In the Mix: Crossing the chai divide

People talk — and joke — a lot about pumpkin spice, but have you noticed chai spice showing up a-plenty, too, in recent years? It’s been a slow integration, this chai thing, but it now seems to be a part of nearly everything — from tea or coffee to desserts. Apparently, Oprah loves it! And it’s not just seasonal. Chai seems to be a year-round spice.

Chai most certainly isn’t new. But I remember when I discovered it….waaaaaaaaayyyyyyy back in the late ‘90s. A co-worker came in, eyes glowing, with a warm, spicy-smelling beverage in a to-go cup that she said was chai tea. She told me where to get it, and I went. I had my first chai tea — black tea with spices, lightly sweetened with cane sugar and mellowed with whole milk — and was impressed. Everyone should try a cup of real masala chai tea sometime, a blend of sweet wood-y spices like cinnamon, cardamom, anise, cloves, allspice, ginger, fennel, nutmeg and even black pepper. It’s a deeply settling drink, rich and almost dessert-like without having dessert. Soothing, too, it seems to comfort immediately. I was treated recently to a homemade chai tea mix (that includes dry milk) by my kitchen wizard friend, Anna, that I enjoy as a calming afternoon indulgence.

Over the years, chai has been on every coffeehouse menu. It’s been altered and adapted and rebooted into all formations of lattes, coffees, cocoas and mochas. Chai spice has found its way into our chocolate truffles and cheesecakes, cake cakes, pies and more.

Yet chai, with its sweet and somewhat heavy spice over- and undertones, is not everyone’s cup of tea. I have seen the spittle of hate fly just at the mention of chai (from my sister, among others), and I kind of get it. Like pumpkin spice, chai will overwhelm whatever it is a part of. It, in itself, is meant to be enjoyed as a rich, comforting drink or flavoring to whose its taste suits. I’m not really sure chai should be a flavor base for things like chocolate frosting.

That being said, here is AWS, launching a new feature on the blog, “In the Mix,” with a chai-flavored treat! I hope to do an occasional entry here that takes a look at primarily baking mixes — what they are and how well they work. Everyone uses mixes, and while I like to pride myself on being a from-scratch kinda gal, there is great benefit in some of these mix conveniences, as needed.

Does anyone “need” a Chaidoodle Cookie? Probably not, but then again, why not? The snickerdoodle is probably about my favorite cookie — for its name, its buttery, soft-to-chewy texture, and its flavorful vanilla-meets-cinnamon, sugar-cookie happiness.

For snickerdoodle lovers like myself, taking the cookie a spicy step further seems a natural progression. The empire of all baking goods, King Arthur Flour (www.kingarthurflour.com), who offers all sorts of tools, supplies and ingredients for the from-scratch baker, also sells a vast array of mixes — from scones to pizza dough — to make baking adventures a little more accessible. Among the newer offerings in their mix section is one for a Chaidoodle Cookie. I have not yet seen the mix in stores (though many of their mixes have made it to mainstream grocery shelves…my mom LOVES their lemon bar mix), but it can be ordered online.

A stick of softened butter and an egg are all that is needed for the mix, which includes a spicy cookie dough mix packet (this is where the chai is) and a cinnamon sugar coating for the cookies.

Just like snickerdoodles, one makes the soft sugar cookie dough, forms it into balls, then rolls the balls in the cinnamon-sugar mix…I confess here that I did a little of my own spin with the cinnamon-sugar, and I added a little of the Chai Spice blend (cinnamon, cardamom, allspice, anise, black pepper) I also purchased from King Arthur to really chai things up (sorry, Sis).

I wonder why I don’t make more cookies. Mix or not, you can stir them up fast, have a couple of cookie sheets going and have a good couple of dozen cookies in a half hour, not to mention the immediate transcending-all-bad-moods “smellification” that happens when baking cookies perfume the air. Making cookies from this mix was as easy and rewarding a process as any simple from-scratch recipe.

These spicy doodles really made fall land in my house. They are deliciously chai-full, but not too much, cinnamon-y with a little boost from the other spices. And a perfect, soft snickerdoodle texture.

I’d say that if you are a lover of snickerdoodles, and particularly fond of chai, this cookie mix should make it into your afternoon cookie-baking (and tea -taking) rotation.

How much dough: $5.95 for about 2 dozen cookies.
Cook/Baker level: Beginner and beyond.
Oven-worthy: Yes…preheat, please!


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