masala chai gingersnaps

masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table

I know cakes generally get a lot more attention than cookies year round but come holiday season, cookies take over the show! In many ways, I feel that they take on their own little personalities, some acquire shapes and sizes, special flavors, and some will bring back fond memories. I used to do a better job of baking a lot of different cookies for Christmas gifts and I've slacked quite a bit this year. So bad that I'm only making gingersnaps, my holiday staple.

Like I said earlier, I don't make cutout cookies every Christmas holiday or nankhatais but I will bake gingersnaps every single year! It's because ginger is by far my favorite spice/ingredient to bake with. I've been known to nibble on spicy little bits of crystallized ginger which is probably too gross of a habit to share publicly but that the sweet zing that comes in every bite is so good!

For this version of gingersnaps cookies, I've used a recipe from my favorite peeps, America's Test Kitchen and made a few changes: I've added some whole wheat flour, flavored it with ground black tea leaves and folded in my masala chai mix. This is one flavorful gingersnap cookie that goes well with a cup of hot tea or coffee and even cocoa. Instead of preparing a tea infusion, I used the tea leaves directly in the form a powder in the cookies to give a more robust flavor.

This year for the holidays, I've partnered with the folks at   America's Test Kitchen to giveaway three of my favorite cookbooks from their store: The Cook's Illustrated Baking BookThe Science of Good Cooking and their latest book, 100 Recipes. These books contain a lot of valuable information and will teach you how to master the basic techniques of cooking and baking at home.All you need to do to win your copy of the books is to leave a comment below and tell me about your favorite holiday baking memory and follow America's Test Kitchen and me on Instagram. The contest will end on December 21st at 12pm and is open to legal residents of the US only. I will randomly pick a winner and announce him/her in a separate post next week. Good luck and happy cooking, folks!

masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table
masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table
masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table
masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table
masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table
masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table
masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips that you might find useful when preparing these cookies;

  • Freshly ground spices taste best in this recipe, so try to use a freshly made mix of gingersnap cookies.
  • I used a dark Darjeeling tea (orange pekoe leaves). Make sure the powder is super fine, sift it through a strainer if possible.
  • I like sparkling sugar over granulated sugar because it gives a delicious crunchy texture to the cookie. 
masala chai gingersnaps | A Brown Table

masala chai gingersnaps (adapted from Cook's Illustrated: The Baking Book)

yields: 80 cookies

ingredients

1 1/2 cups (180gm) all-purpose flour

1 cup (113gm) whole wheat flour

2 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon fine grain salt

2 teaspoons chai masala mix (see recipe below)

1 1/2 tablespoons darjeeling tea leaves, ground to a fine powder

12 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 1/4 cups packed dark brown sugar

1/4 cup dark molasses

1 large egg + 1 large egg yolk

1/4 cup packed crystallized ginger, finely diced

1/2 cup granulated sugar or sparkling sugar

1. Whisk the flours, baking soda, salt, chai masala, and ground tea together in a bowl. Heat the butter in a 10-inch skillet over medium heat until melted. Lower heat to medium low and continue to cook, swirling pan frequently, until foaming subsides and the butter starts to brown, 2 to 4 minutes. Transfer butter to the bowl of a standmixer, allow to cool for 2 minutes then and add brown sugar, molasses and whisk using the whisk attachment. Add the egg and yolk and whisk until combined on medium-high speed. Now using the paddle attachment, combine the flour mixture and mix until just combined and there are no visible flecks of flour. Fold the crystallized ginger into the cookie dough mixture. Cover the dough tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.

2. Place oven racks at upper-middle and lower-middle positions and heat to 300F. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper. Place granulated/sparkling sugar in a shallow dish or small bowl. Divide the dough into heaping teaspoon portions; roll dough into 1-inch balls. Working in batches of 10, roll balls on prepared sheets, 20 dough balls per sheet.

3. Place 1 sheet on upper rack and bake for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes , transfer partially baked top sheet to lower rack, rotating 180 degrees, and place second sheet of dough balls on upper rack. Continue to bake until cookies on lower tray just begin to darken on the edges, 10 to 12 minutes longer. Remove lower sheet of cookies and shift upper sheet to lower rack and continue to bake until cookies begin to darken around edges, 15 to 17 minutes. Slide baked cookies on parchment paper, to wire rack to cool completely before serving. Let baking sheets cool and repeat step 2 with remaining dough balls. 

 

masala (spice mix) chai mix blend

yields: about 1/4 cup or less

ingredients

6 whole green cardamom pods, crushed

2 black cardamom poda, crushed (optional)

1 inch piece cinnamon stick (optional)

10 black peppercorns, crushed (optional)

6 whole cloves, crushed (optional)

2 tablespoons ginger powder

1. Discard the cardamom pods and place the seeds along with the rest of the ingredients in a small spice grinder or coffee mill. Pulse until you get a fine powder. Store the powder in an airtight container for up to 4 months.

masala chai carrot cake

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 

yields:  one 6.5 X 9 inch layer cake

ingredients

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

ingredients

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. 

chai and rose fresh berry cake

Chai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown Table

Earlier this week, I met up with the amazing Cheryl from 5 Second Rule. Cheryl is one of the nicest people I've spoken with, she is humble and kind even though she is an award winning blogger and has several cookbooks. We talked for quite a while about blogging, food and life in general. Cheryl also has a new book on one of my favorite ingredients, yogurt. Yogurt culture comes out this April and I can't wait to check it out and see all the fun ways I can eat my favorite dairy.

I have a few small pots on our balcony and got all sorts of dwarf trees when we moved in. You can imagine my excitement when I found blooms in my blood orange plant, I wasn't expecting any in the first year! The fig tree has awakened but I haven't noticed any future ovules that will become figs yet. Fingers crossed!

Over at Instagram, I hinted earlier that I would revisit this cardamom lime spring berry cake I made last year. Berries are probably one type of fruit that I eat all the time so I feel obligated that I owe lots of "dessertly" tributes to them. This version is completely different, the cake is flavored with Indian chai (Chai is the hindi word for tea) and edible rose petals and then sprayed generously with rose water. In Indian food you will find rose water and rose petals being used to infuse their delicate sweet flavor in several desserts and drinks, it's one of the culinary traditions that's come via the influence of the Mughal empire in India. This cake takes all of those flavors into account and I tried to bring it all together to make one spring treat. The frosting is made of light whipped cream and cream cheese with a hint of rose water. Then there's a little layer of berry jam and fresh berries in there for that burst of sweetness. Now, my frosting skills are not the best but I have improved significantly since I started working at the bakery. For one, I've learned to hold a piping bag correctly, frost cakes quickly, and decorate them as needed. No more wrist pain with piping bags! 

Chai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown Table
Chai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown TableChai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown Table
Chai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown TableChai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown Table
Chai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown Table
Chai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown Table

Here are some of my kitchen tips when preparing this cake that you might find useful,

  • Here's the deal with dried edible rose petals, they smell wonderful and will impart their delicate floral flavor to anything they are added. But trying to eat them directly is no fun. I do garnish the top of the cake a little with the dried petals but don't get too carried away. You'll end up chewing way too much for comfort. 
  • I use whole wheat white pastry flour as it has less gluten than the regular red grain variety resulting in a tender cake crumb.
  • I can never remember to leave my butter out to warm up when I need to in a recipe. But a little trick I've learned at work, wrap the butter up in cling film and pound it till it is just soft  and pliable. Use the softened butter as needed. Coincidentally, this is also something I saw the students do when they were preparing their laminated doughs in the pastry class I audited a few days ago.
  • To slice the cake, I pass 4 bamboo skewers through the center of the cake at mid height. I then slice the cake in half using the skewers as a guide. After the cake is halved, I remove the skewers out. You could certainly, cut the cake in half using any method that works best for you.
  • You can use any type of jam in the cake. I recommend trying jams that are a little more tart such as raspberry or black currant, I personally find strawberry jams to be a bit too sweet and overpowering at times. 
  • You can use a springform or regular circular 9 inch pan that is around 3 inches in height. 
  • The strawberries help to hold the cake layers together and prevent the frosting from squirting out. But I still recommend keeping it chilled even when you cut through the cake. Use a clean and warm serrated knife when you slice it to get clean and even slices. 
  • I use a spray bottle to evenly infuse the cake with rose water. Get a cheap one from the dollar store. Alternatively, use a brush to flavor the cake. I didn't add any sugar to the rose water because there really is no need with the jam, the frosting and the cake's sweet profile. 
  • I cut back on the amount of cream cheese that would be used in this frosting. Ideally you would use 8 ounces cream cheese to 2 cups heavy whipping cream but I find that to be very salty in taste. If that doesn't bother you adjust the frosting accordingly. 
Chai and Rose Fresh Berry Cake | A Brown Table

chai and rose fresh berry cake 

 

 

yields: one 9 inch cake 

ingredients 

1/2 cup (100mL) water, boiling

1 tablespoon darjeeling/assam black tea leaves

1 cup minus 2 tablespoons (5 ounces) whole wheat pastry flour 

1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon fine grain kosher sea salt

2 tablespoons dried edible rose petals, ground to a fine powder

1 cup (7 ounces) sugar

1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, softened and chopped + extra for greasing the pan

5 large eggs, at room temperature

3 tablespoons + 50mL rose water 

1 quart heavy whipping cream

8 ounces cream cheese, warmed to room temperature and whipped

3/4 cup (5 ounces) sugar

1 cup raspberry or strawberry or mixed berry jam (I used raspberry)

2 cups strawberries, fresh and ripe, halved

2 cups blueberries, fresh and ripe

1 cup raspberries, fresh and ripe

 a few extra berries for garnishing the top of the cake 

a few dried edible rose petals for garnishing the top of the cake

1. Sprinkle the tea leaves over the boiling hot water and leave aside to sit for 5 minutes. Strain and discard the leaves, you should have between 75-50mL of tea infused water left behind. Cool to room temperature completely before use. 

2. Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and rose petal powder four times and keep aside. Place a wire rack in the middle of the oven and preheat the oven to 325F.

3. Line the base of a circular 9 inch baking pan with parchment paper and grease lightly with a little butter. Place the sugar and butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. Attach the paddle blade to the mixer and cream the sugar and butter on medium-low speed for about 5 minutes. Then add the eggs one at a time and whisk until combined. Add half of the sifted dry ingredients to the creamed mixture and mix on low speed for about 1 minute until just combined, then add the tea prepared in step 1 along with the rest of the dry ingredients. Pour the batter into the prepared cake tin and bake for about 35-40 minutes until the center is springy, yet firm to touch or a skewer comes out clean when passed through the center of the cake. Allow the cake to cool for 5 minutes in the pan, then release from the sides using a sharp knife and cool on a wire rack. Once the cake is cooled, wrap it in cling film and freeze it for at least 2 hours before frosting.

3. Place the heavy whipping cream, cream cheese, sugar and 3 tablespoons of rose water in the bowl of a stand mixer and using the whisk attachment beat on medium-high speed until stiff peaks form. Keep refrigerated and chilled until ready to use. 

4. Place the cake on a cake stand/turntable and slice it in half (see kitchen tips above). Spray the inner sides of both cakes with the remaining 50mL rose water using a spray bottle. Layer the bottom half of the cake with the jam using a large offset spatula. Then take 1 cup of the whipped cream frosting and layer it over the jam. Then layer the cake with place the strawberries top side facing upwards in three concentric circles. Fill the gaps between the circles with the raspberries and blueberries. Top the berries off with about 1/2 cup of whipped cream and then place the top layer of the cake over it. Frost the outside of the cake using the spatula to get a smooth and even finish. Decorate with extra berries and a few rose petals. Refrigerate the cake for an hour or two before cutting to serve. This cake will be good for up to 2-3 days. 

masala chai

Masala Chai | A Brown Table

I decided to get an orchid from the Mountain View Farmer's market. It's not like I've had a lot of luck with them in the past but they are so beautiful that I find it hard to resist. Let's just hope this one lasts and after all the flowers are gone, this plant will sprout some new buds. Here's to some wishful thinking! If you have any orchid tips, do let me know, I need all the help I can get.

Orchids | A Brown TableMasala Chai | A Brown Table

This weekend, my buddies, Alanna of The Bojon Gourmet and Phi of Princess Tofu came over to spend a day. If you follow us on Instagram you might have noticed all the insane amount of eating, cooking and photographing that happened. I took the girls out to try some Indian street food at one of my favorite chaat houses in South Bay, followed by a trip to an Indian grocery store, some pumpkin picking, some cooking, more eating, photography and a whole lot of chatting. And there was chai, we had lots of it, I could think of no better way than to spend my day with these two extremely talented people. 

Masala Chai | A Brown Table

Chai is a ritual habit for some and Indian houses make masala chai in several different ways. Here are some of my tips on making chai at home,

  • I buy loose black tea (tea bags are good) and I generally use the Assam black tea variety at home.
  • Chai (tea) with no spices (masala), is simply called chai in Hindi. There are several different types and combinations of spices that can be added to tea. Some people prefer some more to others. Personally, I prefer green cardamom and ginger in my masala chai, I use them individually or together depending on what I have in the house. Either way of all the spices I've listed in my recipe here, green cardamom and ginger are my top choices. (I haven't shown cloves and peppercorns in the photograph but they are good additions to the masala (spice) blend.
  • Adding the ingredients at the right temperature to the water is important because it helps in infusing the flavors correctly. 
  • When crushing the spices, just crush them once or twice with a mortar and pestle to release the seeds, do not over grind or pound them excessively into a powder. 
  • For sweeteners, you can use sugar, honey or even raw Indian sugar - jaggery. 
  • Milk or any other non-dairy milk is completely optional. 
Masala Chai | A Brown Table

masala chai

yields : 4 cups

ingredients

4 cups water

1 inch piece ginger root

4 whole green cardamom pods, crushed

1 black cardamom pod, crushed (optional)

1 inch piece cinnamon stick (optional)

6-8 black peppercorns, crushed (optional)

4 whole cloves, crushed (optional)

1 1/2 teaspoons black tea leaves  (Assam tea)

around 1 /2 cup hot milk or what ever kind of vegetarian milk you prefer (rice, soy or nut based) (amount used might be more or less depending  upon your personal preference on how dark or light you want the tea)

sugar to sweeten as needed 

1. Place the water in medium saucepan. Bring to a boil on medium high and add the spices immediately.Bo (I always add either ginger and/or green cardamom, the rest are all optional). 

2. Remove the saucepan from the stove and allow to the spices to infuse for about 4-5 minutes. Place the saucepan back on the stove and bring to a boil on medium high. As soon as the water begins to boil, add the tea leaves and reduce the flame to low. Allow the liquid to boil for about 30 seconds and remove from stove. Cover with a lid and allow to sit for 1 minute. 

4. To serve, pass the hot tea through a tea strainer to get rid of the tea leaves and spices into a teapot or teacup (as needed). Add enough milk to get a light brown color (depends on how dark or light you like your tea) and sweeten as needed. Serve hot with cookies or pastries.