To be perfectly honest, I’m growing a bit weary of writing about the snowy comfort foods, but since it is only the beginning of February, I suppose it’s only fair that Ms. Winter still gets to continue in full force for a while yet, no matter what Sir Phil reports (who, by the way, is currently under investigation for fraud).
But when will the cozy comfort food ideas run out?? Never, I say. Never. Today I’m going with a bit of a lighter concoction: the perfect cookie for dipping in your warm cup of tea or coffee…or hot chocolate, for those super-indulgent folks out there (I tip my insulated, waterproof hood to you all). But really, they’re most appropriate with tea, since these cookies actually contain the leaves of camellia sinensis inside of them - a spicy blend of black tea, ginger, cinnamon, allspice, nutmeg, clove, & cardamom, or, in a word, chai.
In the most literal of terms, chai (pronounced as an affricate at the front of your mouth for all you Jews who are still saying it gutturally) simply means “tea” in Hindi. But for most of us in the US of A, chai signifies a beverage that is warming in temperature, taste, & texture, due to the common way of serving the cinnamon, cardamom, ginger, & clove-spiked tea with hot, frothy milk.
This spice blend, served as a warm beverage sans tea leaves, can be traced back to over 5000 years ago, when it was served to the Indian elite as a remedy according to the ayurvedic medial system, which regards health as a complex balance between three elemental energies. The spice components of the blend - all native to India - served different purposes within the body, & masala chai was considered a healing beverage with a variety of nutritional benefits.
Fast forward a few thousand years to the rapidly expanding British empire in the mid-1600s. Explorations of the Far East brought tea to Britain, & as is usually the case with new, imported, exotic goods, tea drinking was very expensive &, therefore, very fashionable. The wife of Charles II, Queen Catherine of Braganza, was a tea-drinking trend-setter, & by the early-1800s, tea consumption had become popular among the masses as well. The East India Company then decided to try growing their beloved tea in India instead of exclusively sourcing it from China, & in an act of reverse colonialism, the tea plants & the native masala blend became fast friends & masala chai took both India & Britain by storm. I suppose it’s not the worst thing to come out of colonialism.
In recent years, all things chai have become increasingly more widespread & popular. Back at the pink & brown bakery, we made a Chai Latte Cookie whose dough contained the contents of Chai tea bags & white chocolate chunks (that was the “latte” part). They were chewy & spicy - no need to dip them in anything or enjoy them with any accompaniment whatsoever. They were a meal unto themselves, & we only made them once a week, adding to their alluring mystique.
That’s not quite what I wanted to recreate today, but I was after the aromatic chai-ness of them. So, as usual, Cook’s Illustrated provided the bones of this recipe, but I had to customize it a bit to add the spicy intrigue. I might try this again with Earl Gray tea or a little lemon zest & poppy seeds or toasted slivered almonds…lots of possibilities, really. Just imagine any light flavor you’d want in cookie form & figure out how to pack that light flavor into two tablespoons worth of dry ingredient.
A couple noteworthy items: if you don’t have superfine sugar on hand, put a cup of granulated sugar in a food processor or coffee grinder & swish it up for 20-30 seconds; & as for the chai, if you’re using loose tea, you’re in luck, because it’s easy to measure out two tablespoons, but if you’re like me & only have teabags, cut them open to measure - I used Stash Chai Spiced Black Tea & ended up dumping six bags into my dough. Also, this recipe makes a lot of cookies, which is great if you’re hungry now & great if you anticipate being hungry a week from now: the dough freezes well if you double-wrap it in plastic.
Chai Spiced Butter Cookies
- 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup superfine sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 egg + 1 yolk
- 2 teaspoons vanilla
- 1 + 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour
- 2 tablespoons chai (yes, the actual tea)
Beat together the butter, sugar & salt until it’s nice & fluffy.
Add in the yolk to combine, then add in the egg & vanilla & continue to beat till it’s a pale yellow pillow of sweetness.
Stir in the flours & tea till everything just comes together. Then, divide the dough in half & wrap each half in plastic wrap. Put the dough in the refrigerator for at least an hour (or this is when you could stow it away in the freezer).
After it’s had time to chill, lightly flour a work surface & roll the dough out to about 1/8 inch thickness & cut out whatever shape seems right to you. Bake in a preheated 375 degree oven on parchment-lined baking sheets for 6-8 minutes, till the bottoms are starting to brown.
Eat & Enjoy!