A simple vanilla sheet cake filled with warming chai spices is the base for this easy layered chai cake. One sheet cake cut into three pieces forms a no-fuss and simple layer cake frosted and filled with a creamy and smooth chai buttercream.
What spices are in chai?
Chai means "tea" in Hindi and is a traditional drink made with black tea and spices in India. It often contains a sweetener and some milk to dilute the drink. You can read more about chai here.
The spices traditionally used in chai are cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves and black peppercorns. Other spices that can be found in chai depending on the recipe include allspice, nutmeg and star anise.
For the chai cake, both the cake and the frosting have a mixture of cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. If you don't have all of the spices listed or can't find them all, you can leave out one or two without altering the recipe too much.
Cinnamon, ginger and cardamom are the more commonly used spices however, so if you leave any of those out, the chai flavor will not be as spiced or pronounced.
Tips for a light and fluffy cake
- Spoon and level the flour: The key to many baking recipes is measuring the right quantity of flour. For many home bakers without food scales, this means measuring the flour correctly in your measuring cups. Spoon the flour into the measuring cup lightly until it's overflowing and then level the top off with a knife. If you have a food scale, you'll use 160 grams of flour. Scooping directly into your bag of flour or canister typically yields a lot more flour than you need leading to dry baked goods.
- Don't overmix the batter once the flour is added: Overmixing the batter leads to more gluten development in the flour which leads to tough and chewy baked goods-no one wants that! Stir just until the flour is incorporated.
- Use room temperature ingredients, especially butter: Room temperature butter allows more air to be incorporated into the batter when creaming the butter with the sugar. This leads to lighter, fluffier cakes. Use room temp milk and eggs as well so that they will incorporate into the batter easily and won't cause the butter to harden.
Easy chai buttercream
For the frosting for the chai cake, I use a cream cheese frosting base and add the same chai spices that are in the cake. The tang of the cream cheese offsets the sweetness of the cake and the spiciness of the chai spices.
The key to good cream cheese-buttercream frosting is starting with room-temperature butter and cream cheese. If you don't, you'll have lumps from the cream cheese being too cold and the frosting won't be light and fluffy.
I also prefer to use unsalted butter and then add just a pinch of salt to the buttercream to offset the sweetness.
Whip that room temp butter and cream cheese for a few minutes to get it light and fluffy before you add the powdered sugar. Use the same technique as you do for flour to measure the powdered sugar, spooning it into the measuring cup and leveling it off.
Once all the ingredients are added, if it's too thick, simply add a splash of heavy cream or milk and if it's too thin add more powdered sugar by the tablespoon.
The recipe makes enough to frost and fill this 3 layer cake with a "semi-naked" look on the outside of the cake. More on that below! If you prefer to leave the cake as a sheet cake, there will be ample frosting to frost just the top or the top and sides of the sheet cake.
How to make a layer cake from a sheet cake
For a twist on a simple sheet cake, I made this cake into a 3 layer cake. You can make a fancy layer cake without the fuss of multiple cake pans. Of course, as said above, you can just leave this as a sheet cake with frosting on top if you want the least fussy method!
To make the sheet cake into layers, remove the cake from the 9 x 13 pan once it is fully cooled. This is why the recipe states to line the pan with parchment paper and leave an overhang on the two long sides. The parchment will make it super easy to lift the cake out of the pan with nothing sticking to the sides.
Place the cake on a cutting board or another flat surface. Divide the cake evenly into three rectangles and slice through it with a long, sharp knife avoiding using a sawing motion.
Place the first rectangle on a serving platter or cake stand and layer with some of the frosting. Place the next layer on top and layer with more frosting. Put the final cake layer on top. That's it! A simple layer cake made from one 9 x 13 cake. Read on for instructions on frosting a naked cake.
How to frost a naked cake
The chai cake pictured is actually considered a "semi-naked" cake. A naked cake is one that has frosting just between the cake layers and not on the sides. A semi-naked cake like this one has a very thin layer of frosting on the outside of the cake leaving the cake layers exposed slightly.
To frost a semi-naked cake, you start by composing the cake like any other layer cake, with a layer of frosting between each cake layer and on the top. Refrigerate the cake for about 15 minutes before starting the sides.
Once the cake is chilled, you will need a bench scraper to start the smoothing process on the sides. Because this chai cake is rectangular, you won't need a cake turntable like you would for a round cake. But if you do this technique on a round cake, a bench scraper will make it much easier!
Smooth on a layer of frosting onto the sides of the cake. It doesn't have to be neat or tidy but get an even layer on the sides. Use the bench scraper to smooth the frosting onto the sides of the cake while applying slight pressure to take off some of the frostings so that you can see the cake layers under the frosting.
Keep going with the bench scraper until you achieve the look you want on the sides. Use the bench scraper to smooth the top of the cake and that's all it takes. Thankfully, for this type of cake, the look is rustic anyway so a little imperfection doesn't matter.
How to store the cake
Store the cake in the refrigerator in an airtight container or tented with foil because of the cream cheese frosting. Before serving the cake, remove it from the fridge and let it sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes to allow the frosting to soften.
Place a piece of wax paper or parchment paper onto the exposed end to keep it from drying out if it was sliced into. It will last for 4-5 days in the refrigerator.
How to freeze the cake
The cake can be frozen. Once it is chilled, wrap it in plastic wrap and then in foil. Place it into a large zip-top bag or another airtight container. It can be frozen for up to a couple of months.
To defrost it, place it in the fridge overnight. Remove from the fridge at least 30 minutes before serving.
For other cake recipes, check out:
- White Chocolate Raspbery Bundt Cake
- Chocolate Sheet Cake with Salted Caramel Buttercream
- Apple Sheet Cake with Cinnamon Cream Cheese Frosting
- Pumpkin Gooey Butter Cake with Pecan Streusel
Tag me on Instagram @themarblekitchenblog if you make this and leave a star rating and comment below! Thank you and enjoy!
Chai Cake with Chai Cream Cheese Frosting
- 2 ½ cups (320 grams) all-purpose flour
- 1 ½ teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon ginger
- 1 teaspoon cardamom
- ¼ teaspoon nutmeg
- ¼ teaspoon cloves
- 1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar
- ½ cup (100 grams) brown sugar, packed
- 12 tablespoons (168 grams) unsalted butter room temperature
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
- ½ cup sour cream
- ½ cup milk whole or 2%
Chai Cream Cheese Frosting
- 8 oz (448 grams) cream cheese room temperature
- 10 tablespoons (140 grams) unsalted butter room temperature
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- 1 teaspoon cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ginger
- ½ teaspoon cardamom
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon cloves
- ¼ teaspoon kosher salt
- 3 cups (360 grams) powdered sugar
- Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and line a 9 x 13 pan with parchment paper leaving an overhang on the two long sides.
- In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder, salt, and spices. Set aside.
- In a stand mixer or in a large bowl and a hand mixer, cream together butter and brown sugar for about 4 minutes, until light and fluffy on medium/medium high speed.
- Add the eggs, mixing well and scraping the sides of the bowl.
- In a small bowl or pourable measuring cup, whisk together sour cream, milk and vanilla. Set aside.
- Starting with the dry ingredients, add about ⅓ to the butter mixture and beat until combined.
- Add half of the milk and mix well. Continue alternating dry and wet ingredients, ending with the dry ingredients. Stir only until the dry ingredients just disappear. Don’t overmix.
- Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the middle of the cake comes out clean.
- Let cool in the pan on a wire rack.
- In a stand mixer or using an electric mixer, beat the cream cheese and butter until creamy and fluffy, about 2-3 minutes.
- Add the vanilla, spices and salt and mix until combined. Add 3 cups of powdered sugar and mix until fully combined.
- Once the cake is cooled completely, use the parchment paper to lift it out of the pan. Set the cake on a flat surface.
- Evenly divide the cake into three pieces, each piece measuring 9 inches wide by a little less than 4.5 inches.
- Place the first layer on a serving platter and top with frosting. Repeat with the next two layers.
- Frost the top and sides of the cake. If you are wanting to do the semi-naked look of the cake in the pictures, see the blog post for more details.
- Store the cake in the refrigerator, covered for up to 4-5 days.