Try this beautifully spiced masala chai cake, infused with a jaggery syrup. Finished with desiccated coconut and served with a cardamom custard.
Masala chai is one of those drinks that brings people together.
It’s a perfect example of the intricate nuances of the Indian cooking culture. Chai is the way we invite, the way we welcome, and the way we share.
To be offered chai is an incredibly comforting and warming gesture. It’s one of my favourite drinks of all time, and it has been for many years.
One of the most endearing things about masala chai is how much it varies from family to family. It usually consists of a recipe that has been passed down through generations.
It seemed perfect to pair the beautiful spiced flavours of masala chai with a sponge cake to create one of the most perfect desserts. This is a guaranteed crown pleaser and one of my personal favourite cakes.
Masala chai cake
Let’s beak down one of my favourite cakes. There are a few main elements to this recipe:
- Masala chai sponge
- Jaggery syrup
- Coconut topping
- Cardamom custard
This cake consists of a sponge infused with tea and masala chai spices. A very strong brew of chai needs to be made beforehand in order to make sure all the flavours are strong enough to come through.
I’ll explain the process of brewing the chai later on in the blogpost. I’ll go into more depth regarding the spice combinations I use and the variations you can try.
It’s all down to preference.
The chai sponge is then taken a step further by being soaked in a jaggery syrup. The syrup adds additional moisture, sweetness, depth and perfectly balances out the spices in the cake. Jaggery can be overpowering but we’re only using enough to get a hint of flavour and sweetness.
The cake is then finished with a healthy amount of desiccated coconut which adds texture and incredible flavour. One of my favourite chai variations involves using coconut milk and this cake completely replicates that flavour profile.
Finally there’s a homemade cardamom custard served alongside. Having the warm, sweet, cardamom infused custard with the cake it’s honestly just ‘the icing on the cake’. It brings this entire dessert to the next level and will definitely wow your friends and family.
The custard is made from scratch without eggs and it’s easily veganised.
There are so many variations within chai, and I make several variations myself. However I’ve used my ‘everyday chai’ brew for this recipe.
You can totally use your own chai spices (masala) or buy a pre-made blend that you really enjoy. I make my own chai masala in bulk several times a year and my recipe is based on my grandmother’s recipe.
There are a few tweaks and additions that I add in due to my own preferences.
My chai masala blend consists of the following spices:
- Green cardamom
- Black peppercorns
- Mace – this is the outer coating of nutmeg, it has a more mild flavour but has cinnamon notes to it. It adds an additional layer of complexity to the masala)
- Dried ginger powder – we go quite heavy on the dried ginger powder, that’s how my grandmother made it.
- Dried lemongrass leaves – these can be found at most South Asian supermarkets and they have a very district herbal citrusy flavour. It balances out the chai perfectly and hence became a part of our daily chai.
- (I do add a touch of vanilla extract when simmering my chai)
I roast the whole spices (except for the ginger and lemongrass in a wide pan on a low heat for around 5 minutes. You’ll smell the aroma intensify as they get all toasty, but just make sure not to burn any of them.
Burning the spices will impart a bitterness in the final chai.
If you don’t have access to all of the whole spices you can substitute with ground spices (ideally as many of them as you can find). If you have a South Asian or East Asian speciality supermarket near you, they’re bound to stock all of these.
But please, whatever you do, don’t toast the ground spices as they burn almost immediately.
The second component of the masala chai cake is the jaggery syrup. Similarly to my lemon drizzle loaf, the syrup adds another layer of flavour and additional moisture to the cake. That’s not to say that the cake is dry by any means, it can stand perfectly well on its own.
But if we’re going all out… we’re going all out. It’s worth it for the additional flavour and depth that the jaggery brings.
What is it?
What is jaggery I hear you ask?
Well, jaggery (also traditionally known as ‘gur’) is an unrefined sugar that’s made by reducing sugar cane juice. Other regional variations do exist which use a combination of sugar cane, palm and/or date sap.
The reduced sugar is condensed into a golden brown block, but this also can vary in hue. It’s an important sweetener used across the Indian subcontinent, and its popularity has been on the rise within Britain and much of East Africa.
What does jaggery taste like?
I love the flavour profile of jaggery, it’s a cross between a deep caramel and molasses. There’s an almost buttery richness in it too.
But for me, gur reminds me of my grandmother. I grew up with my grandmother making ladoos out of leftover roti, gur and ghee, and it was divine. All that sweet buttery roti was rolled into a ladoo and fed to my siblings and I by hand, we have so many fond memories of this.
However if you can’t get a hold of jaggery, the next best substitute would be coconut palm sugar or dark brown sugar. The syrup has a very strong jaggery flavour, but as it soaks into the spiced sponge it acts as a flavour enhancer and adds a great amount of depth.
The cardamom custard
The cardamom custard is the perfect accompaniment for this masala chai cake. Frankly, custard and cake is a classic combination and one that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Custard is essentially a form of thickened, sweetened milk. The thickness can vary dependent on use and method of preparation. Traditionally it’s made with eggs, milk and sugar, however starches can be added in to stabilise the custard, e.g. corn flour. I’ve made this cardamom custard without any eggs without compromising on any flavour or texture. This custard will be reliant on cornflour as its thickening agent, hence it’s not as technique sensitive as the traditional counterpart.
For the custard you’ll only require a handful of ingredients and it only takes 5 minutes to make!
You can find my cardamom custard recipe right here.
How to make the masala chai cake
Making the jaggery syrup
This is the first element to prepare. It’s a simple process of simmering jaggery and water in the same way you would to make a simple syrup. The syrup will deepen and darken in colour as the flavour intensifies.
It’s fairly quick process, if the syrup simmers for too long it will reduce and thicken. If the consistency of the syrup is too thick it will glaze the cake rather than soak into it, which is not the objective.
Hence keep an eye on the syrup, don’t leave it unattended, and just bask in the glory of the smell of melted jaggery.
1) Place jaggery and water in a saucepan and bring to a gentle simmer until all the jaggery has melted
2) Then bring the jaggery syrup up to a simmer on medium heat for around 3 minutes and it will slowly deepen in colour. Allow the syrup to cool completely at this stage
Making the masala chai cake
The first thing we need to do for the masala chai cake is to brew a strong masala chai as this needs to cool completely before adding to the cake mixture.
1) Brew your chai by simmering milk, loose tea leaves (or tea bags) along with your chai spices. I’ve added dried lemongrass leaves which are a part of my daily chai mix. Simmer on low for 15 minutes until it looks like 2)
This HAS to be a very strong brew, otherwise the flavour will completely mellow out during baking
3) Pass the chai through a fine tea strainer and allow to cool completely
4) Whisk together the sugar, oil and flaxseed mixture
5) Then add the cooled chai and whisk to incorporate
6) Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder
7) Sieve the flour mix into the wet mix and fold to incorporate
8) Fold until the batter is completely smooth
9) Pour into a lined and greased baking tin and place into your preheated oven
10) Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes before turning out on to a wired rack. Poke holes all over the cake with a toothpick to allow the syrup to soak in. Place the cake and rack over a baking tray to catch any excess syrup that may drip off
11) Pour the syrup over the warm cake and allow it to sit and soak in for a minimum of 2 hours. Then decorate with desiccated coconut across the top of the cake
Making the custard
1) Mix together the milk, turmeric, corn flour, sugar, and vanilla before placing on the heat
2) Whisk until the corn flour has dissolved into the milk
3) Place the custard mixture on a medium heat and bring to a simmer
4) The custard will start to thicken after several minutes, keep whisking throughout
5) Once the custard has thickened to desired consistency, add the butter and place on a low heat. Continue to whisk
6) Mix for a further minute and take off the heat, best served warm
Can I make the masala chai cake and custard vegan?
Yes, for the cake just substitute the milk with your favourite dairy free alternative. My preference for chai is oat milk.
For the custard you can do the exact same substitute, but choose a whole oat milk for extra richness. Substitute the butter for a vegan butter alternative (like Naturli or a Stork block).
Can I make this into cupcakes or a double layered cake?
This will also make 18 cupcakes which will take around 20-23 minutes to bake.
You can make split the batter across 2×7″ trays if you wish. But the cake does become softer after soaking in the syrup so if you’re layering just be extra careful not to break the layers.
My custard became too thick/didn’t thicken enough?
For custard that is too thick, add a touch more milk to loosen. If you’re having to add a considerable amount of extra milk, you will need to place the custard back on the heat add more sugar, vanilla and cardamom to prevent the flavours from mellowing out.
If your custard didn’t thicken enough, in a separate bowl whisk another tbsp of cornflour with 2-3tbsp of cold milk, then pour this into the custard and continue to heat again.
Can I make the custard in advance?
You can, but the cornflour will continue to thicken the custard. To re-heat, add a small splash of milk along with the custard to a saucepan. Whisk vigorously as it comes up to temperature to ensure there are no lumps.
What should I use if I don’t have a chai spice mix?
I’d recommend trying out my friend Sanjana Feast’s Chai Masala recipe – it will be amazing!
I shall work on getting my masala recipe up on here soon!
Can I use any alternatives instead of jaggery?
You can use coconut palm sugar blocks as an alternative. Otherwise a dark brown sugar will work.
Masala Chai Cake and Cardamom Custard
- 7″ round cake tin
- 100 g jaggery
- 100 ml water
- 425 ml milk this will reduce down to 250ml as it simmers
- 20 g loose black tea leaves/10 tea bags I use Assam tea leaves which is my personal favourite for chai
- 8 tsp chai masala/spice mix
- 1 tsp vanilla extract
- Saffron/lemongrass/ginger optional
Masala chai cake:
- 285 g self raising flour
- 1 tsp baking powder
- 1/2 tsp salt
- 170 g white granulated sugar
- 150 ml neutral oil sunflower or vegetable
- 250 ml brewed chai
- 1 tbsp ground flaxseeds
- 2 tbsp water
- 400 ml whole milk or whole oat milk
- 25 g corn flour or 20g for a thinner custard
- Pinch of turmeric optional, for colour
- 2 tsp vanilla extract or vanilla beans
- 30 g white granulated sugar
- 2 tbsp butter
- 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
- Bring the jaggery and water to a low simmer until the jaggery has completely melted
- Then place on a high heat for 2-3 minutes whilst stirring, the syrup will darken slightly and reduce
- Turn the heat off and allow the syrup to cool completely
- Bring the milk, tea leaves, chai spice mix, vanilla and any optional add-ins to a low simmer
- Whilst on low heat, simmer for 15 minutes to allow the chai to concentrate and reduce
- Strain the chai through a fine tea sieve and allow to cool completely
Masala chai cake:
- Preheat your oven to 140’C fan or 160’C conventional
- Mix the ground flaxseeds with the 2tbsp water and allow it to sit for 5 minutes to hydrate
- Whisk together the oil, flax seed mixture and sugar together
- Add the cooled chai and whisk once again
- Mix together the flour, salt and baking powder
- Sieve the flour mix into the wet mix and then fold to incorporate
- Place into a lined and greased 7″ cake tin and bake for 50 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean
- Allow to cool for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wired rack
- Place the cake and wired rack over another baking tray (to catch any excess syrup) and make holes across the cake with a toothpick
- Spoon the syrup over the surface of the cake as evenly as possible. Do this 1 spoonful at a time to allow the syrup to soak in
- Allow to cool for a minimum of 2 hours
- Mix together the milk, turmeric, corn flour, sugar, and vanilla before placing on the heat, and whisk until the corn flour has fully dissolved
- Place the custard mixture on a medium heat and continue to whisk throughout
- After several minutes, the colour will deepen and the custard will thicken
- When you’ve reached your desired consistency, add the butter and place the custard on a low heat. Continue to whisk for a further minute until incorporated
- Best served warm, garnish custard with rose petals for fragrance if desired
If you’re looking for a classic vanilla sponge cake to go with the custard, try my vanilla sponge recipe.