When I first celebrated Christmas here in the UK, I was amazed by how spices were used during the festive season. From gingerbread biscuits and mulled wine to Christmas cakes.
Taking the masala spice blend from my parents’ kitchen and infusing it in a cake was my contribution to my in-laws’ Christmas table years ago, and it has been a staple ever since.
The black cardamom and tea leaves give a slight smoky flavour, but are not essential.
The cake is simple enough to enjoy with a cup of tea or served warm as a dessert with some stem ginger ice-cream or clotted cream. The cake keeps well for 5 days at room temperature in an airtight container.
I like to bake this cake in a large bundt tin, but you can bake it in a 20cm round high-side cake tin too. If you do use a round tin, line the base with parchment paper after you flour and dust the tin for easier unmoulding.
For the masala chai powder
green cardamom pods 10 (husks removed)
black cardamom pods 2 whole (optional)
black peppercorns 10
cinnamon stick 5-6 cm
fennel seeds 1 tbsp
ground ginger powder 1 tbsp
black tea leaves 1 tbsp (optional, any loose-leaf tea works)
For the cake batter
butter 300g, plus extra to line the tin
plain flour 350g
masala chai powder 3 tbsp (see above)
baking powder 1½ tbsp
bicarbonate of soda 1 tbsp
fine sea salt ¼ tsp
toasted pecans 100g, chopped coarsely
stem ginger 5 balls, chopped coarsely (optional)
golden caster sugar 150g
soft light brown sugar 150g
vanilla extract 1 tbsp
sour cream 150g
For the masala chai powder, grind all the spices, and the tea leaves, if using, in a small spice grinder to a fine powder and keep aside. This can be prepared in advance and stored in a small airtight container. It can also be doubled up and stored for a month.
Preheat the oven to 170C fan/gas mark 5. Using a pastry brush, butter the bundt tin well with even upwards strokes, then dust with plain flour. Tap out any excess flour. The butter and flour should create an even film, coating the tin. Take time to do this as it helps the cake slide out easily once baked.
Sift the flour, masala chai powder, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and salt, and keep aside. Add 1 tablespoon of the flour mix to the chopped pecans and stem ginger. Toss them lightly to coat. This stops them sinking in the bottom.
Beat the 300g of butter and the sugar using a stand mixer or a hand beater for 5-7 minutes on medium speed till light and fluffy.
Add the vanilla extract, then the eggs one by one, beating after each addition. Add the flour mixture and the sour cream, adding each alternately in three batches and gently folding it after each addition, followed by the chopped pecans and ginger.
Spoon the prepared batter into the bundt tin. Give the tin a sharp tap to remove any air bubbles.
Bake on the lower middle shelf of the oven for 40-50 minutes or until a skewer comes out clean. Once baked, remove from the oven and cool in the tin for 15 minutes, then invert and unmould on a wire cooling rack.
The unmoulding time is crucial because removing the cake from the tin any earlier will make it collapse, as it is still quite warm. Any more than 15 minutes will cool the butter in the tin, making it harder to come out neatly.
Once unmoulded, let the cake cool for another 15 minutes.
If you like, you can sprinkle some of the chai masala mix with chopped toasted pecans on top to decorate.
Tarunima Sinha is the owner of baking delivery business My Little Cake Tin