Hey y’all! I don’t know about you, but I’m officially over summer. It’s been a full week of 90 degree days. I’m so thankful for pool access and AC. I’ve been really craving that early morning feeling of fall. The one where you wake up and crave a warm cup… any warm cup as long as there’s something hot inside it.
So here’s a personal note about me, some of you may already know, I can’t drink coffee. No, I didn’t develop some kind of crazy habit in college. Don’t worry I was never addicted… truth is I never got that close. The acidity in coffee makes me green in the face. It just doesn’t sit well with me. I tried for a long time to fight this, as I love the smell, culture, cute bearded coffee connoisseurs that go by the name “coffee bartender” because they are too good for the word “barista”, etc. It just wouldn’t go away – Thank goodness I missed the basic bitch, Starbuck’s pumpkin latte moment! I did indulge in the pumpkin bread often though – I wasn’t above that… but who is? So in college, when all of my friends basically had a coffee IV drip attached to their arm, I was left to search elsewhere. Not really for a caffeine high… but I was a Southern girl experiencing her first couple of New York City winters – ain’t nobody supposed to brave that alone!! Especially when you don’t have a real winter coat. Life lesson, just because it’s pretty doesn’t mean it’s warm.
In comes the world of tea. I became obsessed. Not just with loose leaf teas, but also with taro powders and this very amazing thing called the chai latte. The beautiful balance of sweet spices and milky, frothy texture had me hooked. Ever since, I’ve been a huge drinker. And crazy enough, like lattes, chai is a very specialized part of the tea world. Not everyone’s chai is made the same… or tastes the same… Some people make it old school, some people have a chai latte powder, some people have a chai concentrate. So obviously, like many crazed coffee enthusiasts, I’m on a journey, let’s be honest it’s going to keep going so let’s just agree it’s infinite, in search of the best chai. Well, I’ve come to a camp ground and it’s called Dona Chai. No, y’all, I’m not being endorsed, I just freaking love this and I want to help you find a great option if you are like me and on your own chai latte journey.
So what does this all have to do with cake? Well, if you’re one of those types that missed the predictability train, I loved this chai so much and was so excited that it was in a liquid form, (um presto it’s already in extract form!) that I had to make some kind of sugary, baked treat with it. You know to help me through this summer.
This cake is one of my favorite not actually healthy, “healthy” cakes. Basically, I’m going to spare your thighs and drop the butter. I know, I know, you can’t possibly fathom that this cake will be good if there’s no butter. I was also extremely skeptical the first time I made a cake batter with no butter. I grew up believing that good cake had everything to do with how many sticks of butter made their way into the stand mixer. The more butter the better the cake? WRONG. Butter cakes and great cakes are not synonymous. SHOCKER!
So of course, the beautiful and brilliant Nigella Lawson introduced me to my standby no butter cake recipe. Seriously, how does she do it? And this cake is essentially just a little riff on that recipe.
Really quickly, let’s talk about planning what you want your cake to look like. I know, I’m a big nerd. Typically, when I bake anything – ANY-THING – I sketch it out. Most importantly cakes. You’ve got to plan it, if it’s going to look pretty. You might think you’re a Martha, but Martha has minions that make her look good on the fly. So just be smart and pre-plan. At least in your head sketch out what it’s going to look like. Or pretend you’re the cake boss, get a pencil and doodle away.
So, it’s summer right? All my fruit is dying in my apartment because it’s a furnace and I’m not paying to keep the ghosts cold. So typically I start freezing a lot of fruit. I can’t get through it all in two days. It’s just impossible. And you don’t even want to know the kind of conditions your fruit gets left in at the grocery store. But lucky for us, frozen fruit looks beautiful when it starts to thaw. It’s like a beautiful, dewy snow covered it. So why not use it as a cake topper? If you want to do this, I suggest you freeze your fruit on a baking pan. Spread the fruit out all on one even layer and put in your freezer for at least 12 hours.
You can use it for basically anything, smoothies, popsicles, decoration toppings on ice cream or cakes, put it in your wine, or just thaw it and eat it. Do whatever with it!
From there, really this cake baking process is a no brainer. We’ve done this before… but just in case you haven’t here’s a few tips that I wish someone had told me.
1. Keep your eggs at room temperature. You’ll get a finer cake. Maybe those biddies that hounded you for the party invite wouldn’t know the difference, but you will.
2. Always have enough confectioner’s sugar. Look, I had to make my own confectioner’s sugar once. They’ll tell you it’s easy and truthfully it’s not rocket science. But let’s be real, you’ll never grind the sugar down to the perfection that Domino does. So just buy the extra box.
3. Once you decide you’re ready to decorate the cake, put it on the cake stand you intend to use for display or put it on something that you know you can easily slip it back off of. I’ve dropped many cakes, put many finger prints in decorated cakes, and just been all around depressed because I’ve not done this. Also, who the heck cares if your display stand is a little messy? No one because they’ll all be too busy cutting you cake. Also… just wipe it off if you’re all A type like that.
4. Invest in a baking spatula, cake knife, and cake server. Life will be easer and prettier!
VANILLA CHAI CAKE
makes 2, 9 inch, thin layers
2 1/4 tsp baking powder
3/4 c vegetable oil
1 c milk
2 1/2 c cake flour
1 tsp vanilla
4 tbsp chai tea concentrate
3 cups powdered sugar
3 tbsp softened butter
About 4 – 5 tbsp whole milk
3 tsp chai concentrate
1/2 tsp vanilla chai
frozen mixed berries
1. Preheat oven to 350° F. Line two 9-inch round cake pans with parchment paper, grease the paper and the sides.
2. In a large stand mixer bowl, beat sugar and eggs together until mildly thick (about one minute says Nigella). Add flour, milk, oil, baking powder, vanilla, and chai concentrate, beat for another minute until batter is smooth and creamy. Don’t overbeat!
3. Pour batter into prepared pans.
4. Bake in oven for 25 to 35 minutes, mine was a perfect 30 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Loosen sides of cake with knife, turn out on to a cooling rack. Let cool completely before frosting.
5. To make the frosting: In a large bowl, beat butter until creamy. Beat in confectioner’s sugar, vanilla, chai concentrate. Add milk 1 tablespoon at a time until you reach your desired consistency.
6. Layer cakes, adding frosting to the top of each layer. Frost entire cake. Top with crushed pistachios (you can do this in your food processor) and frozen mixed berries.
And just like that, you’ve got yourself a Vanilla Chai Cake. I recommend you don’t share, because you won’t want to.