By MARK ROSARIO ’20
Hi, my name is Mark and I have almost no experience in baking.
Before this school year, the only thing I ever baked was a donut recipe for a vegan friend. I wasn’t ready to make donuts—not to mention vegan food—and needless to say, they came out with the texture and flavor of a cinderblock. After that, I never tried to bake again. But after a distant aunt gave my family a bunch of pots, pans, and cookbooks, I decided to try again. The column you’re reading is a journal of me discovering the joy of baking as a beginner. If you’re a baking buff, excuse my inexperience. And if you’re new to baking, don’t worry— I know as much as you do.
Since this is a seasonal thing, I logically decided to bake something fall-related for the autumn issue. I don’t think I’m ready for pumpkin pie just yet, so I wanted to test my skills with pumpkin-spiced cupcakes. But as soon as I suggested it to some friends, they overwhelmingly agreed that it was “basic” and I should try something “spicier”— metaphorically, of course. So I scoured the internet, found a recipe for chai-spiced cupcakes, and modified it to include ingredients that some of my friends’ families include in their own morning cup of chai.
The base of the recipe is from “Sally’s Baking Addiction.” Her articles on proper ways to mix and measure have been immensely helpful— baking is more like a chemistry lab than an art class, and my chemistry grades were lackluster to say the least. I needed help making sure my cupcakes didn’t taste too starchy or salty or buttery.
At the center of Sally’s recipe is her chai spice mix, which consists of 2 1/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 1/4 teaspoons ground ginger, 1 1/4 teaspoons ground cardamom, and 1/2 teaspoon allspice. The rest of her recipe is perfect, and I left it intact, but this spice mix is where I tried to, well, “spice” it up while staying true to the essence of chai. Just like coffee, each of the billions of cups of chai brewed every morning is tailored to its drinker’s tastes. Thus, there is no way to get a truly “authentic” flavor. So my version of “authenticity” is using the most popular spices: all the spices in the original spice mix, but with green (not black) cardamom, 1/2 teaspoon of fennel seeds, and 1/4 ground black pepper—be light with this—for an extra dash of spice.
Ingredients for my spice mix:
- 2 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
- 1 1/4 tsp ground ginger
- 1 1/4 ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp allspice
- 1/2 tsp fennel seeds
- 1/4 tsp ground black pepper
The ingredients and instructions for the batter and frosting can be found here: https://sallysbakingaddiction.com/chai-latte-cupcakes/.
Here is the picture of the finished cupcakes. You’ll notice that they are nowhere near as pretty as the ones that Sally made— this is because despite my wealth of pots and pans, I did not have any cupcake decorating tips. Instead, I filled a plastic bag with the buttercream frosting, cut the end of a corner, and my brother and I went wild decorating the cupcakes as ridiculously as possible.
I sold these cupcakes at a Library Council bake sale back in October, with mixed success. The first issue was getting people to buy them— these ambiguously beige-colored treats had to compete with bright orange pumpkin cookies and the classic chocolate and vanilla cupcakes. Some people who asked what flavor my cupcakes were had no idea what chai was. Others drank chai that very morning and wanted to see how my cupcakes compared. Most of those people said the flavor was beginning to develop, but that there was too much cinnamon. If I had to bake this again, I’d get use about 1 3/4 teaspoons of cinnamon instead of 2 1/2. But be warned— the other, stronger spices might take over if you reduce the cinnamon too much.
Overall, I would say that this project has been a success. As a beginner, success to me means that neither my cupcakes nor my house were burnt in the process. But on a deeper level, setting aside one day only for baking helped me loosen up after a long week. I don’t really believe in “meditation” or “mindfulness” by sitting alone in silence for an hour, but I think you can find the same kind of peace with just some sugar, flour, three hours, and some good music.
Fun fact: “Chai” is the word for “tea” in most of the languages spoken by people who drink it. That means that when you say “chai tea,” you’re just saying “tea tea,” and you sound a bit ridiculous to around 1.3 billion people.