As the weather cools and the leaves turn, we begin to crave comfort and warmth. Cozy layers of clothing, wool throw blankets, candlelight—we welcome fall as a respite from sweltering Southern summers. A time to cozy up.
A steaming mug of spiced chai is fall in a cup. A traditional Indian tea, chai’s fragrant mixture of cinnamon, nutmeg, anise, and strong Darjeeling tea is both comforting and warming: perfect for the season.
As I thought through how to best feature this beloved beverage, I considered my favorite coffee shops and how they prepare chai. After steaming milk, the barista adds chai concentrate to create a frothy latte. Which got me thinking: Could I make my own chai concentrate at home? And after tweaking the recipe for my own tastes (less of the licorice-y taste of anise and more spicy fresh ginger), the answer is a solid yes. And then, as I sipped my homemade chai latte, I couldn’t help but wonder: What if I used the concentrate to add warming chai spice to other recipes?
It’s the season of all-things-apple, so I mixed up a bourbon-laced drink with fresh apple cider, maple syrup, and chai. This creates a surprisingly refreshing drink shaken over ice, but is also delicious heated as a toddy. How’s that for versatility?
But the best use for your chai concentrate has to be cake: a walnut pumpkin chai cake with goat cheese frosting. Creamy, tart, crunchy, this dessert has it all, but it’s the chai flavors that truly shine. It may look like showstopper, but it’s an easy-to-create one. Here’s a cake-baking hint: placing the freshly baked cakes directly into a freezer helps stop the baking process and creates a delicate, moist cake that your friends and family will keep talking about. (I know this from experience!)
Fall in South Carolina’s Upcountry has so much to offer: Gather loved ones to enjoy it with you.
Makes 6 cups concentrate. Adjust spices to personalize the chai to your specific tastes.
6 cups water
1 ginger root, grated
4 whole cinnamon sticks
10 whole cloves
2 whole star anise
10 whole peppercorns
1 vanilla pod, sliced lengthwise
1 tablespoon allspice
8 cardamom pods, cracked
10 bags of Darjeeling (or other black or green) tea
1/2 cup honey or other sweetener, if desired
Add water and all spices to a medium saucepan. Over high heat, bring to a boil, then turn the heat to medium low, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. Remove from heat and add in the teabags. Let steep for 5 minutes. Remove tea bags and add sweetener. Using a fine mesh strainer lined with cheesecloth, strain into a glass container. Allow to cool, then store in the refrigerator for up to one month. To make chai, mix equal parts concentrate with equal parts milk of your choice. Heat, or serve over ice.
Chai Spice Apple Cocktail
1 oz bourbon
4 oz apple cider
3 oz chai concentrate
1 tbsp maple syrup
1 tbsp lemon juice
In a cocktail shaker, add bourbon and fill halfway with ice. Add the rest of the ingredients. Cover, and shake well. Pour into glass and garnish with an apple slice or cinnamon stick. (Alternatively, combine everything but the bourbon and heat. Pour into a mug, add bourbon, and enjoy.)
Walnut Pumpkin Chai Cake with Goat Cheese Frosting
Makes one three-layer cake
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
3/4 cup unsalted butter, softened
2 cups granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 tbsp vanilla
1 (15 oz) can pumpkin
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/2 cup chai concentrate
1/2 cup milk
1 cup toasted walnuts, roughly chopped[/ezcol_1half] [ezcol_1half_end]FOR THE FROSTING:
8 oz cream cheese, softened
8 oz goat cheese, room temperature
2 tsp vanilla extract
6 cups powdered sugar
Flavored sugar or extra walnuts for garnish[/ezcol_1half_end]
Preheat oven to 300°F. Grease and flour three, 8-inch round cake pans. Set aside. In a medium bowl, whisk together flour, baking soda, salt, and cinnamon. Set aside. In a large bowl/stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the eggs one at a time, then add vanilla, pumpkin, and vegetable oil. Add the flour mixture in thirds, adding milk and chai in between. Mix until smooth, scraping down sides with each addition. Divide batter evenly into pans. Sprinkle tops with walnuts. Bake for 35-40 minutes, or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Remove pans from oven and immediately place in freezer for 45 minutes.
FOR THE FROSTING:
In a large bowl, beat cream cheese and goat cheese until smooth. Blend in vanilla. Add confectioners’ sugar and beat on low speed until combined, then on high until frosting is smooth. Add more sugar if frosting seems too thin. Assemble the three layers with a thick layer of frosting in between each layer. Then apply a thin crumb coat on the top and sides. Store in the fridge until ready to serve. Sprinkle with flavored sugar (we used Bourbon Walnut sugar from Greenville’s Spice and Tea Exchange) or walnuts.