Chai-spiced Molasses Custard

Chai custard sings of spice – of cardamom and cinnamon, cloves and ginger, peppercorns and rose.  When the weather turns cold, as it did this week, I crave sweet and warming spices.  So it’s tonight, as misty clouds enshroud our valley and the first snowflakes of the season tap gently against our window panes, that I warm milk with molasses and spice for my favorite chai custard.

Milk and Eggs (and Custard) in Autumn

As the daylight wanes and the transition from autumn to winter looms, hens stop laying and our local raw creamery begins to dry off their cows until they calve again in mid-spring.  So just as the daylight shrinks a little bit each day, so does our farmers’ supply of fresh milk, cream and pastured eggs.  I must conserve them, take care and not waste.

You see, I rarely use foods in such declining supply for extravant desserts or other novel applications: they’re too precious.  Custards and creams must usually wait until after the spring equinox when  the hens begin to lay again and the valley’s cows give us their milk once more.  So, it is with a bit of reserve that I cracked my eggs and poured my milk for this chai custard tonight, for I know that in another month I won’t enjoy such a luxury.

Practically, I know that I can walk to the store and pick up milk and eggs year-round,  but I realize such convenience is borne of industrialization – practices that necessitate removing food from its rightful season and (often) animals from the pasture where they rightfully belong.  Perhaps in other areas of the country, where the seasons are more temperate and the winter more forgiving, local milk and eggs can be had year-round (or nearly so), but here, in the mountains, they’re a precious commodity in the dark days.

Chai Spices (and their medicinal uses)

Chai spices are warm spices which is why they carry so much appeal for me this time of year.  Like any strongly flavored food, the spices used in this chai custard, convey an ulterior benefit: that of ancient medicine.  Just as common culinary herbs carry medicinal uses, so do spices like ginger, anise, black pepper and cardamom.

Ginger, star anise and cardamom are typically used to ease stomach upset and promote digestion (though all are used in many and varying remedies), which makes them particularly well suited to desserts or after dinner teas.  Similarly, black peppercorns stimulate the secretion of hydrochloric acid and, therefore also supports digestion.  Rose, an atypical but not outright unusual ingredient in chai, is calming.

While I’m only an amateur herbalist (if that), I’m nonetheless fascinated by their use.  I recently signed up for this class on herbal remedies by legendary herbalist Rosemary Gladstar.

How I Use Spices (and where to get them)

The spices I use in this chai custard are whole, dry spices.  I prefer working with whole spices because they offer more diverse applications – and can be ground fresh in a spice grinder (like this one) so that the flavors they impart are stronger, cleaner and more fresh.  Many spices are difficult to come by – particularly in their whole form – which is why I buy organic spices online and at bulk rates.

Kala Namak Black Salt

Kala namak salt is a black salt popular in traditional Indian cooking which makes it particularly well-suited to this recipe for chai custard.  Kala namak is a potent and strongly flavored finishing salt with a noticeable sulfurous edge.  For this reason it pairs nicely with egg dishes.  A little bit, as called for in the recipe below, imparts a mysterious complexity to the dish and its intense sulfur nature is subdued a bit by the natural sweetness of molasses.

I found my self first drawn to kala namak salt while attending the Wise Traditions conference (I’ll be speaking again at this year’s conference), where I heard both Dr. Natasha Campbell-McBride who wrote Gut and Psychology Syndrome and Dr. Louisa Williams who wrote Radical Medicine underscore the importance of sulfur in systemic wellness.  Since that time, I’ve made an effort to incorporate more sulfurous foods into my family’s diet regularly.

Where to Find Kala Namak Salt

I use kala namak salt sparingly, and as a finishing salt – mostly in egg dishes or in complex desserts like chai custard.  I purchase it online as it is not widely available.  Of course, in practical terms, you needn’t wait to order kala namak to prepare this custard as a pinch of any salt will do.

Chai-spiced Molasses Custard

milkchai

By Jenny Published: October 25, 2012

  • Yield: 4 to 6 servings (4 to 6 Servings)
  • Prep: 20 mins
  • Cook: 45 mins
  • Ready In: 1 hr 5 mins

Sweet and heady with the warm spice of ginger, cloves, cinnamon, star anise and rose, this chai custard offers a lovely finish to a meal on cold autumn and winter evenings. You can purchase whole, organic spices online here. Kala namak black salt is a sulfurous finishing salt popular in Indian cooking. You can find it online here or substitute any sea salt you have on hand.

Ingredients

  • butter or coconut oil (for greasing the ramekins)
  • 2 1/2 cups whole milk
  • 1/4 cup blackstrap molasses
  • 1 heaping tablespoon cardamom pods (crushed)
  • 2 star anise pods
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 teaspoon rose petals
  • 1 teaspoon dried ginger
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • pinch kala namak black sea salt (or other unrefined sea salt)
  • 1/4 cup whole, unrefined cane sugar
  • 6 large eggs (loosely beaten)

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 F, and grease 4 (6-oz) or 6 (4-oz) ramekins with butter or coconut oil.
  2. Whisk milk and molasses together in a sauce pan, then stir in cardamom, star anise, cinnamon, rose petals, ginger, cloves and black peppercorns. Warm the milk over medium heat until it begins to boil, then immediately reduce the heat to medium-low and allow the spices to steep in the milk for 20 minutes. Strain through a fine mesh sieve.
  3. Gently whisk the spiced milk into the beaten eggs, then whisk in salt and cane sugar. Pour the custard mix into prepared ramekins, and gently place the ramekins in a large baking dish. Pour water into the baking dish so that it reaches half-way up the sides of the ramekins.
  4. Transfer the baking dish to the oven and bake for 30 to 45 minutes, or until the custards set.

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What people are saying

    • says

      Absolutely, this recipe will work very well with coconut milk. I grew up in India where many of these spices are commonly used in desserts, especially cardamom!

  1. Kaylyn says

    This sounds amazing! I can’t get enough of homemade chai and just LOVE trying new recipes! Thanks so much for posting this!

  2. says

    Can’t wait to try this warming and nourishing recipe. I appreciate your reflections about the seasons. Living in So Cal, I rarely think of a timely abundance, thanks for the reminder! I also signed up for Rosemary Gladstar’a course. Isn’t it inspiring? It would be great to see more real foodies like yourself, incorporating the Western herbal tradition. This recipe is an excellent example. Kudos

  3. says

    I love anything with cardamom and this recipe sounds great. I also really appreciate your view on the importance of being aware of the seasons and how that effects not just the humans but the animals as well. Thanks for posting.

  4. Elizabeth says

    Another great website for bulk herbs is bulkherbstore.com with information on specific herbs. This reminds me of when I gave up coffee I switched to making my own chai — so warming, soothing, and healing.

  5. says

    Wow. There is nothing else to say. I make my own chai with fresh and caramelized ginger, cinnamon sticks, star anise, cardamom, whole cloves, black peppercorns, fresh grated nutmeg, and allspice berries. To turn it into a custard would be – so decadent. I”m on it!

  6. Savannah says

    Jenny,
    Another amazing recipe, thank you! I am wondering, can I make this in a big custard dish, as I don’t have ramekins? Would I still need to place in another pan and fill with water?

  7. Gavin says

    Now I’ve made pudding 100 times at least, but I’ve never had the milk curdle. I don’t know if that was because of the molasses or the spices, but it was very disappointing. I decided to proceed anyway. When it was finished, I was left with an… interesting dish. The texture was like a thick omelet. Pretty gross, quite frankly. The taste was good, though. I actually think I would make this again, but with the following changes: heat the milk on it’s own. Make chai concentrate. Omit the sugar, and mix 4 eggs, add about 3 eggs once the milk boils, and bring that to a boil. Serve.

  8. Teresa Moreira says

    i love to cook and just love Nourished Kitchen and the idea of reviving traditional foods, the prose is great and the photos are so beautiful. Always a pleasure to read and try out. Thanks a lot and don’t stop.

  9. says

    I am a recent subscriber & am so enjoying your recipes & information. (I even recommend it on my blog!) I appreciate your comments about seasonal eating & the respect you show for the local supplies of eggs & such. I know I can stand to be guided more by these considerations, & you have further inspired me. Thank you!

  10. Milla Akimova says

    This is a beautiful recipe, with beautiful photos! You’ve also intrigued me with the kala namak salt – I’m always interested in discovering traditional ingredients from other cuisines! Though I don’t think I can use milk to make custard, as I’m a bit short at the moment too! We’re getting less and less from our dairy farmer’s brown cows now and I prefer to keep my milk for drinking fresh; I’ve even switched to making my morning buckwheat porridge with water and butter, and soured cream left from summer to save milk.

  11. Paula Slater says

    This sounds lovely. Is there any way to make this with a minimum amount of sugar? I am diabetic and have heart disease. Thank you.

  12. Crystalline Ruby Muse says

    I’m not sure what a Tbsp of crushed cardamom pods means. Does it mean you measure out a Tbsp of the pods, open them up, & then grind the seeds? Or are you literally just crushing the pods a bit & then putting the whole lot in the custard? Also, with the cinnamon stick, are you grinding it in your spice grinder, or just putting in the stick, letting it infuse? Same with peppercorns … are all of these spices ground, some of them, or none of them? Anyone have a clue? AND … has anyone tried making with honey instead of sugar?

  13. Mary says

    This recipe sounded perfect for our Dec 1 family holiday gathering, which ended with a dessert tasting. The mixture of organic blackstrap molasses, raw jersey milk and spices curdled by the time the 20 minute infusion was up. I was unable to rescue it by fine sieving, and after reading that Gavin had a similar problem, we fortunately had enough milk to try again. We suspected the acidity in the molasses so infused in milk only and beat the molasses into the eggs before adding the milk. This resolved the curdling but the intensity of the infusion was greatly reduced. Next time I’ll infuse the spices in the molasses with the same amount of whey. Gavin’s idea of turning it into a pudding with half the number of eggs would work for me as well.
    Having tasted both infusions, my chai loving daughter and I missed the intensity in the final product, but the newbies to chai thought it rather exotic, and cleaned up their Crème brûlée instead. We’ll keep the chai custard for our own little treat!

  14. Lizzy K says

    I saw this recipe and knew I needed to make it! I made it this morning for breakfast using farm fresh eggs and fresh jersey milk from our cow. I had read others trouble with the separated milk so I put the spices in he milk the night before and let it sit overnight in the refrigerator. This morning I heated the milk to a simmer and added in the molasses and sugar and baked it in a 9-13” pan. It turned out so great! Better than I expected! Our whole family loved it! It was a great way to use our gallon jug of blackstrap! Thank you for this recipe!

  15. Sophia says

    Can’t get rose petals where I am. Figured out why that milk needed to come off the stove ASAP after reaching boiling point.. didn’t look good after unintentionally leaving it on the boil for a couple of minutes longer.

    Yum :)

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