Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Chai Spice Cake

I'm a bit of a, erm, bibliophile. Just how huge of a geek am I ? One of my favourite things to do is to scrutinise a cookbook's bibliography (and it's shocking how many don't have one). I find it's very often, especially in the case of a book or author you trust, an excellent source for "leads" - smart potential cookbook buys. Like I said, geeky.

Thusly, I came across Marcy Goldman & Yvan Huneault's The Best of betterbaking.com via Nigella Lawson's Feast a few years ago. I was already a fan of Ms Goldman's A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking (Looking for the ultimate in rugelach recipes? You'll find it here...), so it really didn't take much to convince me I needed the compendium culling from that very special online resource, www.betterbaking.com - a remarkable collection of fail-safe, delicious recipes liberally peppered with the author's educational and entertainingly opinionated insights.

I finally made the Chai Spice Cake from the book, a recipe I had flagged some time ago for it sounded utterly delectable, using as it does brewed chai tea and headily scented with warm spices - good spice cake recipes are hard to come by, and this one promised to be both moist and moreish. Like all the very best sort of recipes, it's a template that invites tinkering - as the recipe suggests, in place of the chai tea, you could use a favourite spiced orange-flavoured tea blend. In addition to tea, you could heighten the zesty dimension with a few drops of Boyajian orange oil, which can be ordered from here (another site I can spend hours trawling). For an extra gingery kick, the tea could be steeped in hot gingerale.

The fabulous tea that occasioned the recipe was Gryphon Tea Company's Straits Chai , silken sachets of a delicately balanced blend of Sumatran black tea and spices. If the packaging looks familiar, it's because you saw the gorgeous picture that accompanied this post. Chubby Hubby and his lovely wife S had passed me the tea to try; suffice to say I am hooked.

I'm a big believer in grinding whole spices as needed in small quantities, especially if used as a flavour accent in baking - it makes all the difference between insipid and inspiring. Grinding serves to release the volatile oils of a spice, all of which are extremely sensitive to light, heat and moisture, thus explaining the often pallid bottled dust that passes off as ground spice - it's had ample time to sit around and deterioriate. This pulverization is easily done in an electric spice/coffee mill or mortar and pestle kept specifically for the purpose, although some larger spices (such as dried ginger or whole nutmeg) are best dealt with by grating with an implement such as a Microplane.

The original recipe calls for ground cinnamon, ginger, cloves, nutmeg, allspice and mace; I added some ground cardamon seeds to echo the flavour of the tea. When it comes to cardamon, it's best to buy as whole, plump green pods - the white ones have been bleached of colour at the expense of flavour. Also, ready ground cardamon typically includes the hulls, a cost and labour saving measure if ever there was one. The inconvenience of podding then grinding as needed is a small price to pay for the smokily exotic flavour of pure, unadulterated cardamon - distinctive yet mellow, citrusy yet floral, with an effusive camphor-like inflection. Used judiciously - a little goes a very long way - it lends nuanced, bittersweet depth to all manner of spiced cakes, pastries and breads (those of Scandinavia come particularly to mind).

The weather recently has been downright depressing, oppressively muggy on a good day, thunderstorming otherwise. If nothing else, it's conducive for staying in and checking out a new recipe or two. Both in the making and the eating, the Chai Spice Cake provided exactly the sort of comfort I find myself craving. And in the baking, the perfumed plumes that waft and linger are so exquisite as to rival that of the most precious incense.

I couldn't resist busting out a recent addition to my burgeoning cake pan collection and adapting the baking times for the recipe accordingly. It's a baby-Bundt number from Nordic Ware, the folks behind the original Bundt pan. The Garland Pan features 2 one-cup versions respectively of the signature Fleur de Lis, Bavaria and Cathedral shapes - brilliant for creating miniature tea cakes that are beautiful to look at even when unadorned. The cast aluminum bakeware possesses a heft and solid feel that make it a thing of substance in every regard - the material and heat reflective exterior promote even baking and uniform browning, producing cakes with finely hewn detailing, while the nonstick interior ensures easy release. Excuse me if I sound like a total groupie here - I've lost count of the number of times I've ruined an otherwise perfectly mixed cake batter by using a cheap flimsy pan, which I've consequently sworn off. Sure, it's a quantity-quality trade-off, but just as once you've experienced that very first pair of life-changing Jimmys or Louboutins, there really is no recourse but to kick that hitherto cheap-and-cheerful habit.

28 Comments:

Blogger Dolce said...

Fantastic!
Simply fantastic with your wonderful photographs and this extraordinary recipe!

2:57 pm, September 13, 2006  
Blogger Elodie said...

It's Art ! Congratulation !!!

3:20 pm, September 13, 2006  
Anonymous Julia said...

Ooo, I do that too!
wow, I finally found my long lost sister!! ;) haha, just kiddin!
these look absolutely AMAZING, I love it! the pictures, the spices, the cake forms, the tea...
you've got me craving =)

4:03 pm, September 13, 2006  
Blogger Andreea said...

oh, they look fantastic. i love the way you describe them, an invitation to cook :)

4:09 pm, September 13, 2006  
Blogger jenjen said...

I was just dreaming of a chai tea while at work today. This is just the perfect thing to satiate my apetite.

Your photos are beautiful as always, and I just love the way you style your food!

6:09 pm, September 13, 2006  
Blogger Astrid said...

I've seen these molds in shops like Crate & Barrel I believe, but have recently been in such a silicone craze I couldn't imagine buying something in cast aluminum, imagining it would be very hard to unmold the cakes. But you seem to have succeeded very well! They're beautiful, architectural, crisp. Bravo!

8:13 pm, September 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

chai means tea... so do you mean you have made a tea spiced cake? calling something chai tea is the equivalent of calling it tea tea which makes you sound like twat. GET IT RIGHT PEOPLE!!! the correct terms would be chai masala ... masala referring to the mix of spiced used in chai (tea)

8:50 pm, September 13, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Anon: Surely it is customary flaming etiquette to check your own comment for embarassing typos first before posting?

9:38 pm, September 13, 2006  
Anonymous Cenk said...

Your blog is one of the few I check out daily and wait impatiently to see a new entry. Your creations and story-telling is amazing. These cakes look extra delicious. I'll definitely try them. Thanks for sharing all the links to cake pans as well.

10:44 pm, September 13, 2006  
Anonymous L said...

J - thanks for the fantastic tip about reading the bilibliographies! What a great idea... so simple, but so smart!

Photos are stunning, as always and this cake sounds so lovely!

-L

12:45 am, September 14, 2006  
Blogger Lilo said...

These molds are wonderful ! And yours cakes look like cathedrals... We don't find that in France, but thank you for the link, I'll buy one.

2:29 am, September 14, 2006  
Anonymous peabody said...

Oh, I bet these are fantastic!

4:12 am, September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Anita said...

Nordic Ware's certainly cornering the market on bundt pans, aren't they? Every time I look they've got another tempting design up. Your cakes look utterly luscious (i love the little ode to cardamon, btw), and the photos perfectly capture a dreamy afternoon

6:54 am, September 14, 2006  
Anonymous deborah said...

oh i love nordic ware. i have their bacon tray and a round cake pan. i've been admiring these at an online store for a long time. i'm glad they work out so well... might be reason to get myself one :)

i love the spices used in chai ... really is the most simple warming beverage. i just wish this tea traditon wasn't hikjacked by marketing people; thus making anonymous commentators so angry! lol

10:05 am, September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Scott at Real Epicurean said...

You're right - these cakes are beautiful.

11:45 am, September 14, 2006  
Anonymous Mae said...

The cakes are gorgeous, J! What great accessories you find. Trully inspiring!

3:41 pm, September 14, 2006  
Blogger Veron said...

The pictures looks wonderful and brings life to the food itself you could almost taste it. Just curious, do you use studio lighting for your pictures or is it all natural light.

11:18 pm, September 14, 2006  
Blogger Julie said...

Any recipe that includes all the spices you mention, immediately moves to the top of my list of must-makes. I agree that grinding whole spices is the only way to go in instances like this. Adorable little pans, and you're not a geek! Bibliographies in cookbooks (Nigella always does a brilliant job with this) are such a great source of information!

2:20 am, September 15, 2006  
Blogger Debbie said...

I love your site! You bring Art to cooking, not too many people can pull that off. I would be one of those messy cooks trying to make the food look as flawless as yours. :-)

8:11 am, September 15, 2006  
Anonymous SqPixels said...

I love the moulds!! Your cakes look so beautiful!!

11:38 am, September 15, 2006  
Anonymous Melissa said...

Hi J, those are some seriously gorgeous cakes! I've seen those pans from Nordicware, but somehow I could never imagine what the finished cakes would look like - I certainly didn't expect something this delicate and beautiful. And I agree with you about the bibliographies (though I disagree that it's geeky!) - I wish every cookbook had them, though of course if they did... I'd probably have twice as many books :)

As for the person who has nothing better to do than roam the internet looking for misuses of the word 'chai', it's as pointless as it would be to criticize the angophone use of 'latte' to refer to a coffee drink. Language is like that! The funniest example of that I've ever run across, actually, was in Spain where bodysuits (aka leotards) have been shortened to contain the first element only, resulting in my host mother once asking me "do you have a body"?

12:05 am, September 16, 2006  
Blogger Cathy said...

What beautiful little cakes Jocelyn, and they sound delicious! I've seen that pan before and been seriously tempted. It is only a lack of space in my kitchen (well actually, in my house) that has prevented me from snapping one up.

4:25 am, September 17, 2006  
Anonymous jeanne said...

I always find some bit of inspiration in your posts--this is so simple why, I wondered hadn't I ever considered it? "extra gingery kick, the tea could be steeped in hot gingerale."

Jeanne

12:40 am, September 18, 2006  
Blogger tai~tai~ said...

I was browsing food blog when i saw your blog posting and found the mould you used to be very pretty and interesting...

Wheer did you get them ?

8:50 pm, September 20, 2006  
Blogger Ruth said...

Beautiful as usual and so timely for me. Jewish holidays start this weekend and I always like to add a new book and a new recipe to the old favorites.

I'm running out to buy at a real store so I can have it in time.

Thanks so much for sharing

1:42 am, September 21, 2006  
Anonymous Ivonne said...

J,

I cannot tell you how thrilled I was to see and read this post. I couldn't agree with you more about Marcy Goldman and her cookboos (and site). And I too am a fan of the orange oil you purchased. I use a drop of it when I make granola, which I usually make in large batches.

Your cakes are glorious!

5:11 am, September 25, 2006  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

i have been looking for a mini bundt pan and this one is truly amazing - thanks for that!

11:52 pm, September 26, 2006  
Anonymous Adelphos24 said...

I love the traditional looking cake combined with a very modern, trendy flavour.

1:20 am, January 17, 2009  

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