warm spice cake

© Nick Loven

Two of my nephews are graduating from university this year, and both from the fair city of Bristol, which is one of several awesome cities on the planet. The family descended on Bristol this past weekend for a celebratory gathering, and as is tradition, everyone brought a dish with them to share. In honour of one of my graduating nephews having spent some time in Sri Lanka recently, I wanted to make a chai latte cake, with a cardamom-based sponge topped with chai-spice buttercream. With its warm notes of cinnamon, ginger and cloves, evoking a "snuggle in an armchair" mood particularly apt for the wet and cold summer the UK is currently knuckling down through, what's not to love? There are many variations in the spices used in Indian chai-wallah, and it varies from region to region, so there's a lot of scope for experimentation. I liked the sound of using black pepper, to bring out a fiery note, and because it's just plain cool to say "oh yeah, there's pepper in the frosting."

© Nick Loven

As it turns out, what I came up with didn't taste chai-ee or latte-ee at all, and certainly not reminiscent of any sort of hot beverage when presented next to my niece's ridiculously good coffee macaroons, but rather took on a life of its own. I was slightly concerned that the spices were overpowering and would not be well received, but the praise just kept on coming! It turns out that this recipe's a winner, and boy am I stuffed now.

This cake is best described as a warm spice cake, with very strong cardamom and clove overtones (the amounts of these spices could easily be reduced if you want more input from the other spices). It's best served with a hot mug of coffee or tea, and enjoyed nesting down in a plush armchair with a good book.

Lydia's Warm Spice Cake
Cake batter

1 1/2 tsp ground cardamom (if you're grinding it fresh, about 30 pods should do it)
1 2/3 cups (360g) caster sugar
2 cups (275g) plain flour
1 tbsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
8oz (200g) butter/baking margarine (I use Stork) - butter at room temperature and unsalted
1/2 cup (125ml) milk (I use skimmed - 1% fat, but any sort is fine)
2 tsp vanilla extract
5 eggs, lightly beaten

1 brown tea bag, steeped in about 100ml fresh-off-the-boil water, for about 10 minutes
~2 tbsp milk
2 1/2 cups (500g) icing sugar (confectioner's sugar in the US)
14oz (350g) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 tbsp + 1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tbsp + 1 tsp ground ginger
2 tsp ground cloves
2 tsp ground black pepper (not so finely ground that it looks brown, if you have very finely ground pepper I suggest you start with just 1 tsp and adjust from there based on your own taste).
1 tsp vanilla extract

© Nick Loven

Preheat oven to 300°F (150°C / Gas 2 - electric oven, slightly higher if using gas).
Line two 8 inch pans (for springform pans, a good rub with butter and coating of flour will be fine, otherwise line with greaseproof paper).

Combine cardamamom, sugar, flour, baking powder and salt in the mixer bowl, then beat in the butter, milk and vanilla. Beat until light and fluffy.

Continue to beat while adding the eggs.

When just combined, pour into the two prepared tins and bake for ~45 minutes, until the top is lightly browned, and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. The cake shouldn't wibble - if it does, it's not done yet. You'll also know it's perfectly done when there's a fizzing sound (like a glass of soda) if you listen closely.

Cool in pans for 5-10 minutes, then turn out, upside-down, onto wire racks to finish cooling. It also helps to place in the fridge for an hour or overnight (or freezer for half an hour if you're in a rush) before cutting and frosting.

© Nick Loven

To prepare the frosting, beat the butter with the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the spices and vanilla extract.

Make up the tea-infused water with enough milk to yield 120ml (scant 1/2 cup) and, once cooled, slowly add to the frosting while beating. If the mix starts to curdle, stop adding the liquid and add a little more icing sugar, about 1/4 cup (50g).

To assemble the cake, level the tops of the cakes with a sharp knife if necessary (which it might not be, if you let them cool upside-down), and slice each cake layer in two. Sandwich your now-four-layer-cake together using the frosting, and finish off by covering the top and sides with frosting too. If you're piping rose-swirls as I've done here, you'll probably need all the frosting, otherwise cover and refrigerate any that remains for naughtiness with cookies at a later date.


© Nick Loven


  1. Hi Lydia - this is a truly mouth-watering and very enjoyable blog, and the pictures are very professional and beautiful. Well done!
    I look forward to reading more :-)
    Ruth (from Israel)

  2. Thanks Ruth - your kind comments mean a lot to me! I'm so happy the blog is being well received and I hope the future recipes will be just as mouth watering! Much love to your family :)


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