Pumpkin spice needs to move over, because chai is the fall flavor that is going to fill you with autumnal warmth this year! Warm Indian spices including cinnamon, cardamom, anise, and black pepper turn my favorite hot latte from beverage to show stopping dessert.
First off, what the heck is chai?
Well, chai is my favorite tea! Lol. But it’s so much more than that. It’s funny because the word chai actually means tea in India. So my favorite flavor of tea is.. tea. In India this would be known as masala chai – which simply means mixed spiced tea.
But unlike here in the United States, tea in India isn’t just some black tea steeped in hot water – it’s full of warming aromatic spices, and prepared with hot milk and is served sweetened – hence it being masala – or mixed spices.
The spices used can vary, but generally include cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and star anise. I love the ones that also include ginger and black pepper. Some have orange peel and vanilla added. Even coriander and fennel can make appearances! And then of course, there is tea – black tea.
I love chai tea. But I do not mix my own. And I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on it here – because I’m not. I don’t even know 1/10th of 1% of Indian cuisine or culture or the significance of these ingredients to the wonderful people of the country.
I also don’t know anything about tea. What kinds of tea leaves? Heck if I know. Black. Lol. I also like green tea and jasmine tea. And hibiscus tea is wonderful! Those aren’t usually used in Indian teas as far as I know, but that’s pretty much the extent of my knowledge there.
But I love chai tea.
If you want to learn more about Indian tea and how to prepare it authentically, my friend Anushree has an amazing food blog with a great post containing everything you could want to know about it. Head on over there if you want to give it a shot yourself. 🙂
So how am I going to make chai spiced cake if you’re not going to teach me how to make chai spice?!
I let the experts do the mixing.
I buy chai tea from the store. I make some, with almond or oat milk, I sweeten it with a little sugar. And I judge – usually not harshly, because apparently I love all chai teas that exist on the market. And if I like the chai tea I’m drinking, I will use those tea bags in my chai spiced cake. With the same milk I used to prepare my tea, and the same sugar I used to sweeten it.
I literally transform my chai tea latte into a cake. And now you can too!
The ingredients here are pretty simple and straight forward; nothing too fancy or hard to find.
- Flour. The flour I use here is all purpose wheat flour. Not self-rising, not cake flour, not bread flour, not any of that. Just plain ole AP flour. You can substitute your favorite gluten-free alternative if you’d like – Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Free All Purpose Baking Flour is my favorite. The longer the name, the better the results. 😉 Follow the instructions on the bag.
- Sugar. I use Zulka brand granulated sugar. It’s the same as traditional white granulated sugar, but it hasn’t been filtered through bone char – meaning it’s vegan (that’s right, most American sugars aren’t vegan). It has a slight amber color and gorgeous caramel notes in the flavor. You can use whatever your favorite granulated sugar is, though.
- Baking soda. Also known as bicarbonate or bicarb, it’s much more than just for deodorizing you’re freezer or adding to toothpaste! And it is NOT the same thing as baking powder. So make sure to use soda and not powder here (that’s the number one mistake made in my recipes).
- Salt. Use whatever. I add it to enhance the flavors and balance out the sweetness a bit. Pink, white, sea, kosher – pick your poison. You could even use black salt if you wanted to give the cake a bit of an eggy taste.
- Chai tea! Like I said above, I use the same bags for cake making as I enjoy for drinking.
- Milk. Whichever plant milk is your favorite will probably do great here. I love using almond milk and soy milk in my cakes – so I choose based on whether my clients want to avoid one or the other. I opt for unsweetened vanilla to amp up that flavor.
- Vinegar. Any vinegar will do! I use white because it’s cheap, but I’ve also used apple cider vinegar and rice wine vinegar in a pinch. And if you can’t have vinegar, use lemon or lime juice! All we are looking for is an acid to react with the baking soda to fill our cake with tiny bubbles – turning it into a sponge.
- Vanilla. Whatever your favorite is – either real or synthetic, just make sure it’s not made with beaver butts. Yes, you read that right.
- Butter/oil. For cakes that will be stacked or carved, I recommend using your favorite vegan butter. It will give your cake a firmer structure allowing you to manipulate it without it falling apart on you. For cupcakes, oil is wonderful for giving them a light and airy texture – not great for stacking and carving, but perfect for cupcakes!
The first thing you’re going to do is pick out a chai tea that you like to drink. The best way to figure this out is to buy some, make it, and drink it. And my favorite way to do this is to steep it in hot almond or oat milk with a touch of sugar added.
Love the H-E-B brand Chai, but if you’re not fortunate enough to have an H-E-B near you, I really like the Stash brand Double Chai, as well (it’s made with cinnamon and clove oil that pops really well in the cake, though it doesn’t contain black pepper – so add some if you want it spicier).
One batch of this recipe is going to take five tea bags worth of tea. So get five envelopes out, rip em open, and pull the bags out.
Using a pair of scissors, snip off the top of each bag. Keep in mind that the tea bag might actually just be a folded tube, so make sure you hold on tight or you’ll make a big mess! Once you snip one, dump the contents into a coffee/spice grinder before moving on to the next.
If you don’t have a grinder, that’s fine – just dump the tea into your flour mixture as is. Your cake will just have larger flecks instead of a smoother color. And if you don’t want to do that, then steep ten bags in your hot milk instead.
Once you’ve unloaded the contents of your five tea bags into the grinder, give it one nice sniff before closing it and buzzing it into a fine powder.
After grinding the tea, I advise letting it settle in the grinder for at least five to ten minutes before attempting to open it. It’s going to be a spicy cloud that will likely make you cough and gag if you open it before that. Direct inhalation of cinnamon and black pepper is never a good thing, people.
In the meantime, whisk your dry ingredients in a large mixing bowl – that would be your flour, sugar (yes, it counts as a dry ingredient in whacky cake recipes – which this is), baking SODA, and salt.
Once you’ve mixed your dry ingredients together and your chai powder has had the chance to settle, dump the contents of the grinder into your bowl.
Gently whisk your chai powder into your dry mix until it’s well combined.
Once your chai and dry are combined, make three wells in the mixture – one large and two small. Into the first small well, pour in your vanilla. The second small one will get your vinegar. And the large well is going to get your melted butter or oil.
Do not mix, yet!
Once you’ve made and filled your three wells, pour your hot milk over the entire bowl.
Gently stir the hot milk into your dry mixture until it’s just combined and you don’t see any dry patches anywhere.
Pour your batter into prepared cake pans or cupcake tins.
Bake cakes at 325F (162C) for 45 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out dry (the time will depend on the size and depth of your cake pans, as well as your individual oven). Cupcakes take around 17 minutes.
Let the cake cool completely before decorating with your preferred frosting. My favorite is my American Meringue Buttercream with 12 drops of LorAnn lavender oil added.
The cake can be stored covered at room temperature for up to a week, or wrapped well (double wrapped in plastic film) and frozen for up to six months.
Whacky Cake Recipe Tutorial Video:
This video is for my chocolate whacky cake, but the process is the same – just using chai tea powder instead of cocoa powder and hot milk instead of coffee.
- 4 cups all purpose flour (480g)
- 2 cups sugar (400g)
- 2 tsp baking soda (bicarb) (12g)
- 1 tsp salt (6g)
- 5 chai tea bags (10 if you don't have a spice/coffee grinder)
- 2 tsp vanilla extract (10ml)
- 2 tbsp vinegar (30ml)
- 3/4 cup of vegan butter/margarine, melted (you can use oil, see notes below) (175ml)
- 2 cups plant milk, hot (475ml)
- Preheat your oven to 325F (162C)
- Prepare your cake pans with nonstick spray and parchment paper circles on the bottom
- Empty the contents of your tea bags into a coffee/spice grinder and blitz until it's a fine powder and let it rest for five minutes without opening (see recipe notes if you don't have a grinder)
- Whisk together your flour, sugar, baking soda, and salt in a large mixing bowl
- Gently stir your chai tea powder into the dry mix
- Create three deep wells in your dry mix
- To the first well, add your vanilla. To the second, add the vinegar. To the third, add the melted butter/oil
- Pour your hot milk over the entire mixture
- Gently whisk or fold your batter until it's well combined and no dry bits remain
- Divide your batter evenly among your prepared pans
- Bake for 45 minutes or until you insert a toothpick into the center of the cake and it comes out clean (cupcakes only need about 17 minutes)
- Remove your cakes from the oven to a cooling rack. Let it sit in the cake pan for five minutes before turning it out. Let cool completely before frosting.
*This can be made with your favourite cup-for-cup gluten-free flour if you want to make a wheat-free version.
*For a no-sugar-added version, use a cup-for-cup Stevia baking blend in place of the granulated sugar.
*Using melted butter is recommended for stacked or carved cakes. Oil is best for cupcakes as it results in a fluffier texture.
*For soy-free, use melted Country Crock Plant Butter sticks (avoiding the almond one if you have a nut allergy) or Miyoko’s butter if you’d like to also avoid palm-oil. Or use a non-soy oil instead.
*If you don't have a coffee/spice grinder, feel free to add the contents of the tea bags as is to the dry mix. It will leave larger flecks in the finished cake and won't give you as a smooth of a color. If you still want a smooth color, try steeping ten tea bags in your hot milk instead of grinding the contents of five.