flavor.
Add the granulated sugar to the water and stir. Place the pan over medium-high heat and stir until the sugar dissolves. Insert a candy thermometer and cook until it reaches 245 degrees F.
While you are waiting for the sugar syrup to reach the proper temperature, place the room temperature egg whites in the bowl of a large stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. When the water mixture is around 220 F, start whipping the egg whites. Turn the mixer to medium speed and beat until the whites look foamy. Stop the mixer briefly and add the cream of tartar. Turn the mixer back on and begin to whip on medium-high speed until the whites are stiff but not crumbly. You can turn the mixer off if the egg whites are finished before the syrup is ready.
When the whites are stiff and the sugar syrup is 245 degrees, turn the mixer back on to medium-high and pour the syrup into a cup or pitcher with a spout. Slowly and carefully pour the hot syrup down the sides of the bowl into the egg whites while the mixer is running. The whites will rise in volume. After all of the syrup is added, and the whites are large, shiny, and voluminous, turn the mixer to medium-low and whip until the sides of the bowl feel room temperature, not warm. This may take anywhere from 10-20 minutes.
Once the egg white mixture has cooled, gradually add the butter bit by bit until it is all incorporated. It should be cool but pliable to the touch—not melted or greasy, but not rock-hard either. Occasionally as you're adding the butter, take a break and scrape down the sides of the bowl with a spatula. As you add the butter the egg white mixture will deflate and might look soupy or curdled. If it looks soupy or broken, continue to whip the frosting until it comes back together. Eventually you will have a smooth, satiny frosting. Add the vanilla and salt, and mix until it's well incorporated.
The buttercream can be made in advance and kept at room temperature if you’re going to use it the same day, or refrigerated. If it has been chilled, let it sit at room temperature until completely soft, then re-whip it to get the smooth texture back before you use it.
To decorate the cupcakes, fit a piping bag with a large rose tip and fill it with frosting. Place the wide end of the tip in the center of a cupcake and the narrow end at the edge of the cupcake. Squeeze the bag while you move the tip up and down and rotate the cupcake, making a ruffle around the edge of the cupcake. Repeat with a second layer, and continue to add layers of ruffles, moving the tip more toward the center for subsequent layers so the frosting ruffles taper toward the top. Finish with a few candy pearls or a molded chocolate.
Cupcake recipe adapted from Ina Garten's Coconut Cupcakes