Saturday, March 18, 2006

Feeling a Little Chai?

It amazes me sometimes that as much as I love Indian food, I haven't been eating it for very long.

My first exposure to it came from an Indian co-worker when I lived Down South. At a fellow staff member's potluck, this woman brought homemade pakore and chutney, and I found myself intrigued.

But it wasn't until I moved back to my home state of Ohio and plopped down in the midst of Amish country that Indian cuisine became a vital part of my life. (Go figure!) Although our community has no Indian restaurant, at least once a year the campus hosts an Indian dinner. And between my Opera-Loving Friends, who eagerly share new Indian restaurant adventures with me, and a former student, who cooked with me and brought for me from her home in Bombay spices that her grandmother had roasted and ground, I learned to love all the rich flavors of Indian cooking.

Best of all, I came to love Indian spiced tea -- chai -- and learned to make my own by simmering black tea with cardamom pods, whole cloves, slices of crystallized ginger, the occasional cinnamon bark or peppercorns, sugar, and milk. That alone can make a very satisfying dessert.

But over time I've found that I really enjoy using chai spices in baked goods to liven up standard recipes with a faintly exotic taste. And since all that cardamom in last week's cookies tasted so good, I thought I'd bake with it again this week and decided to pull out the recipe for one of last year's creations: chai spice shortbread.

This time around, I doubled the amount of cardamom and added more of the mini diced crystallized ginger. With all whole wheat flour and a touch of maple sugar, these buttery morsels turned out deeply browned and richly flavored with a bit of a kick (vaguely reminiscent of pepperkakor).

In short, perfect!

Since I hope to cook some good Indian food tomorrow, these will make a terrific dessert after a veg-filled rice dish. I might even have some left over to share with friends.

But I won't be chai about enjoying plenty myself.

Chai Spice Shortbread

This warm, spice-laden, and inviting shortbread is based on a recipe from Epicurious (Pecan Shortbread Cookies) and a brilliant idea shared by Dear Reader Tina. Once the idea entered my head to use the spices from chai in cookies, I knew I had to try it in combination with buttery shortbread. Enjoy with a nice warm cup of tea, my dears!

1 c whole wheat pastry flour
1/4 c maple sugar
1/8 tsp baking soda
1/8 tsp salt
1 to 2 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves
1/2 c (1 stick) chilled unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
1 T whipping cream or soymilk
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 c mini diced crystallized ginger

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Whisk together flour, maple sugar, baking soda, salt, and spices. Cut in butter using a pastry blender. Stir in cream and vanilla, then add ginger until moist clumps form. Gather dough into a ball, using your clean hands to knead the dough together and to work the butter all the way through. Flatten dough into a disk.

Roll dough out on floured surface to 1/4- to 3/8-inch thickness. Using floured cookie cutters, cut out favorite shapes and arrange on baking sheet. Gather scraps, reroll, and cut out additional cookies. (You can do this until the dough is almost all gone; it hasn’t toughened any of my cookies yet!)

Bake cookies until lightly browned, about 20 minutes. Cool on rack. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies


At 3/31/2006 11:03 AM, Anonymous Pixie said...

A toast:
To the woman who introduced me to Indian food - a deep pleasure I have never recovered from.

At 5/12/2006 12:48 AM, Blogger Nandita said...

I came in here as I was hunting for a baklava recipe...I'm Indian and it's always wonderful to see a person from a different culture so excited about Indian culture and food.

Am sure going to check out more stuff from your index, and hope I find the Baklava recipe at the baklava queens' !

Warmest regards from an Indian Kitchen


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