This dirty chai latte cake has a fluffy and moist espresso flavored sponge topped with a silky smooth chai spice buttercream frosting. All the cozy warming spices make it the perfect Fall cake!
This dirty chai latte cake is perfect to serve with a warm cup of coffee or masala chai. It tastes like a dirty chai from a coffee shop in layer cake form!
If you aren't familiar, a dirty chai latte is a chai latte (spiced black tea and steamed milk) with a shot of espresso added. The combination of bitter espresso with the slightly spicy chai is warm and so delicious.
This cake captures the beloved beverage's essence perfectly! The sponge is made with espresso powder for an intense coffee flavor. The reverse creaming method and buttermilk make it extra soft and tender!
The chai flavor comes from the fluffy, silky chai spiced buttercream spread all over the cake. It is gently spiced with cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and a little black pepper.
Chai is perfect for Fall and a great alternative to pumpkin desserts. Make it for Fall parties, Thanksgiving, or for a Friendsgiving dessert!
Here are some notes about the ingredients used. For the full ingredient list and quantities, see the recipe card below.
Ingredients for the cake.
Ingredients for the frosting.
- All purpose flour- This is the best flour to use for a tender cake. You can use cake flour to make it extra light and airy.
- Baking powder & baking soda- These leaveners react with heat and acid to make the cake rise in the oven and become fluffy.
- Butter- Instead of creaming butter and sugar together, the butter is mixed in with the dry ingredients. Then the wet ingredients are added and a thick batter forms. This is called the reverse creaming method. It gives the cake a velvety texture and eliminates the chances of overmixing.
- Oil- Using butter and oil together creates a moist cake with a tight, tender crumb. Use a neutral, flavorless oil like canola oil or vegetable oil. Avocado oil works too.
- Eggs- 3 large eggs bind the ingredients together and help the cake get fluffy in the oven. Make sure they are at room temperature; pull them out with the butter and buttermilk.
- Espresso powder- Make sure to use espresso powder, not ground espresso. Espresso powder is dehydrated brewed espresso, so it dissolves completely once water or another liquid is added. It's a more concentrated, finer version of instant coffee.
- Buttermilk- This ingredient's acid cuts the gluten strands, making the cake extra tender. Make sure it's room temperature so it mixes in well and doesn't seize up the batter.
- Spices- Cinnamon, ginger, cardamom, cloves, nutmeg, and black pepper flavor the chai spice buttercream. The cloves and ginger give the frosting a more spicy kick. While the frosting doesn't have black tea, it has all the warm and cozy flavors of a chai latte.
Substitutions & Variations
- Sour cream, Greek yogurt, or plain kefir are great substitutes for buttermilk.
- Substitute instant coffee for espresso powder if needed. Don't use regular coffee or espresso grounds because they don't dissolve in water and make the cake grainy.
- Omit the chai spice altogether and use coffee cream cheese frosting for a classic espresso cake.
- Stir nuts, like walnuts and pecans, into the batter to add some crunch. Toast and chop them for more flavor.
- Add a drizzle of salted caramel sauce on top for an extra decadent touch!
Helpful Equipment & Tools
To mix the batter, a 5-quart stand mixer with a paddle attachment is ideal. A handheld mixer with a large mixing bowl works too.
An offset spatula and bench scraper are helpful tools for evenly spreading buttercream. A revolving cake stand is also a must for cake decorating! The mat holds the cake in place while the stand rotates so you don't have to reach around it.
Step by Step Instructions
Before you start, preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C and grease your cake pans with baking spray. Line them with parchment paper rounds and set aside.
STEP 1: First, add the flour, granulated sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low, spinning about 5 times until everything is evenly combined.
STEP 2: Next, add softened butter and beat on low for 5 minutes or until the texture looks like wet sand.
STEP 3: Add oil, eggs, vanilla, and espresso powder to the bowl. Mix on low until a thick batter forms. Slowly pour in the buttermilk and mix until well combined. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl with a rubber spatula to get any dry bits.
STEP 4: With a cookie scoop or large spoon, evenly portion the batter between the 2 cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out mostly clean.
STEP 5: Take the cakes out of the oven and cool for 20 minutes in their pans on a wire cooling rack. After 20 minutes, gently run a knife between the cake and pan to loosen it. Turn upside down onto the rack to release. Let the cake layers cool completely before you frost them.
STEP 6: To make the chai buttercream, first beat the softened butter on medium high speed for 5 minutes until creamy and fluffy. Scrape the sides of the bowl as needed.
STEP 7: Next, mix in half of the powdered sugar on low for 2 minutes. Beat in the second half on medium speed until smooth. Mix in vanilla, spices, and salt.
After that, add milk 1 teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.
STEP 8: Once cakes cool, assemble the cake by spreading a thick layer of frosting on top of one layer. Place the second layer on top upside-down and apply a thin crumb coat. Let chill in the freezer for 20 minutes and then apply the final coat of buttercream.
Decorate the cake with cinnamon sticks and star anise if desired, slice, and enjoy!
Expert Baking Tips
- Use room temperature ingredients. It's important to use room temperature butter, eggs, and buttermilk! If your butter is cold, it won't blend in with the dry ingredients. If you eggs and buttermilk are too cold, they'll cause the batter to get stiff and the baked cakes will have an uneven texture.
- Use a scale to weigh your flour in grams. Flour tends to get packed in measuring cups, so this is the best way to ensure accuracy and a fluffy, moist cake. Metric measurements are in the recipe card below.
- Let the cakes cool to room temperature before frosting. If you add buttercream while the cakes are even slightly warm, it can melt all over! After assembling the chai cake, don't leave it in the heat too long.
Storage & Freezing
Store leftover dirty chai cake in the refrigerator in an airtight container for 3-5 days. You can store individual slices or the whole cake in a cake carrier.
Let the cake sit on the counter for about 30 minutes to reach room temperature before eating.
I recommend freezing individual slices of cake instead of the whole thing because individual pieces are easier to thaw! Wrap each slice tightly in plastic wrap and store in an airtight container. Freeze for up to 2 months.
Thaw the slices at room temperature for a couple hours before serving.
Frequently Asked Questions
Yes, you can definitely turn this into dirty chai cupcakes. This recipe will make about 24 cupcakes. Because they're smaller, the cupcakes won't take as long to bake. Check them after about 18 minutes for doneness.
You can! Use 2 ½ or 3 tablespoons of bottled chai spice depending on your preference.
You can use a 9x9" square baking pan or a 9x13" rectangle pan. The recipe will also work with 3 6" round baking pans.
More Cake Recipes to Try
Dirty Chai Latte Cake
- 2 8" round cake pans
- 300 grams all purpose flour
- 300 grams granulated sugar
- 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder
- ⅜ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 114 grams unsalted butter room temperature
- 105 grams neutral oil
- 3 large eggs room temperature
- 1 tablespoon vanilla extract
- 2 tablespoon espresso powder
- 240 grams buttermilk room temperature
- 228 grams unsalted butter room temperature
- 480 grams powdered sugar
- 2 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- ½ teaspoon ground ginger
- ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
- ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg
- ⅛ teaspoon black pepper
- ½ teaspoon salt
- 2-4 tablespoon milk optional
- Preheat the oven to 350°F/180°C and line 2 8-inch cake pans with parchment paper rounds.
- Add flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda, and salt to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low, spinning about 5 times.300 grams all purpose flour, 300 grams granulated sugar, 1 ½ teaspoon baking powder, ⅜ teaspoon baking soda, ½ teaspoon salt
- Add butter and beat on low for 5 minutes until the texture looks like wet sand.114 grams unsalted butter
- Add oil, eggs, vanilla, and espresso powder. Mix on low until a batter forms. Slowly pour in the buttermilk and mix until well combined.105 grams neutral oil, 3 large eggs, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, 2 tablespoon espresso powder, 240 grams buttermilk
- Evenly portion the batter between the cake pans. Bake for 25-30 minutes. The cakes are done when a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
- Remove the cakes from the oven and cool for 20 minutes on a wire cooling rack. Turn the pans upside down onto the rack to release them. Let cool completely before frosting.
- Add softened butter to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Beat for 5 minutes on medium high speed until creamy.228 grams unsalted butter
- Add half of the powdered sugar and mix on low for 2 minutes. Beat in the second half on medium speed until smooth. Mix in vanilla, spices, and salt.480 grams powdered sugar, 2 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon, ½ teaspoon ground cardamom, ½ teaspoon ground ginger, ⅛ teaspoon nutmeg, ¼ teaspoon ground cloves, ½ teaspoon salt
- Pour in the milk 1 teaspoon at a time until the desired consistency is reached.2-4 tablespoon milk
- Add a tablespoon of buttercream to the middle of a cake board or stand. Fan it out with an offset spatula.
- Place one cake layer on the board and spread an even layer of frosting over it. Place the second cake layer on top with the flat side up.
- Spread a thin layer of frosting (crumb coat) all over the cake. Chill in the freezer for 20 minutes or until the frosting is solid.
- Apply a final layer of frosting. Pipe a boarder and add cinnamon sticks and star anise as decoration if desired. Slice and enjoy!