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Chai Spice Cookies

Square chai spice cookies sprinkled with black tea leaves on a white plate

If you look around in teashops, coffee shops and even the tea and spice aisles of supermarkets, you’ll notice an increasing presence of the word chai – chai tea, chai tea latte, or chai spice. Although this post isn’t completely on the beverage itself, let me clear up the misnomer of chai tea right away.

In Hindi and various other languages, the word chai itself means tea. So to say chai tea is basically saying tea tea. When Americans say chai or chai tea, what we’re really talking about is masala chai [1] – masala meaning a spice blend, hence spiced tea. To keep it simple, I’ll refer to this drink as chai, but be warned. If you go into an Indian restaurant and order chai, know that you might get spiced tea or it might just be plain black tea with milk (that has happened to me before).

Image 1: Whole spices - cinnamon stick, star anise, green cardamom pods, cloves; Image 2: Ingredients for chai spice cookies - powdered sugar in a small white dish, jars of spices (cardamom seeds, star anis, cloves), spoon, stick of butter all on a cutting board

Masala chai [2] is an Indian way of preparing tea that also is common in other parts of the world with an Indian presence. It has only recently become increasingly popular in the U.S., and rightly so. The beverage made with black tea, milk, sugar and various spices such as cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cardamom, black pepper or ginger (spices used varies) is absolutely delicious! I think this is due to the party of flavors that dance across your tongue with each warm sip.

Image 1: Chai spice cookie dough in a stainless steel bowl with a white spatula; Image 2: Small white bowl of black tea sitting on a wooden cutting board

The flavor from chai is also increasingly being used to add a new dimension of flavor to various foods such as chocolate, biscotti, cupcakes and cookies. Teaism [3] is a small local chain in D.C. that serves the best chai I’ve had in a tea/coffee shop. They also sell these delicious shortbread cookies that go wonderfully with an afternoon cup of tea. One of their cookies in particular is decorated with little sprinkles of black tea leaves, which I think add an interesting touch.

Image 1: Chai spice cookie dough formed into a log on a piece of platic wrap; Image 2: Slices of unbaked chai spice cookies on a silpat lined cookie sheet

This recipe below is my take on chai spice shortbread cookies that incorporate the exciting flavor combination of cinnamon, cardamom, star anise and cloves, along with a sprinkling of black tea leaves. These cookies are easy to make and involve no rolling out of dough. Since they require refrigeration before slicing and baking, they’re great for making ahead of time when you have to entertain. Enjoy!

Chai Spice Cookies

1-1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground chai spices (see recipe below)
1 pinch kosher salt
1/2 cup butter (1 stick), softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 teaspoons black tea
1 tablespoon loose black tea leaves

Chai Spice Blend

1 whole star anise
3/4 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1/2 + 1/8 (5/8) teaspoon ground cinnamon
10 cloves

Ground star anise, cardamom and cloves in a spice grinder, then add ground cinnamon and stir to blend. You can sometimes find a chai spice blend in teashops or specialty food stores.

In a medium size bowl, whisk together the flour, spice blend and salt. In another large bowl cream together the butter and sugar with a mixer. Stir the vanilla extract into the creamed butter, then add the flour mixture slowly, stirring it in as you add it to form cookie dough. When just combined, add the black tea to further bring the dough together.

Turn the dough out onto a square piece of plastic wrap and shape into the form of a rectangular log about 6 – 8 inches long. Wrap the dough log in the plastic wrap and twist the ends closed (tie with a twisty to keep wrap closed). Refrigerate overnight or freeze for about 30 minutes or until firm.

When ready to bake cookies, preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Remove the dough from the refrigerator/freezer and unwrap. Cut the dough with a flat blade knife into 1/4 inch thick slices. Place slices on a silpat [4] or parchment lined cookie sheet and bake.

After 10 – 15 minutes, pull out cookies on rack (don’t remove from oven, just pull the rack out partially) and sprinkle cookies with the black tea leaves pressing very gently on the leaves so they stick. Put the cookies back in the oven and bake for another five minutes.

Cookies should be lightly brown around the edges when done.  Remove cookies from oven and allow to cool completely before serving.

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