Whether enjoyed hot or cold, chai is one of my favorite ways to indulge my adoration of black tea. I’ve tried all sorts of commercial blends, my favorite being Oregon Chai, and have recently taken to brewing it from scratch using black tea leaves, green cardamom pods, cloves, fresh ginger and cinnamon. However until this past weekend, I had never experienced the delights of chai ice cream.
To be honest, the chai ice cream recipe featured in this post is decadent in its creamy tribute to one of the world’s favorite spiced teas – but it was such a pain to photograph. Omg. I spent nearly an hour battling the hot, humid weather, which naturally began melting the ice cream within seconds of my scooping it. Frustrated, I’d shape it with a spoon then stick the bowl in the freezer before attempting to take another photograph. Telltale signs of this war can be seen in the droplets of water clinging to the bottom of the ice cream bowl – humidity made visible. Yet on the upside, one of the bonuses of taking food photos is that when your subject annoys you revenge can be taken by eating it as soon as you’ve gotten that one, usable image. Which is exactly what I did after I snapped the above picture.
Vendettas aside, eating a bowl of this ice cream was supremely satisfying, combining the pleasure of sipping an iced chai with the texture of perfectly churned ice cream. I used my Cuisinart Ice Cream Maker and churned the mixture of cream, egg yolks, chai spices, milk and sugar for 25 minutes – more time than that, I’ve learned, creates larger ice crystals and sacrifices texture as a result.
Being a curious cook who likes to learn about the origins of her treats, I’ve looked into the beginnings of chai – pronounced like the ‘ch’ in chocolate and rhyming with ‘sky’ – discovering that though Americans usually associate the word “chai” with a specific drink made with black tea, milk, sugar and spices, the word is actually a generic term for tea. Indeed the ‘chai lattes’ we’ve grown so fond of in the US are technically called “chai masala” – ‘masala,’ meaning ‘a mixture of spices,’ and ‘chai,’ meaning ‘tea.’ According to some the drink is more than 5,000 years old and was invented by the King of Siam, who fiercely protected his recipe. Others claim that the drink has roots in the Hindu healing system of ayurveda, which uses spices and herbs to cure physical ailments. However, historians like Lizzie Collingham maintain that chai masala is a relatively recent addition to the Indian repertoire, originating in the 1700′s when England decided to colonize India. Being avid tea drinkers the English were interested in expanding their tea supply beyond China, and so created large-scale tea plantations in India. The local population was so unfamiliar with tea that when farmers were sent to harvest the leaves they had to be schooled in the technique. In an odd bit of history England eventually launched a campaign to teach Indians how to drink tea, sending soldiers or traders to remote houses with teapots, leaves and sugar in hand. At some point during this process Indians began adding more milk and sugar than their English instructors recommended, and in an act that surely shocked more than a few English ladies they began adding various spices or honey to the mix as well. Hence our chai masala was born.
Today chai masala is frequently prepared in Indian homes and can also be found in popular public locales, such as train stations or city streets, where it is sold by vendors called “wallahs.” Wallahs make their chai over open fires, mixing the milk, sweetener and spices with a dramatic pouring of the liquid from one large cup to another, before serving the chai in clay cups called “chullarhs” (I’ve heard that the chullarhs are smashed on the ground once the patron has finished his or her drink, but I’m not sure if this is true.) Recipes vary from whallah to whallah and from family to family, with spices such as cinnamon, star anise, ginger, peppercorns, cardamom, cloves and fennel being common ingredients.
The chai recipe used to make the ice cream pictured above used cloves, ginger, cinnamon and cardamom, though if you’re adventurous you can certainly experiment with other combinations. Black tea leaves and whole spices are added to the milk, cream and sugar, then strained from the mixture before chilling and freezing. The resulting balance of flavors is both elegant and comforting. If they are chai drinkers, your friends & family will adore this ice cream.
Edit:// I almost forgot to mention that today is my 1 year blogaversary! One year ago today I made my baking obsession official by buying this domain and sharing a recipe for sugared monkey bread. Ah the memories, the posts, the friends I’ve made – including you. Thank you so very much for sharing my baking and books adventures with me.
Chai Ice Cream
Reprinted with permission from A Passion for Ice Cream: 95 Recipes for Fabulous Desserts, by Emily Luchetti.
Ingredients: Makes about 5 servings
- 5 green cardamom pods
- 1 cup whole milk
- 2 cups heavy (whipping) cream
- 2/3 cup sugar
- 4 whole cloves
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 1/2 tablespoon black tea leaves (loose leaves, not sachets)
- 1 1/2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and cut into 4 pieces
- 3 large egg yolks
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Place the cardamom pods on a baking pan and crush them with the side of a knife. Toast in the oven for 5 minutes. In a medium, heavy saucepan, combine the milk, cream, 1/3 cup of the sugar, the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon sticks, tea, and ginger. Cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until almost simmering. Turn off the heat and cover the pan. Let the spices and tea steep for 10 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the egg yolks, the remaining 1/3 cup sugar, and the salt. Slowly pour the hot liquid into the egg mixture, whisking as you pour. Return the liquid to the pan and cook, over medium-low heat, stirring constantly with a heat-resistant plastic or wooden spatula, until the liquid reaches 175 degrees F (I used a candy thermometer to gauge the temperature) and lightly coats the spatula. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve (I used cheese cloth secured with a rubber band) into a bowl, discard the spices and tea, and cool over an ice bath until room temperature. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours or up to overnight. Churn in an ice cream machine according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Freeze until scoopable, about 4 hours, depending on your freezer.