Thandai Layer Cake

published Mar 5, 2023
Thandai Layer Cake

This layer cake is a true celebration from the Thandai masala-infused sponge cake, milk soak, almond-fennel cream, and beautiful floral decorations.

Serves8

Prep1 hour

Cook30 minutes to 35 minutes

Jump to Recipe
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Plated slices of Thandai layer cake.
Credit: Keya Wingfield

Traditionally enjoyed during the festival of Holi, thandai is a creamy, refreshing beverage that combines ice-cold milk with a special masala made from a blend of almonds, cashews, pistachios, rose, fennel, cardamom, saffron, and cinnamon. When developing this layer cake, it was important to me to incorporate those flavors individually, rather than just folding thandai masala powder into vanilla cake. The result is a delicate sponge cake soaked in a rose- and saffron-infused milk and frosted with a fluffy fennel-almond cream. The finished cake is simple yet rich and tastes like a glass of thandai in each bite; I can’t wait for you to try it for yourself! If you’ve never had thandai, this cake is the perfect introduction — make it around Holi (naturally), but it’s also a wonderful cake to make for spring. 

Credit: Keya Wingfield

If You’re Making Thandai Layer Cake, a Few Tips

  • Whip your egg whites until shiny. It’s important to beat your egg whites until they’re shiny and form medium-firm peaks. If under-whipped, the cake won’t have proper structure or a lighter-than-air texture.
  • Bake the cakes until the center springs back when pressed. Because the cake won’t brown much in the oven, test doneness by gently pressing the center of the cake; if it springs back, it’s done. 
  • Make and assemble the cake on separate days. You can make the cake and the milk soak the day before (and even soak the cake too!), then whip up the cream and assemble the cake the day of.

Thandai Layer Cake

This layer cake is a true celebration from the Thandai masala-infused sponge cake, milk soak, almond-fennel cream, and beautiful floral decorations.

Prep time 1 hour

Cook time 30 minutes to 35 minutes

Serves 8

Nutritional Info

Ingredients

For the sponge cake

  • 4

    large eggs

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    cream of tartar

  • 1/3 plus 1/4 cup

    granulated sugar, divided

  • 1/4 cup

    neutral oil, such as canola or vegetable

  • 1/4 cup

    whole milk

  • 3

    large egg yolks

  • 1 teaspoon

    almond extract

  • 1 teaspoon

    vanilla extract

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    kosher salt

  • 1 cup

    cake flour

  • 1 teaspoon

    baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

  • 1/4 teaspoon

    ground cinnamon

For the milk soak

  • 3/4 cup

    whole milk

  • 1 tablespoon

    granulated sugar

  • 2 teaspoons

    rose water, or 1/2 teaspoon rose extract

  • 20 or 1 big pinch

    saffron threads

  • 1 drop

    yellow food coloring, or 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric (optional)

For the fennel-almond cream

  • 2 cups

    cold heavy cream

  • 1/4 cup

    powdered sugar

  • 4 teaspoons

    ground fennel

  • 2 teaspoons

    vanilla extract

  • 1 teaspoon

    almond extract

  • 1 teaspoon

    ground cardamom

  • 1 teaspoon

    cornstarch

  • 1/2 teaspoon

    rose water, or 1 dash rose extract

For the filling and decorating

  • 1/4 cup

    unsalted blanched or roasted cashews

  • 1/4 cup

    unsalted blacked or roasted shelled pistachios

  • Decorating options: edible fresh rose petals or flowers, sprinkles, fennel powder, more chopped nuts, or edible silver or gold leaf

Instructions

Make the sponge cake

  1. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat the oven to 350ºF. Line the bottoms of 2 (6-inch wide, 2-inch high) round cake pans with parchment paper rounds. Do not grease the pans or parchment.

  2. Place 4 large egg whites and 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar in the bowl of a stand mixer (or medium bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on high speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. With the mixer on high speed, gradually pour in 1/3 cup of the granulated sugar and continue to beat until shiny, medium-firm peaks form, about 2 minutes. If using a stand mixer, transfer the mixture to another bowl and wash and dry the mixer bowl and attachment.

  3. Place the remaining 1/4 cup granulated sugar, 1/4 cup neutral oil, 1/4 cup whole milk, 3 large egg yolks, 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt in the stand mixer bowl (or large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on medium speed until lightened in color, 2 to 3 minutes.

  4. Add 1 cup cake flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, and 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon. Beat on medium speed until thoroughly combined, about 2 minutes (the mixture will be thick).

  5. Add half of the egg white mixture and gently fold in by hand with a flexible spatula. Add the remaining egg white mixture and fold in by hand, being careful to not deflate the egg whites too much.

  6. Divide the batter between the cake pans (about 2 1/4 cups or 9 ounces each). Bake until the center of the cake springs back when gently pressed, 23 to 25 minutes (it will not brown much). Place the pans on a wire rack and let the cakes cool completely in the pans, about 1 1/2 hours. Meanwhile, make the milk soak and almond-fennel cream.

Make the milk soak

  1. Place 3/4 cup whole milk, 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, 2 teaspoons rose water or 1/2 teaspoon rose extract, 20 or 1 big pinch saffron threads, and 1 drop yellow food coloring or 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric in a small saucepan. Bring to a gentle simmer over low heat, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Remove the saucepan from the heat and let cool slightly, then refrigerate in an airtight container until ready to use.

Make the almond-fennel cream

  1. Wash and dry the stand mixer bowl and whisk attachment if needed. Place 2 cups cold heavy cream, 1/4 cup powdered sugar, 4 teaspoons ground fennel, 2 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1 teaspoon ground cardamom, 1 teaspoon cornstarch, and and 1/2 teaspoon rose water or 1 dash rose extract in the stand mixer bowl (or clean and dry large bowl if using an electric hand mixer). Beat with the whisk attachment on high speed until medium peaks form, about 2 minutes. Refrigerate until ready to use.

Assemble the cake

  1. Finely chop 1/4 cup cashews and 1/4 cup shelled pistachios, and stir together in a small bowl.

  2. Remove the cakes from the pans and discard the parchment. Trim the rounded tops of the cakes with a serrated knife. Cut each cake in half horizontally; you should have 4 cake layers.

  3. Place 1 cake layer cut side-up on a cake plate or cake stand. Evenly drizzle 3 tablespoons of the milk soak onto the cake. Top with 1/2 cup of the almond-fennel cream and spread into an even layer with an offset spatula, going all the way to the edges. Evenly sprinkle with 2 generous tablespoons of the nuts.

  4. Repeat layering cake, milk soak, almond-fennel cream, and nuts two more times. Drizzle 3 tablespoons of the milk soak onto the cut side of the last layer, then place cut side-down on top of the other layers.

  5. Frost the top and sides of the cake with the remaining almond-fennel cream. Refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours to let the cake set. Decorate with more chopped nuts, fresh edible rose petals or flowers, fennel pollen, edible silver or gold leaf, or sprinkles if desired. Keep refrigerated until ready to serve.

Recipe Notes

Make ahead: The cake layers can be baked up to 1 day ahead. Let cool, remove from the pans, and wrap each layer tightly in plastic wrap. Store at room temperature or freeze for up to 1 month.

Storage: Leftover assembled cake can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.