Zooeysuff’s Chai Spice Blend

I love chai spices. The smell warms me up and makes me dreamy and exotic. I close my eyes and imagine I’m wearing a saffron-colored sari and riding an elephant. I have found however that not all chai spice blends are equal, and I’m more often than not disappointed by them. They aren’t pungent enough, lack kick, and have only a faint flavor. Maybe the publicly available ones are watered down for presumably wimpy Western tastes, or maybe I just like my food to have a personality. Anyway, I finally tired of the letdown and decided to make my own.

I started with an article about Masala Chai on wikipedia. It has a pretty through description of the different spices used in various regions of the world. I pulled out everything on the list (except saffron; I don’t have any saffron) and stacked it on my counter.

We stared at each other for a week.

Possible spices for the chai blend

Possible spices for the chai blend

Our kitchen is pretty small, and I started to feel guilty for commandeering most of the counter-top with my indecision. I rolled up my sleeves and started mixing.

One thing to remember when blending by scent: your nose gets burned out pretty fast. To cleanse its palate, keep a handful of coffee beans – I suspect ground coffee would work, too – nearby. Every other scent or so, take a whiff of the coffee to reset your sense of smell.

The primary base of a chai spice blend is a combination of ginger and cardamom. I started with 1 teaspoon of ground ginger and 1 1/2 teaspoons of ground cardamom. My spices aren’t particularly fresh, and I’m sure that makes a big difference, but for these early experiments, I didn’t want to waste top quality spices. When I get it “just right,” then I’ll upgrade to the super-freshly grated, chopped kind. Early on, just use what you have on hand.

I made sure to sniff each spice separately before sniffing again once blended because I wanted to be able to clearly identify which spice had which effect. Then I grabbed my coffee and sniffed it.

Next, I added 1/2 teaspoon of ground cloves and 1/4 teaspoon of ground cinnamon.

There are lots of other spices like fennel, anise, pepper, almond, salt, nutmeg, coriander, rose, turmeric and saffron which can be added according to your personal taste and preference. Also, chai tea requires a great deal of sweetener, either with white sugar, brown sugar, palm or coconut sugars or honey, and milk, either whole or evaporated or even condensed. It’s a flavor that begs for individual expression.

zooeysuff's chai spice blend version 1.0

zooeysuff’s chai spice blend version 1.0

I decided to keep this blend very simple for the first time. I will be using these spices in scones and cakes, so I’m leaving out the sweeteners and the almond / vanilla liqueurs until baking.

Here’s the short list:

chai spice blend finalists version 1.0

chai spice blend finalists version 1.0

To summarize:

It’s a 1 : 2 : 4 : 6 ratio of

cinnamon : cloves : ginger : cardamom

When I get ready to bake, I’ll add vanilla extract, Canton liqueur and Amaretto. (I prefer to bake with liqueurs instead of extracts. The liqueurs bake cleanly and leave a notable flavor without aftertaste, whereas the extracts leave a strong alcohol burn to the smell and taste of the baked good. Personal preference, though.)

 

Zooeysuff’s Amaretto Cake

My friend Camilla Mann and her son D developed one of the best cakes I have ever had. It’s a gorgeous limoncello cake, perfect in density and moisture and flavor. I’ve made it three or four times in the past four months. Here’s the recipe: http://www.culinary-adventures-with-cam.blogspot.com/2014/02/dylans-limoncello-rosemary-cake.html

Note: it’s also a link to one of my favorite food blogs.

Lemon is one of my favorite flavors, but so is almond. I wondered what would happen if I changed Camilla’s recipe to an almond recipe….

It’s pretty fantastic, too.

Second note: play with the amount of amaretto you add, between 2 – 3 T, depending on your preference. Three could be too strong, even for almond fans.

Cake:

1/2 c semolina flour

1 1/2 c all-purpose flour (using the two flours adds texture to the cake. I tried skipping the semolina and it was awful. don’t skip it.)

1/2 c unsalted butter

1/4 c dark brown sugar

3/4 c white, granulated sugar

2 eggs

1 c almonds, chopped or slivered, whatever texture you prefer

1/2 t pure vanilla extract

2/3 c whole milk

2 – 3 T amaretto

Third note: I used handfuls of sliced almonds to line the bottom of my baking dish. They toasted up during the baking and added a nice crunch to the bottom of the cake. I think you can safely skip it if you want, but it was a nice touch. 

Optional Almond Crust

Optional Almond Crust

Preheat the oven to 350F. Butter your baking dish to prepare it.

Beat the butter and dark brown sugar and white sugar in a large mixing bowl until it’s light and fluffy. Really go to town on it. Seriously, take your time. The better whipped up it is, the lighter and airier your cake will be.

Light and Fluffy

Light and Fluffy

Beat in the eggs, one at a time. (See above note on wailing on the butter and sugar. Really show it who’s boss.)

Pour in the milk, amaretto and vanilla. (Again, mix it up.)

Here’s where you start to use a light touch:

FOLD in the semolina flour, then then all-purpose flour, then the baking powder and finally the almonds. Be gentle. Love your cake. Whispering sweet nothings to it, use a spatula to mix the ingredients just until they are moist. Just introduce them to each other.

Gentled into its Dish

Gentled into its Dish

Now, pour or scoop the batter into your baking dish and put it inside your preheated oven for 45 – 50 minutes.

You can watch it bake, if you’re into that kind of thing.

When it’s done, take it out and let it sit in the dish for 5 minutes. Then, invert it onto a wire rack and let it cool down. It’s had an exciting hour. Let it gather itself together.

Cooling Down

Cooling Down

In the meantime, you can decide how to decorate it.

The first time I made it, I just sprinkled powdered sugar over the top. It was subtle but oh so pretty. Or, you can make a glaze it you want to dress it up a bit.

1 c powdered sugar

1 T amaretto

2 T cold water

Whisk them together  till they make a pretty glaze, and pour over the top of your cake.

Just a Little Something I Threw On

Just a Little Something I Threw On

(Last note: if the cake hasn’t cooled, the glaze will drip off the side. Not a problem, just an FYI.)

Enjoy!!

2014-06-25 21.41.15

Perfect