Thursday, November 23, 2006

Spice Up Your Life

Yesterday, while I was grinding up a stash of Chai spice for some chocolate fondant cakes, the thought of Chai Tea came to mind. The drink originated in the Indian sub-continent. There is no fixed recipe for the spice mix or the way such tea is made. It is like an Italian torta della nonna (grandmother's pie); it could be anything depending entirely on grandma.

The traditional Chai tea is a lot more tea-like than the Chai Latte one can get in fashionable coffee stores these days. It is based on brewed black tea such as Darjeeling or Assam. Some prefer to give it a modern twist by using Earl Grey for the fragrance of bergamot goes in perfect harmony with cardamom which is an essential component in the Chai spice mix.

Making your own Chai tea is incredibly simple. Boil a cup of milk with a mixture of cardamom seeds, cloves, cinnamon quill, ginger and fennel seeds. Some add peppercorns and star anise; it is up to individual's taste. Let the boiled milk sit for about 10-15min to allow infusion of the spices. Strain any milk solids and the spices. Make tea as normal and add the scented milk, then sugar or honey to taste.

Besides making Chai tea, the same method translates well in making ice cream, panna cotta, pastry cream, etc. The spice mix is versatile; there are a number of published chai cake recipes, one of the best is from Better Baking.

I had little time yesterday since I wanted to catch the 5:00pm showing of a funny little gem of an Australian movie called The Dish at the British Arts Centre (the movie is also on at the same time today and entrance is free) so the chocolate fondant cakes spiced up by my own Chai mix were all I could manage. When I get a chance, I am definitely making some Chai Chocodoodle...

Snickerdoodle is an American cookie. Although they look relatively nondescript, once you get past their plain appearance you'll discover that the chewy cookie with the crunchy spiced sugar coating is indeed one of the cookie greats. Since Chocolate Chai Snickerdoodles is a mouthful, I've dubbed it Chai Chocodoodle. They are also a doodle to make.

2 1/4 cups sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ginger
1 tsp cardamom
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp ground fennel seeds
1/4 tsp white pepper
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1 cup butter, room temperature
2 large eggs
2 tsp vanilla extract
2 1/4 cups plain flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder

Preheat over to 180C.

In large mixing bowl, stir together sugar and spices and set 1/2 cup of the sugar mixture aside. Add butter to mixing bowl and cream with half the sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in cocoa powder, followed by the eggs and vanilla. Stir in flour and baking powder by hand or at low speed. Form dough into 1-inch balls and roll in reserved sugar mixture.

Bake for 12-15 minutes or until edges are firm. Cool on wire rack and store in an airtight container.

Makes about 4 dozen cookies. You can freezer the dough.

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