I’ve wanted to come up with a cake recipe inspired by the Indian tea spice mix my mum makes for AGES. I finally got round to doing some research to create the recipe on Friday, and decided to take the plunge and bake it today.
For those who don’t know what I’m talking about, most Indians add a mixture of warm spices to their tea to create ‘chai’. My mum makes her own tea masala, which consists of ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, black and white pepper, cloves and cinnamon. I love having my tea this way – for me, it’s not quite right (but still nice) without the tea masala. So it was pretty natural for me to hit on the idea of a cake containing all of these wonderful flavours.
Tea masala cake mix in the tin
Researching the recipe was difficult at first. I knew it would have all of the above spices in it, plus sultanas and a buttercream icing topped with pistachios. Existing recipes for chai cake didn’t seem to be quite what I was after, and I couldn’t get my head round working out the right quantities of flour, eggs, butter and sugar to create the recipe from scratch, so I asked around for some advice.
It was suggested to me that adapting an existing fruit cake recipe could work, so I used Delia’s Dundee cake recipe as a starting point and a great post on Cupcake Project on how to get tea flavours into baked goods for the icing (the most successful part of the recipe, in my opinion). I also took inspiration from BBC Good Food’s porter cake recipe for infusing the fruit with tea, lemon and ginger flavours, which worked to a limited extent.
Making the cake was pretty straightforward after I’d settled on the recipe. I did tweak some things as I went along, but for the most part I stuck to my method. Delia’s recipe calls for milk if the mix ends up too dry, but I didn’t have to add any as it seemed to be the perfect consistency. The icing was easier to make than I thought it would be; Cupcake Project suggests simmering loose tea in butter, and as I was using the butter in the icing rather than the cake, I was worried I’d end up with icing flecked with bits of tea. Happily, this didn’t happen, as I used an extremely fine tea strainer to get rid of the leaves.
I left the butter to cool for quite a while (I may have popped out to buy shoes and lipstick…!), so it had solidified again by the time I got round to actually making the icing, but a few seconds in the microwave and a bit of beating returned it to a butter-like consistency. I was initially going to add 140g of icing sugar (following the method for the buttercream in BBC Good Food’s Victoria sponge recipe), but settled on 115g to avoid it becoming too sweet. I loved the colour change in the icing; as you can see in the above pic, the butter went a strange green/brown colour because of the tea in it, but the icing turned a pleasing pistachio green shade after I added the sugar – and I’d already decided beforehand to top the cake with pistachios!
Tea masala cake, pre-icing
The result of my hard work? A wonderfully moist fruit cake with a hint of tea masala, topped with a creamy icing with very strong tea flavours. It’s a very nice cake, but not quite what I had in mind – luckily, I already knew I’d have to perfect this cake over several bakes! I will make a few changes next time – I’ll use the tea-infused butter in the cake as well as the icing, and ramp up the spicing so the tea masala is more prominent. I might also use a little less fruit and lemon, and add some chopped stem ginger. Nevertheless, I’m very pleased with this effort, and it goes wonderfully with a cup of Indian tea!
The below recipe is what I actually did to make the cake, with tweaks, as opposed to the original recipe I came up with.
- 150g butter, at room temperature
- 90g caster sugar
- 60g light muscovado sugar
- 3 large eggs
- 225g plain flour
- 1 level teaspoon baking powder
- milk, if necessary
- 350g sultanas
- 2 tsp ground ginger
- 1 tsp fresh grated ginger
- 1 tsp cinnamon
- 0.5 tsp ground cloves
- 0.5 tsp ground cardamom
- 0.5 tsp ground black pepper
- 0.5 tsp ground white pepper
- 0.5 tsp grated nutmeg
- grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 300ml hot, strong black tea
For the icing:
- 120g butter, softened
- 115g icing sugar, sifted
- 3.5 tsp (approx. 2 teabags’ worth – I used Yorkshire Tea) strong loose tea
- 1-2 drops vanilla extract
- 25g pistachios, shelled and chopped
- Preheat oven to gas mark 3, 325°F (170°C). Grease and line a 20cm round cake tin.
- Put the sultanas, black tea, lemon juice and zest, and fresh ginger into a saucepan and bring slowly to the boil. Simmer for 15 minutes, then strain – reserving the drained liquid – and leave to cool.
- Put the butter and sugar in a mixing bowl and beat until light and fluffy.
- Whisk the eggs separately then, a little at a time, beat them into the creamed butter and sugar.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, ground ginger, cinnamon, ground cloves, ground cardamom, nutmeg, white pepper and black pepper together into the bowl.
- Using a large tablespoon, carefully fold the flour mixture into the wet mix. Your mixture needs to be of a good, soft, dropping consistency so, if it seems too dry, add a dessertspoon of milk.
- Carefully fold in the sultanas and spoon the mixture into the prepared cake tin, smoothing it out evenly with the back of the spoon.
- Place the cake in the centre of the oven and bake for 2-2½ hours (two hours was spot-on in my gas oven) or until the centre is firm and springy to the touch. Let it cool before taking it out of the tin.
- In the meantime, make the icing:
– Melt the unsalted butter until just melted and adding the tea. Heat gently for 5 minutes, remove from the heat and allow to stand for 5 minutes.
– Strain the mixture through a fine sieve (a tea strainer is ideal), pressing hard on the tea leaves, and remove any tea leaves from the strained mixture. Leave to cool to room temperature.
– Beat the butter until smooth, add the vanilla extract and add the icing sugar gradually, beating all the while.
- Prick the top of the cake all over with a skewer and drizzle the reserved tea mixture from cooking the sultanas over the top.
- Spread the icing on the top of the cake and scatter with the pistachios.