Over the last few years I’ve started a tradition of baking a cake to ring in the New Year. Feeling the need for something rich and extra cozy this year, I decided to explore bringing some of my favourite flavours together: chai, extra-strong black tea, and cardamom. As usual, I hid a loonie in the cake for some extra fun – with the intention of giving whoever finds it in their piece a little extra luck in 2020.
This cake is quite involved, but there are a few shortcuts you can take if you’re pressed for time (outlined in “Notes” below).
Chai Cake with Cardamom Buttercream Frosting & Black Tea Custard Filling
Yield: One two-layer 8” round cake
If you’re pressed for time or this seems too daunting, you can cut a few corners with this recipe to make it more accessible. (1) Skip the cake soak step – this recipe already makes a really moist cake, so you won’t lose out on much moistness (maybe just a bit of that extra chai flavour). (2) Skip the black tea custard filling – this requires at least 30 minutes of active time in the kitchen, including 20 minutes of continuous whisking. This is one of my favourite elements of the cake and is worth the work in my opinion, but can be skipped in a pinch.
The cake recipe was loosely adapted from a Molly Yeh recipe, and the custard was adapted from a Jamie Oliver recipe.
Chai Cake Ingredients:
- 1 ¾ cup sugar
- 2 ½ cups flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 1 ½ tsp baking powder
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp ground ginger
- ½ tsp ground cinnamon
- ¼ tsp ground cloves
- ¼ tsp ground allspice
- ¼ tsp ground nutmeg
- 2 large eggs
- 1 cup buttermilk (steep it in advance with chai tea for extra flavour; make sure it is room temperature before using with recipe; if you don’t have buttermilk, add 1 Tbsp white vinegar to a scant cup of milk and let sit for a few minutes until it begins to curdle)
- ½ cup vegetable oil (I use canola)
- 1 Tbsp vanilla extract
- ¾ cup extra strong chai tea, chilled or room temperature (but not hot)
Chai Cake Directions
- Preheat oven to 350°F.
- Grease two 8” round cake pans and line bottoms with parchment.
- In a large bowl, whisk all dry ingredients together.
- In a medium bowl, whisk all wet ingredients together.
- Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and whisk until combined.
- Divide the cake batter evenly between the two cake pans.
- Bake for ~25-35 minutes (oven times may vary). Cake is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, and the edges of the cake begin to pull away from the pan.
- Optional step: while the cakes are baking, prepare your cake soak (recipe and ingredients below).
- Let cakes cool for about 10 minutes in the pans, then flip upside-down onto cooling rack (and remove the parchment!) to cool completely. If you’re making this recipe in advance, you can wrap tightly in plastic and place in the fridge overnight.
Chai Syrup Cake Soak Ingredients
- ½ cup sugar
- ½ cup strongly steeped chai tea
Chai Syrup Cake Soak Directions
- In a small saucepan, combine sugar and tea over low heat until sugar just dissolves.
- Remove from heat and reserve until ready to use.
- When ready to use, poke small holes with a toothpick all over the bottom of the cake but try not to go all the way through the other end. The cakes should be bottom-up; you can just do this step on the cooling rack you used. This is preferably done when the cake is still a bit warm, but can also be done after it cools.
- With a pastry brush, brush chai syrup all over the surface of the bottom of the cake. It will absorb quickly. Note that you will have extra syrup leftover (perfect to use in a cocktail or on pancakes!).
- Continue with frosting the cake.
Cardamom Buttercream Frosting Ingredients
- 1 cup unsalted butter at room temperature
- 3 cups icing sugar
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- 2-3 Tbsp heavy cream or milk
Cardamom Buttercream Frosting Directions
- In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, or in a large bowl using an electric hand mixer, cream the butter until slightly pale in colour, 2-3 minutes.
- Add the icing sugar one cup at a time, mixing until well incorporated between additions.
- Add the cardamom and vanilla.
- Mix on medium-high until light and fluffy, 4-5 minutes.
- To get your desired consistency (the buttercream should be thick but easily spreadable and hold its shape), add heavy cream or milk one tablespoon at a time. After each addition mix for at least 1-2 minutes to fully incorporate.
- If not using right away, buttercream will last in the fridge in an air-tight container for up to a week. Make sure to bring it up to room temperature and mix it on medium high for a couple minutes before using. This will help it become fluffy and spreadable.
Black Tea Custard Ingredients
- 2 cups milk
- 1 tsp ground cardamom
- 3 egg yolks
- 1 Tbsp cornstarch
- 3 Tbsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp vanilla sugar or vanilla extract
- 3 teabags of your preferred black tea (you can use less, but if you want it strong use three! I used Typhoo Extra Strong).
Black Tea Custard Directions
- In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, bring the milk, cardamom, and teabags to a gentle boil, stirring often (watch carefully not to burn the milk!).
- Remove from the heat and leave to cool slightly – keep the tea bags in for this stage for extra strong tea flavour.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk the egg yolks, sugar, and cornstarch until light and pale.
- Remove teabags from warm milk mixture and gradually add the milk mixture to the egg mixture, roughly ¼ cup at a time, whisking thoroughly between each addition. If the milk mixture is too hot and you add too much of it too quickly to the egg mixture, there’s a chance the egg could cook and become lumpy.
- Pour the custard mixture into the same saucepan over medium-low heat and whisk continuously for about 20 minutes, until the custard
- Optional step: if your custard got lumpy at this stage, you can pour through a sieve before next step for maximum smoothness.
- Wait for custard to cool and set completely before using.
- Level your cake layers (cut off the domed top part of the cakes so you have a flat bottom).
- Put a small dollop of frosting on your cake plate/base to hold it in place while you assemble.
- Place your first layer, bottom side-up, on the cake plate/base. If you want to hide a coin in it, prepare a clean coin wrapped in aluminum foil and insert it vertically into a random section of the cake. Try to insert it parallel to the direction a knife would cut the cake.
- Spread an even layer of frosting over the top of this layer.
- Using a piping bag with a standard round tip, pipe a circle around the perimeter of the first layer that you just frosted (this will serve as the edge or wall of the custard filling).
- Spread an even layer of custard within the perimeter you just piped.
- Place the second layer of cake, bottom side-up, over the first layer – try to center it as best as you can.
- Frost and decorate the cake as desired! You might want to do a crumb coat first since this cake is a bit crumbly.
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