Thandai, an Indian milk-based nut drink spiced with cardamom and saffron, is associated with the Holi, the Hindu festival of color. This recipe takes that favorite beverage and uses it in a rich treat that takes inspiration from the Latin American soaked cake known as “tres leches” (three milks). The thandai contains whole milk and condensed milk, and a whipped frosting that tops everything uses heavy cream as the cake’s third “milk."
For the thandai mixture: Blend the milk, almonds, cashews, sugar, cardamom, fennel seeds, melon seeds if using, poppy seeds if using, peppercorns and saffron together; work in batches if necessary. Strain. Return the mixture to the blender (in batches if necessary) and blend again with the condensed milk and rose water. Set aside.
For the cake: Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9-by-13-inch cake pan and line it with parchment paper.
Sift the flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt into a bowl. Give it a whisk and set aside. In a large bowl, whisk together the egg whites, 1 1/2 cups of the thandai mixture (refrigerate the remaining thandai for topping the cake), sour cream and cardamom powder.
Cream the butter in a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Add about a third of the wet mixture and beat it in before adding half the dry ingredients. Beat until incorporated, then repeat the additions, ending with the wet ingredients, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.
Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean, 40 to 50 minutes. Let the cake cool to room temperature.
For the frosting: In a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment, combine the heavy cream and confectioners' sugar. Beat on high speed until the mixture forms firm peaks. Beat in the cardamom powder. Fold in the cream cheese by hand with a rubber spatula.
To assemble the cake, poke holes all over it with a toothpick or skewer. Slowly drizzle the remaining thandai mixture over the cake. Let the mixture soak into the cake for 30 minutes.
Top the cake with the frosting and smooth it with an offset spatula. Garnish with rose petals, pistachios, saffron and gold leaf.
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