masala chai carrot cake


Nik Sharma

Hey Friends, I’m a multi-award-winning and best-selling cookbook author and photographer.

Masala Chai Carrot Cake | A Brown Table

Several weeks ago, I had the pleasure of meeting Jack Bishop in person when he visited San Francisco. Jack is the cohost of my one of my all time favorite TV shows, the Cook’s Illustrated America’s Test Kitchen . It’s one of the few shows that successfully brings food and science together and for a geek like me, that is simply amazing! How long to cook, how to brine, how sugar affects texture and flavor, etc. So many questions that we all think about and want to test to answer. To a food scientist, it’s a dream come true!

Jack was fun to talk with and he shared a lot of fun stories about the show and the happenings in their test kitchen. I own most of the books from America’s Test Kitchen and since I love to bake their Baking Book) is one of my favorite resources to learn from. America’s Test Kitchen was super kind in letting me share this recipe from their book, this carrot cake is a favorite in our home and I’m always tweaking the recipe to play with the flavors. Carrot cakes are perhaps one of my favorite “vegetable-type” cakes to make at home, they are simple to make and rather rustic yet absolutely delicious.

A while back, I made this apple cake flavored with masala chai and today, I’m infusing this carrot cake with chai (Hindi word for tea is chai) and using a few of my favorite spices that I add to chai when I have a craving for masala chai (Hindi word for spices is masala).  I’ve skipped the vanilla flavor in the cream cheese frosting in favor of pistachio. The cream cheese frosting is not cloyingly sweet and balances the flavors of the cake with its tanginess. I made a layer cake out of the single pan I baked but you don’t need to do that, you can simply frost the cake without slicing it in half and serve. You can also double the quantities in the recipes for the cake and the cream cheese frosting and make two large cakes and layer them. 

Masala Chai Carrot Cake | A Brown Table
Masala Chai Carrot Cake | A Brown Table
Masala Chai Carrot Cake | A Brown Table
Masala Chai Carrot Cake | A Brown Table
Masala Chai Carrot Cake | A Brown Table

Here are some of my tips when preparing this masala chai carrot cake that you might find useful;

  • You can add other spices to this cake but I personally prefer just cardamom and ginger in my masala chai (tea) when I make it at home. I’ve added a little cinnamon because it brightens the flavors of the carrots well. 
  • You can flavor the cream cheese frosting with plenty of other flavors such as vanilla. But chai and pistachios make a good match so I didn’t mess with this pairing. 
  • Use an offset spatula with a smooth edge to get clean finish when frosting.
  • As always with any cake that is frosted place the cake on a cake board to give it support and for easy transport. Carrot cakes are generally weaker and much more delicate so I recommend playing safe and using a cake board to prevent the cake from breaking. 

Masala Chai Carrot Cake | A Brown Table

masala chai carrot cake 

(adapted from The Cook’s Illustrated Baking Book)

yields:  one 6.5 X 9 inch layer cake


1/4 cup boiling water

4 tablespoons darjeeling/assam tea (Indian black tea)

2 1/2 cups (12 1/2 ounces) all-purpose flour

1 1/4 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon cinnamon, ground

1/2 teaspoon green cardamom, ground

1 teaspoon ginger, ground

1/2 teaspoon fine-grain kosher sea salt

1 pound carrots, peeled

1 1/2 cups (10 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar

1/2 cup packed (3 1/2 ounces) light brown sugar

4 larges eggs, at room temperature

1  1/2 cups vegetable oil

1 cup (5 ounces) raisins

Cream cheese frosting (see recipe below)

1/2 cup chopped roasted candied pistachios for garnish (optional)

1. Pour the boiling water over the tea leaves and let this sit aside for 10 minutes.  Strain the tea leaves and reserve the tea concentrate until ready to use.

2. Place a rack in the middle position and preheat the oven to 350F. Grease a 13X9 inch baking pan and line with parchment paper. Grease the parchment paper and lightly dust the pan with a little flour. Keep the prepared pan aside until ready to use.

3. Dry whisk the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, green cardamom, ginger and salt together in a large bowl and set aside. 

4. Using a food processor fitted with the large shredding disk, shred the carrots. Transfer the carrots to large mixing bowl. Wipe the bowl food processor clean and then attach the metal blade. Place the granulated sugar, brown sugar, eggs and reserved tea in the food processor and pulse for about 30 seconds until combined. Now, run the food processor and slowly pour the oil in a steady stream until the mixture is completely emulsified. This should take about 20-30 seconds. 

5. Pour the emulsified mixture over the shredded carrots and fold with a silicone spatula. Now fold in the flour until no visible specks of flour can be seen. Quickly fold in the raisins with the silicone spatula. Transfer the batter to the prepared cake pan and bake the cake for about 35 to 40 minutes, rotating halfway through the baking process. The cake will be golden brown when done and a skewer/toothpick/knife will come out clean when inserted into the center of the cake. Remove the cake from the oven and allow to cool completely in the pan, this should take about 2 to 3 hours. Run a knife around the edges of the cake to release. Trim the edges of the cake with a sharp serrated knife and then cut the cake in half along it’s length to get two 6.5 X 9 inch rectangles. Wrap the cakes separately with cling film and then chill the cakes for at least 2 hours before frosting.

6. Layerthe top surface of one cut cake with half of the cream cheese frosting using an offset spatula. Place the second cake over it and layer with remaining cream cheese frosting. Garnish with pistachios. Serve immediately. 

pistachio flavored cream cheese frosting


12 ounces full fat cream cheese, softened to room temperature

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened

4 tablespoons sour cream

1 teaspoon pistachio extract

1/4 teaspoon fine grain kosher sea salt

1 3/4 cups (7 ounces) confectioner’s sugar

1. Place the cream cheese, butter, sour cream, pistachio extract and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the paddle attachment beat the ingredients on low speed and then gradually increase to medium-high speed until combined. You will need to scrape the sides of the bowl down occasionally to bring the ingredients together. 

2. Stop the mixer and add in the sugar. Beat the mixture on medium-low speed until the sugar completely disappears and then increase to medium-high speed. You will need to scrape the sides of the bowl down occasionally to bring the ingredients together. Transfer the frosting to an airtight container and keep chilled until ready to use.

NOTE: I’ve had a question about the baking pan in the photograph shown above. The pan is 13X9X2 inches and is not a square pan. 

26 Responses

  1. Wanted to share my favorite recipe for cream cheese frosting. I sometimes keep a bowl of it beside an unfrosted ‘vegetable type’ cake for people to slather on as they choose. Here t’is: 9 ounces white chocolate melted and cooled; 12 ounces cream cheese at room temperature; half cup of softened unsalted butter. You know what to do to combine!

  2. Wow I think this would be close to cake perfection for me, I love carrot cake so much and with the masala chai and pistachios just amazing. I’m always trying to decide if carrot cake or banana bread is my absolute fav.

  3. Carrot cake has been a favorite of mine since I was a kid. As I grew older, I looked beyond the frosting and began appreciating the spices one could add to it. This looks absolutely fantastic and I love your creative twist!

  4. I have to say that the pictures of this cake are so gorgeous. It looks like a very elegant cake, I love the color it gets from the chai, I would definitely try it for a dinner party as the masterpiece at the end, show stopper, so humble and so gorgeous. I am a big fan of cakes filled with everything and anything, especially when we are talking crunchy. The fact that it has chai, not only does it look great and different for a change, which I like, but it is also very healthy. I also love that it has lots of flavor and there is nothing better than having all the spices all in one. Beautiful

  5. Quick technical question… The recipe calls for a 13×9-inch pan. Cut in half you’d get two layers 6.5 x 9, not 6.5 x 4.5 right? And then in the picture it looks like you’re using a square pan. Just want to be sure these quantities are for a 13×9 pan — I’m going to try this for a friend’s birthday. It looks delicious!

    1. Hi Jeri, thank you for letting me know, I’ve fixed the typo on the number. I’ve also put a little note at the end of the recipe, the pan I used is 13X9X2 inches and not a square. I guess the angle at which the photograph is taken gives that impression. I hope you like the cake!

  6. What a creative adaptation! Wow, it looks good! I love America’s Test Kitchen’s recipes too 🙂

    1. Hi Amber, I stored the cake in the refrigerator wrapped in an airtight container for a week, so you should be good.

  7. I am curious about the amount of assam tea in 1/4 cup boiling water! That is enough tea for 3 quarts of liquid! Also with such a small amount of water to huge amount of tea there was barely a tablespoon or two of liquid. Thanks in advance!

    1. Hi Annie, I haven’t had a problem and yes, you will get a very small volume of liquid that will be highly concentrated in tea flavor. I’ve used a similar approach in the apple version of this cake on my blog too. You don’t want too much liquid or too little tea flavor and I found this to be the best way. Hope this helps.

  8. Hi Nik, I really hope you read my comments. I have seen great recipes on this website, this is one of them. Unfortunately, I am vegan and most of your baked goods call for eggs. Can I replace eggs with chia/flax seeds in this recipe?

    1. Since, I haven’t tested the recipes without eggs it is really difficult for me to recommend either chia or flax because they may or may not work.

  9. Hi Nik,
    I made this cake today but for some reason, the frosting was on the runny side. I followed everything to the T and made sure my utensils and bowl were cold, however, it didn’t turn out like the picture and I ended up having to add way more icing sugar which made it too sweet. What should I do?

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