Chai-Spiced Cake with Mocha Buttercream

This cake is your favorite fall drink, turned dessert! The light and fluffy layers, creamy Italian espresso buttercream and beautifully simple decorations are sure to have your friends and family coming back for a second slice.
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  • Level: Intermediate
  • Total: 4 hr (includes cooling and chilling times)
  • Active: 1 hr 30 min
  • Yield: 10 to 14 servings
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Ingredients

Cake:

Nonstick baking spray, for the cake pans

1 1/2 cups granulated sugar

1 stick (8 tablespoons) unsalted butter, at room temperature

1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup vegetable oil

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (see Cook's Note)

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons ground cardamom

1 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 teaspoon fine salt

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

5 large eggs, at room temperature

1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste

1 cup buttermilk, at room temperature

Buttercream:

5 large egg whites

1 1/4 cups granulated sugar

4 sticks (1 pound) unsalted butter, at room temperature, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 tablespoons instant espresso powder

1 tablespoon cocoa powder

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Pinch fine salt

Decorations:

4 to 5 whole star anise

2 to 3 cinnamon sticks

2 tablespoons chocolate-covered espresso beans

Directions

Special equipment:
three 8-inch round cake pans; a candy thermometer; a cake turntable; an 8-inch cake board; 2 piping bags; 1 large round piping tip such as number 805; 1 large star piping tip such as number 825
  1. For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line the bottoms of three 8-inch round cake pans with parchment. Spray with nonstick baking spray and set aside.
  2. Cream the granulated sugar, butter, brown sugar and oil in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment until light and fluffy, about 5 minutes.  
  3. Meanwhile, sift together the flour, cinnamon, cardamom, baking powder, ginger, nutmeg, salt and cloves in a medium bowl; set aside. 
  4. Beat the eggs into the butter mixture one at a time, beating and scraping down the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula after each addition. Continue to beat until the batter turns pale yellow, about 5 minutes. Add the vanilla bean paste and mix to combine. Turn the mixer to low speed and alternate adding the flour mixture and buttermilk, starting and ending with the flour mixture and mixing each addition until just barely combined (be careful not to overmix).  
  5. Divide the batter evenly among the prepared cake pans (about 2 1/2 cups per pan); tap each pan on the counter to ensure the batter is spread out evenly. Bake, rotating the pans midway through, until the centers of the cakes spring back when gently pressed or a toothpick inserted in the centers comes out clean, 25 to 30 minutes. Let cool 15 minutes, then release the sides of the cakes by running a butter knife around the edges of each pan. Allow the cakes to cool completely before removing them from the pans.
  6. For the buttercream: Put the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a whisk attachment. Beat on low speed until foamy, then turn to high and whip until it holds stiff peaks. 
  7. Combine the granulated sugar and 1 cup water in a small saucepan over medium heat. Attach a candy thermometer to the side of the pan and bring to a soft-ball stage, about 235 degrees F, without stirring, 8 to 10 minutes. 
  8. With the mixer on high speed, pour the sugar syrup in a stream along the side of the bowl into the egg whites. Beat until the bowl is just barely warm to the touch and the egg whites are shiny and form stiff peaks, 10 to 15 minutes. Add the butter one piece at a time, beating after each addition, until all the butter has been added. Turn the mixer to medium-high speed and beat until the buttercream is shiny and holds a peak when spooned upwards with a spatula, about 2 minutes. Turn to medium speed and beat in the espresso, cocoa, cinnamon and salt until just combined. 
  9. To assemble: Place a cake layer on a cake turntable and trim off the domed top using a serrated knife so the cake is level. Remove the cake layer and repeat with the remaining 2 cake layers. Spread a dollop of buttercream on an 8-inch cake board and place one of the layers on top, cut-side down. Place the cake board on the turntable. Scoop 1 1/2 cups buttercream on top of the cake layer. Use an offset spatula to spread the buttercream evenly across the top of the cake. Place the next cake layer on top, cut-side up. Top the second layer with 1 1/2 cups buttercream and spread evenly across the top of the layer. Top with the third cake layer, cut-side down. Spread 1 1/2 cups buttercream evenly over the top of the cake, allowing the buttercream to hang over the edge.  
  10. Use an offset spatula to smooth out the buttercream on the sides of the cake. If there is not enough on the cake, take small scoops of the buttercream using your offset spatula and spread a thin layer of buttercream around the sides of the cake. (The cake should show through this layer.) Use the offset spatula to finish the top edge of the cake by holding the spatula parallel with the top of the cake and pulling towards the center in short strokes. Repeat all the way around the edge of the cake, so no rough edges remain. The sides of the cake should be lightly coated in buttercream, while the top should have a thicker layer, about 1/4 inch thick. Chill the cake until firm to the touch, about 1 hour.
  11. Dip the metal offset spatula into a tall glass filled with hot water. Use the warmed spatula to smooth the top of the cake again by holding the spatula parallel with the cake and pulling towards the center in short strokes.
  12. Divide the remaining buttercream between one piping bag fitted with a large round tip and one piping bag fitted with a large star tip. Working in a crescent-moon shape around the top of the cake, pipe kisses of buttercream in varying sizes, alternating between the round tip and the star tip. 
  13. For the decorations: Decorate the top of the cake with the star anise, cinnamon sticks and chocolate-covered espresso beans.

Cook’s Note

When measuring flour, we spoon it into a dry measuring cup and level off excess. (Scooping directly from the bag compacts the flour, resulting in dry baked goods.)

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