This is the first dessert I ever learned how to bake, and it draws on my great-grandmother’s butter cake recipe, with the addition of Ceylon-tea-steeped milk and a hand-blended chai spice mix. My love of baking has stemmed from the communication it brings between family members. Baking was how I learned childhood stories about my mother’s life and how the culture of Sri Lankan cuisine was shaped by culture and history. Baked goods, in particular, were influenced by the changing world.
Baked items like golden butter cake provide a base of endless culinary possibilities. Cultural food, no matter how we are inspired by it, always hold the roots of our heritage. This is what has fueled my passion and inspiration for recipes that hold a connection to my family’s past, while moving toward the fusion that is our future. Sri Lankans have a saying: The only cake recipe you ever need is a good butter cake. Once you bite into this fragrant cake, you might agree!
*The following recipe makes a 12-cup Bundt cake. However, it can be easily halved for a 6-cup Bundt pan. Baking time would be reduced to 42–47 minutes for a smaller cake.
- Fill a small saucepan with whole milk and set over low heat. As it comes to a simmer, stir in the loose Ceylon tea. Remove from heat and steep for 15 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Brush melted butter into a 12-cup Bundt pan, making sure that all of the crevices are well coated. Then, sprinkle in 1 tablespoon of flour. Tap all over to coat, shaking out the excess. Set aside.
- Place chai spices into a small bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.
- Use a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment to cream the butter on medium-low speed for 1 minute, until smooth.
- Scrape the bowl and add sugar. Beat for 10 minutes on medium speed, until pale and fluffy. (This amount of time is an essential step for the proper texture.) Scrape the bowl.
- Add the eggs one at a time, mixing for 1 minute after each addition. Add vanilla with the last egg, and beat for a full minute.
- Meanwhile, sift together the flour, baking powder, salt, and chai spice blend. Turn the mixer to its lowest speed. Gradually add half of the flour mixture and gently mix until incorporated.
- Strain the milk into a bowl, removing the tea leaves. Pour that liquid into the batter and mix gently until smooth.
- Add the second half of the flour. Once it is all incorporated, scrape around the sides and bottom of the bowl to ensure a smooth and cohesive batter.
- Pour into the prepared Bundt pan. Tap the pan on the counter twice to settle.
- Bake for 60–70 minutes, or until a toothpick is inserted and comes out clean. Cool cake in the pan for 15 minutes. Then, remove the cake onto a cooling rack. When the cake is room temperature, dust with powdered sugar. This cake is tastiest when warm or at room temperature!
Sarita Gelner is a Sri Lankan American baker, food writer, and TV Food Host. She creates modern recipes inspired by her heritage and enthusiasm for unique ingredients. Sarita lives in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband, two little girls, and dog.