There you are, wanting cake immediately, but knowing your damn butter is definitely not soft enough. You just aren't clever enough to have prepared a day in advance for this specific craving to hit, and now you are standing in the kitchen wondering if you can just microwave that butter a bit to soften it (nope) or cram a few sticks in the pockets of your sweatpants for a while (oh I do this all the time). Stop doing this. There is another way.
I'm a huge fan of Shirley Corriher's "melted sugar" method of cake baking which turns the traditional creaming method on its head. I still make the occasional creamed-butter cake, like with my Super Buttermilk cake (coming soon), but this little-known method has become my standard. The cake it produces is exceptionally tender and moist with a very fine and even crumb. Like velvet.
Instead of relying on a fickle network of puffed air in your sugar-butter-egg emulsion plus an extra tenderizer like buttermilk, this method uses a touch more baking powder than average and one of my all-time favorite ingredients--whipped cream. The other significant difference here is using a mix of oil and butter and a dense simple syrup added to the fats. Hence, you don't need to wait for your butter to soften.
Recently, while adding the water to the sugar for the simple syrup, I thought well this could be tasty instead of plain, this plain water I am adding here, and so the Chai Cake was born.
I absolutely love tea. I wanted to make sure the cake had the distinctive flavor of black tea unlike some chai cake recipes which are really just spice cakes. With a foundation of the milky flavor of the whipped cream and the extra-strong tea, this cake tastes exactly like chai.
I used The Republic of Tea's Republic Chai teabags for this, since their tea is both easy to find and high quality. Any brand of tea will work, but using a decent quality will ensure the tea flavor is rich and the spice blend is well designed.
I iced the cake with a simple white chocolate ganache to keep the chai flavor in the forefront, although a basic vanilla buttercream would also be delicious.
I like to bake my cakes tall and small. Two 6" cake pans will give you a more moist cake than two 9" cake pans if you ask me. My favorite pans are Fat Daddio's in the 3" depth rather than the standard 2" so I can make more layers at once and save space in my oven. With the deeper pans, I've found that using a heating core/flower nail ensures the middle is never left undercooked. Here's my set up:
Did you see that killer cake stand in the top photo? I scour eBay for vintage cake stands/pedestals on a regular basis and although I knew I might not use such an intense cake stand very often, I had to have it. Slightly terrifying but mostly great. I thought a simple architectural fondant wrap would suit the overall snakeyness of the stand (which, I know, is really a pillar candle holder and not actually a cake stand at all).
And there's that whole matter of the edible wafer paper lotus I created for this cake. Gumpaste is my central medium for edible flowers, but I am branching off into wafer paper lately and will post about it soon. Because it curls so well on the edges, a flower with a deeply cupped petal like a lotus is the perfect match for wafer paper.
So between the flower and the ganache and the decoration and the cake itself, I would say this cake is an edible manifestation of one entire Sunday of my life. I'm not complaining. Baking is funny like that. It's very tiring in one way but also energizing and relaxing. Maybe it wouldn't be, though, if I didn't love it so much. And I don't know what I would do without music in the kitchen to keep me focused and happy. No matter what else I try, Inevitably I return to Chris's monthly mixes at Gorilla vs. Bear. They are free to download and, once mashed together, provide an epic non-stop playlist of interesting music without interruption. Thanks, Chris, for making these, they've become somewhat indispensable to my process.
White Chocolate Chai Cake
1/2 c. (118 ml) heavy whipping cream
1 3/4 c. (201 g) cake flour (do not sub AP flour)
1 1/4 teaspoon (8 g) baking powder (aluminum-free is best)
1 tsp (2.5 g) cinnamon
1/2 tsp (1 g) cardamom
pinch of ground cloves
1 1/2 c. (298 g) sugar
1/3 c. (80 ml) strong brewed black chai tea
3 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into cubes
1/3 c. + 2 Tablespoons (107 ml) canola oil
1 teaspoon (5 ml) vanilla extract
1/2 (3 g) teaspoon salt
3 large egg yolks, room temperature
2 large eggs, room temperature
For the ganache: 21 oz (600 g) of chopped white chocolate or good quality white chocolate chips and 6.75 fl oz (200 ml) heavy whipping cream
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Remove butter from fridge and cut into pieces, place eggs in bowl of warm water to bring to correct temperature if cold. Grease and flour cake pans, line bottom of pans with parchment paper. Whip the cream in a small bowl to stiff peaks, cover, and place in fridge.
To make the tea, steep 4 chai teabags in 1 cup of boiled water for five minutes. Do not over-steep or the tea will become bitter. Add sugar to a small saucepan and then add 1/3 c. of the strong tea. Heat sugar mixture over medium heat, stirring constantly, until sugar is mostly dissolved into a thick syrup. The sugar will not completely dissolve because the mixture is oversaturated. Scrape syrup out of saucepan into large bowl and allow to cool for a few minutes.
Add the butter, oil, vanilla and salt to the sugar syrup and beat until smooth. Sprinkle in 1/3 of the flour mixture and mix until just combined, then add the rest of the dry ingredients gradually until incorporated. With a whisk, mix in the yolks by hand, then the eggs. Careful to not over mix. Fold in whipped cream gently, then divide batter into prepared pans and drop pans a few times onto your counter to knock any large air bubbles up and out of the batter.
Bake for 18-25 minutes, depending on your pan size. Cakes are done when the center springs back when pressed. The cakes should just begin pulling away from the sides as you take them out of the oven.
To make the ganache, heat heavy cream in a saucepan or microwave until it bubbles around the edges. Pour over the chopped white chocolate and let rest for 1 minute. Mix until smooth. Allow to set up for at least 30 minutes before using. If it becomes too hard after resting, microwave briefly until soft enough to work with.
Cool, level and split cakes, then fill and frost with ganache.