Chai custards sing of sweet spices: ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves. They're delicately sweet little pots of cream and eggs baked into lovely desserts. The first note that hits your tongue is the sweetness, followed by the milky notes of black tea when finally the soft whisper of spice rolls forward as you finish your bite. Serve them with a dollop of freshly whipped, unsweetened cream which helps to balance the natural sweetness of the custards.
What is Masala Chai?
Masala chai is a distinct blend of tea and spices that, when steeped in milk make Ginger, green cardamom and Assam tea form the distinct flavor and aroma of Masala Chai. To that fragrant blend, other spices are sometimes added depending on the region and personal preference. Star anise, whole cloves, cinnamon, black pepper, fennel seeds and rose petals are often added.
In Eastern medicine and folkloric traditions, these spices are considered warming spices; that is, they bring fire to the belly and help digestion. Their vibrant flavors and fire make this custard a perfect wintertime dessert when you want for something that's both soothing and nourishing, but warming, too.
Making Chai Custards
Gently steeping the tea and spices in milk and half-and-half infuses them with a delicate flavor, one that is softer and less pronounced than the Chai Tea Lattés you might buy at the local coffee shop. These custards offer a gentler and milder flavor without the tannic, bitter overtones of tea steeped too long.
Using whole spices will give these chai custards a beautiful flavor and aroma. While ground spices provide a more distinct flavor, they also run the risk of curdling your custards, and whole spices act more gently upon the milk and egg mixture that forms the base of a beautiful, and well-executed custard.
To bake these custards, you'll need to prepare a bain-marie. A bain-marie is a French technique that allows custards and other delicate foods to cook gently and evenly. You'll fill a baking dish half-way with hot water from your tap, and then set it in the warmth of a slow oven to preheat while you prepare the rest of the ingredients. And when your little cocottes or ramekins are filled, you'll gently place them into the hot water where they'll bake away quietly until they set. If you forget to prepare your bain-marie, and set the custards directly on the rack in your oven, they'll heat too quickly from the outside, and the eggs will curdle and break instead of forming a smoothy, creamy custard.
Masala Chai Custard
- Pour the milk and half-and-half into a medium sauce pan over medium-high heat until it begins to steam and tiny bubbles appear at the sides of the pan, about 180 F. Turn down the heat to medium-low, and stir in the tea and spices. Allow the tea and spices to steep in the hot milk for 20 minutes.
- Heat the oven to 325 F, and fill a baking dish half-way with hot water. Place the baking dish in the oven.
- Break the eggs into a medium-sized mixing bowl, and add the jaggery. Whisk them together until the eggs look light and fluffy.
- Strain the spiced-infused milk through a fine-mesh sieve and into a pitcher or mixing bowl with a spout.
- Pour the milk into the egg and sugar mixture a little bit at a time, while whisking thoroughly, until you've added all the milk. Strain the mixture once more through a fine-mesh sieve, and pour it into ramekins.
- Place the filled ramekins into the baking dish in the oven, and bake the custards about 30 minutes, or until their centers wobble ever so gently when you jostle them.
- Allow the custards to cool to room temperature, and then top with whipped cream. Alternatively, you can store the custards in the fridge up to one day before serving.
What is jaggery?
Jaggery is a traditional, unrefined cane sugar that, unlike white sugar, retains nutritive qualities of the sugarcane. Jaggery contains manganese, iron, magnesium and potassium. Jaggery is traditionally used to sweeten chai, as well as other foods. It has a rich sweetness with hints of molasses, and a little bit is all you need to sweeten a dish. You can find organic online jaggery here.