Spice up the holidays with chai cupcakes


Spice up the holidays with chai cupcakes

McClatchy Tribune

The swift entry of the cold weather season means one thing in many people’s homes– baking.

The science of baking, as one might like to refer to the yummy pastime, assuredly precludes experimenting and trying out new recipes.

One easy and convenient way to test out new flavor combinations is in the centuries-old form of the much-beloved cupcake.

Cupcakes evolved in the 19th century (E. Leslie’s “Receipts” in 1828 makes a reference to the pocket-sized snack) among American kitchens as a faster, easier way to bake a cake.

Indeed, the smaller, separated portions of batter bake through faster than a filled cake pan, especially in the old hearth ovens used at the time.

Many would-be bakers burned entire cakes due to the frustratingly long time required to bake an entire cake all the way through. Cupcakes, which were first baked in the then-popular muffin tins, were an easy answer to sating the sweet-tooth.

Cupcakes first became popular portions for children and came in basic flavors such as chocolate and vanilla. It wasn’t until the last decade that the popularity of cupcakes has exploded. Now cupcakes come in endless flavors and ingredient combinations.

This Chai cupcake recipe is one such gourmet variation of the first-known recipe for a cupcake that actually made use of measuring in cups – a first at the time – instead of the standard practice of weighing ingredients.

Early cupcakes got their name (although once referred to as “number cakes”) because they were baked in small containers, such as tea cups.

As for chai tea: The word chai is actually the generic word for tea in Hindi. Chai evolved in India and Siam over 5000 years ago, but what Americans know as the spicy tea beverage, chai tea, is actually called masala chai in India. The American name for chai, as it turns out, is actually quite redundant. Masala chai in Hindi means spiced tea.

In India, people generally take masala chai infused with milk. The spices used in the tea mixture tend to be ginger, cardamom, star anise, cinnamon and cloves.

People started drinking masala chai for healing and health benefits during the Vedic period in India (1500 and 800 BCE). Remarkably, the same basic recipe, thousands of years later, is still enjoyed by people not only in India, but across the globe as well.

This recipe was adapted from one found at naturallyella.com:

Chai Mixture

½ teaspoon cinnamon powder

⅛ teaspoon ground clove

⅛ teaspoon ground cardamom

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

1 whole star anise

⅛ teaspoon ground black pepper

2 black tea bags

¼ cup butter

¼ cup + 2 tablespoons maple syrup

¼ cup 2% or whole milk

Cupcake Batter

¾ cup unbleached flour or whole wheat pastry flour

¼ teaspoon baking soda

¼ teaspoon baking powder

⅛ teaspoon sea salt

1 large egg

First, the directions ask you to simmer the tea bags, cinnamon, clove, ginger, star anise, black pepper, tea bags, butter, maple syrup and milk in a pot or sauce pan until everything is melted. Once the butter melts make sure the mixture is combined well and immediately turn off the heat and remove from the burner to let it cool for 10 to 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees farenheit. Make sure the muffin tin is lined with 6 to 8 liners. (I made 8 smaller cupcakes instead of 6 big ones).

Then, in a bowl mix together the flour, baking soda, baking powder, and sea salt. In a different bowl whisk the egg and then add it to the dry ingredients. Add the cooled chai mixture and combine all ingredients thoroughly.

Pour the batter into each of the 6 (or 8) lined cups and bake in the oven for 18 to 20 minutes. To test to see whether the cakes are done, the cake should spring back into shape when you press a little on it.

Also sticking the cake with a fork or toothpick is a good indicator. If, when you pull the fork or toothpick out of the cake, it’s clean without crumbs, then the cake is done. If batter or lots of crumbs stick to the toothpick or fork, it’s not done yet.

Take the cakes out of the oven and let them cool in the tin for at least 5 minutes. Then transfer them to finish cooling on a cooling rack or clean plate or platter.

Instead of a maple whipped cream frosting, however, this recipe uses a maple buttercream frosting instead, found at www.atapinch.com:

Maple Buttercream Frosting Recipe

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup confectioner’s sugar

1 cup maple syrup

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

Maple flavoring (optional)

Soften the butter in the microwave then mix it with your electronic mixer or beat well with your until the butter has lightened in color and is thick and creamy, about 3 minutes. Add confectioner’s sugar and combine well.

It’s best to mix with the electronic mixer on high to thoroughly combine all ingredients. Reduce the speed of your mixer and add maple syrup, vanilla extract, and salt. Turn your mixer back onto high speed and beat for about 30 seconds to lighten.

Taste the butter cream to make sure it has the flavor you prefer, if you would like more maple flavor, add maple flavoring 1 teaspoon at a time until you are satisfied with it.

You may need to add more confectioner’s sugar to get the frosting to the right consistency.

Once you’ve prepared the frosting, wait until the cakes are completely cooled before spreading the frosting on each cupcake. Once cooled, enjoy!

Megan Trader can be reached at [email protected]