Chai Layer Cake features three layers of chai infused cake frosted with vanilla bean Swiss buttercream.
“Chai” is the Hindi word for tea.
Masala chai refers to the blend of black tea, warm spices, and milk that has become very popular in the United States over the last decade.
This is probably thanks to Oprah and her namesake Oprah Cinnamon Chai Latte sold at Starbucks.
Before I became a coffee drinker, I was obsessed with chai. Here is an ode to my favorite tea in cake form!
Chai Cake with Vanilla Bean Frosting
There are various versions of chai latte. It’s a mixture of black tea with some combination of spices.
Those spices usually include cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, and star anise. Sometimes, it also includes a dash of black pepper or nutmeg.
This chai layer cake is spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves.
But, most of the flavor and fragrance comes from the milk used in the cake batter. The milk is infused with these store-bought chai tea bags.
Creaming vs Reverse Creaming Method:
There are several ways to mix together batters. Foaming technique is used for making angel food cake.
Store-bought cake mixes use the “all-in” or one bowl approach in which all the ingredients are simply mixed together all at once.
Cookies and quick breads use the traditional creaming method. It’s the most commonly used mixing process.
Butter and sugar are beat together until light and fluffy. Eggs are added. And then, the liquids and dry mixture follow.
Creaming method traps air during mixing, allowing the batter to rise and expand during baking.
This chai layer cake batter is mixed together using reserve creaming.
What is the reverse creaming method?
As the name suggests, reverse creaming is the opposite of traditional creaming. It is also known as the paste method or two-stage creaming method.
In this method, the dry ingredients are first whisked together. Then, butter is added and combined with the dry ingredients until the mixture resembles crumbly, coarse sand.
Eggs and any remaining liquids are then added until the mixture is thick and smooth.
The reverse creaming method produces cakes with little to no air pockets. The baked cake may not rise as high as a creamed method cake batter, but the cake itself is much softer and more tender.
Why crumb coat layer cakes?
A light coating of buttercream seals in any stray or loose cake crumbs.
But more importantly, the crumb coat layer helps to build the foundation of the cake.
After application of the crumb coat layer, the cake is allowed to chill in the fridge and the buttercream hardens a bit. This helps to ensure the structurally integrity of the multi-layer cake.
When it’s time to add the second or final coat of buttercream, the cake layers are stable. The cake layers won’t wobble or tilt to the side.
American Buttercream vs Swiss Buttercream
Swiss buttercream requires a bit more work than the standard American buttercream. However, the effort is well worth it for this Chai Layer Cake!
In order to allow the chai flavors to truly shine in this cake, I needed to use a frosting that is light on the palette.
American buttercream is creamed mixture of butter and powdered sugar. It is a bit dense and quite sweet. The texture and sweetness would overpower the chai flavors.
Swiss buttercream is made by melting sugar in egg whites. The mixture is whipped like a meringue and then softened butter is mixed in. The resulting buttercream is light and airy.
Swiss buttercream provides the perfect balance to this delicate chai cake.
Not a fan of chai spices? The method of steeping tea in milk can be used for other flavors. Try making an earl grey cake or a sweet black milk tea cake!
Cake Making Over Several Days
NOTE: For even longer prep period, tightly wrap cooled cake in double plastic wrap. Store in the freezer for up to a month. Be sure to freeze cake on a flat level surface. Defrost wrapped cake overnight at room temperature.
Chai Layer Cake
- 1 cup whole milk
- 4 chai tea bags
- 2 ½ cup cake flour
- 1 ¼ cup granulated sugar
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ¼ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 cup unsalted butter, room temp
- 3 large eggs, room temp
- 2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
- ½ cup egg whites
- 1 ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 cup unsalted butter, sliced into tablespoons, room temp
- ½ teaspoon kosher salt
- ½ Tablespoon vanilla bean paste*
- 2 Tablespoon powdered sugar
- 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Bring milk to a boil and remove from heat. Add tea bags and steep for 30 minutes. Strain out tea. Squeeze out as much liquids from the tea as possible. Discard tea bags. Measure remaining liquid. Add additional milk as necessary until you have 1 cup of liquid. Set aside.
- Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Butter three 6-inch round cake pans. Line with parchment paper and set aside.
- In the bowl of stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, combine 2 cups flour (reserve remaining 1/2 cup flour), sugar, baking powder, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, and cloves. Add butter in three additions. Continue to mix on low speed until mixture is crumbly like coarse sand.
- In another bowl, whisk together tea infused milk, eggs, and vanilla until smooth. Add half of liquid mixture to stand mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until incorporated. Add remaining liquid mixture and mix until batter is combined. The batter will look curdled. Add reserved 1/2 cup of flour and mix until batter comes together.
- Evenly distribute batter among prepared cake pans. Bake for 30-35 minutes until toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out clean. Allow cake to cool in pan for 10-15 minutes. Run an offset spatula along the sides of the cake pan to loosen cake. Invert cake onto a wire rack and allow to cool to room temperature.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer, whisk together egg whites and sugar. Place bowl over a pot of simmering water to create a bain-marie or double boiler. Make sure the simmering water does not touch the bottom of the bowl. Whisk sugar-egg mixture until it reaches a temperature of 160 degrees F.Alternatively, if you don’t have a thermometer, heat the mixture until all the sugar has melted. Test this by dipping your pointer finger into the mixture and rubbing it against your thumb. The mixture should be smooth. You should not be able to feel the granules of sugar.
- Return bowl to the stand mixer. Using the whisk attachment, beat mixture at medium speed until it has cooled to room temperature and meringue has started to from. Reduce speed to low and add butter one tablespoon at a time.
- Once all the butter has been incorporated, add salt. Increase speed to medium-high and continue to beat until buttercream is light and fluffy. Add in vanilla bean paste and mix until distributed.
- Level cake layers as necessary. Place one cake layer on serving platter or cake turntable. Spread about 1/3 cup of buttercream on cake. Place second cake layer and repeat adding butter. Repeat with third cake layer.
- Spread a layer of buttercream around the sides of the cake to seal in the crumbs (crumb coat). Place cake in the fridge and allow to chill for 15 minutes to set the buttercream.
- Add another layer of buttercream as desired. Garnish with dusting powder and spices as desired.
- Dusting Powder: In a small bowl, whisk together powdered sugar, cocoa powder, and cinnamon. Sift mixture over assembled cake as desired.
- I use vanilla bean paste for a richer vanilla flavor. Also, because I like seeing the little speckles of vanilla bean throughout the buttercream. Substitute high quality vanilla extract if you don’t have vanilla paste.
- I used these Tazo Chai Tea Bags
Reader Questions and Reviews
WOW! this Chai Layer Cake looks so delicious. Love it!
In the first step for the cake mix it says to bring milk to a boil and then steep the tea bags for 30 minutes. Is the steeping time on or off the heat?
Bring milk to a boil. Remove from heat and add tea bags. I’ll update the instructions.
The recepie is fantastic. Is it possible to use 8’round cake pan instead of 6′, with the same amount of ingredients?
Yes, you may bake it in two 8-inch round cake pans. However, the layers will be rather thin. You will also have to reduce cooking time.
When I made this cake, it turned out dry. I’m not sure if I did something incorrectly or what. Have you had it turn out dry? Thanks so much!
Hi Tracy, thanks for trying out the recipe. I’m sorry to hear it turned out dry for you.
After steeping the tea, did you measure the liquid to ensure you had 1 cup of liquid? Some of the liquid will be evaporate during steeping and you may have to add up to 1/4 cup additional milk.
Other than that, did you bake it the cake layers in a 6-inch pan or 8-inch pan?
I did double check the amount of liquid and added more milk so I had 1 cup. I used 2% as that is what I had at home. And I cooked it in 2 8 in pans.
The baking times listed in the recipe is for 6-inch pans. You have to reduce the baking time for larger 8-inch pans to prevent the cake from overcooking and drying out.
Hello. In your recipe for Swiss Buttercream for the Grapefruit Ginger cake, you say to bring egg whites and sugar mixture to 120 degrees over a double boiler. In the recipe for Swiss buttercream for the Chai cake it says to bring mixture to 160 degrees. I made the Grapefruit Ginger layers today, but haven’t assembled the cake. I made the Swiss buttercream per direction (120 degrees) and it looks good and tastes good, but I don’t actually know how it’s supposed to be. What is correct temperature for Swiss buttercream as I plan on making the Chai cake, also. I love your cake recipes. We have so many Fall birthdays that we have one party for 6 people. I make each person a 6” cake. Your cakes have been a big hit. Thanks so much!
Hi Linda, thanks for pointing that out. I will add notes to those recipes.
It’s a large temperature range but anywhere from 120-160 degrees F will work. At 120 degrees F, the sugar will have completely melted. I use this temperature when using pasteurized eggs. If your eggs are not pasteurized, 160 degrees F ensures that the egg whites are safe to eat without worry.
Thank you for trying out the recipes! I really appreciate it!
Should my butter be room temp for the Swiss buttercream?
Thanks for pointing that out! Yes, the butter should be room temp. I have updated the recipe with those notes.
Hi there was wondering if i can make these into cupcakes and anything you would suggest to change for cupcakes ?
Fantastic recipe, thank you! I decided to use the creaming method of making batter instead of the reverse creaming method, different texture, still delicious. I’ll have to try the reverse-creaming method one day.
The swiss buttercream was a nice alternative to regular buttercream, sweet and light without using as much sugar as regular buttercream. I had a moment of panic after adding the butter because it wasn’t firming up and was extremely runny. After leaving it in the fridge for a bit and trying again, it was perfect. Was I supposed to wait until it was a full meringue before adding butter? or was my egg white mix just too warm?
Either the meringue mixture was too warm or the butter was too soft. Regardless, you did the right thing by putting the mixture in the fridge to chill it down.
This was a great recipe! My butter cream turned out EXTREMELY buttery. Is there an alternative to using so much butter?
Thanks for trying out the recipe. I’m sorry to hear you didn’t like the buttercream. The main ingredient is butter. If you want a lighter frosting, I suggest you try out a whipped cream frosting or a marshmallow frosting.
This looks so divine and definitely going to make it this weekend. I have had some bad luck when it comes to making the Swiss Buttercream, not sure why but now I am afraid of it! Could I use a normal buttercream and if so any flavorings like vanilla or some lemon juice to adjust the sweetness? Any recommendations would help. Thank you x
Hello, I’m wondering if any parts of this cake could be prepared in advance and, if so, how far in advance and any advice such as bringing to a certain temperature if refrigerated.
Great question! I have updated the post to include tips on breaking down cake making over several days.
Hi! I love this recipe and am very excited to use this soon to surprise my boyfriend with a cake for our 3-year anniversary. He loves chai!
Due to my work schedule, I need to make this cake a couple of days in advance. I appreciate the day breakdown you provided! Do you have a recommendation for storing it once it’s been fully assembled? I’m not sure if freezing, refrigerating, or leaving at room temperature will keep it fresh the longest. Thank you! :)
I do not recommend freezing the assembled cake. I would freeze the cooled baked cake and Swiss buttercream separately. Defrost everything overnight and then assemble up to one day before serving. Store in the fridge in a cake box. Let sit at room temperature for at least 1 hour before serving to soften cake and buttercream.
Hey!..I dont like buttercreams usually as i dont like my frostings to be very buttery..will it be ok if i add just 1 cup butter to the frosting?
No, you cannot adjust the amount of butter in the Swiss buttercream. Without the proper amount of butter, the buttercream will not whip together. If you don’t like butter, I suggest using a different frosting.
Can the cake be baked in one 6 inch pan instead of three separate pans?
I recommend baking the cake in three separate pans. If you try to bake it all in one tall 6-inch pan, it will take much longer to fully bake. As a result, the cake will be dry.
This cake Looks so good! Can I substitute the flour for a gluten free flour mixture?
Hi! I have not tested this recipe using gluten-free flour.