This truly autumnal cupcake is chocked full of warm spices like cinnamon, ginger, clove and cardamom. I topped it with a masala chai frosting to complement the spices in the cupcake.
Chai is the generic word for tea in many South Asian countries. So when you hear someone say "chai tea" they are actually saying "tea tea" without realizing it. In America chai usually means masala chai which is a brewed tea with spices, some kind of sweetener and milk.
For my frosting I began by making a custard. That may sound a bit strange, but it's something I've been trying out lately when making frosting. I steep warm milk with a healthy dose of my desired flavoring (like tea or coffee) to create a fragrant and flavorful brew. I combine it with egg yolks, sugar and cornstarch and cook it until it becomes slightly thickened. Then I beat the custard until it cools down before adding the butter.
I have used this custard method frosting with loose tea leaves, coffee beans or fresh herbs like mint and thyme. This time I took a short cut by using spiced black tea bags instead of using loose black tea leaves and whole spices and it worked pretty well.
The tea custard base makes for a very rich and silky buttercream frosting that has a lovely spicy tea flavor and isn't too sweet. This frosting might be a bit too soft to hold its shape after piping so if you're hoping to do that, you can always leave out the 2 tablespoons of honey and mix in 3 or 4 tablespoons (or more if you like) powdered sugar to help stiffen up the frosting.
(makes 24 cupcakes)
3 cups cake flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp baking soda
1 tsp ground cardamom
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/4 tsp salt
12 ounces (3 sticks) unsalted butter, softened at room temp
2 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 tsp pure vanilla extract
1 cup (8 fluid ounces) buttermilk
Preheat the oven to 350F. Line 24 (4 fluid ounce capacity) cupcake wells with paper cupcake liners.
Sift together cake flour, baking powder, baking soda, cardamom, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Set aside dry ingredients.
In the bowl of a stand mixer, cream butter and sugar until fluffy, about 2-3 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl occasionally. Mix in vanilla.
On low speed, alternately add the flour mixture and buttermilk to your batter, beginning and ending with the flour. (I do one-third flour, half buttermilk, one-third flour, half buttermilk, one-third flour.)
Fill each well approximately 2/3 full. Bake until a skewer inserted into the middle of a cupcake comes out clean, about 20 minutes. Cool in pan for 5 minutes then gently transfer cupcakes to a cooling rack. Cool completely before frosting.
Masala Chai Frosting
(makes enough to lightly frost 24 cupcakes)
3/4 cup whole milk
4 or 5 spiced black tea bags (I used bags of TAZO Organic Chai (Spiced Black Tea))
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2 tbsp cornstarch
6 ounces unsalted butter (1.5 sticks), at room temperature
2 tbsp honey
Combine the milk in a medium nonreactive saucepan and bring to a simmer over low heat. After the milk has come to a simmer, remove the saucepan from the heat. Add the tea bags to the milk. Cover the pot to keep the milk warm. After the tea bags have steeped for about 5 or 6 minutes, gently squeeze the tea bags to extract all the liquid. Discard tea bags.
Whisk together the yolks, sugar and cornstarch in a medium bowl.
Slowly whisk the still warm milk into the egg mixture then return the mixture to the saucepan and set over medium heat. Begin to whisk. Continue whisking for about 3 to 5 minutes or until it has the consistency of pudding. To test for doneness, coat the back of a spoon and draw a line with your finger down the middle of the custard. The custard is done if the line stays in place.
Strain the custard through a fine-meshed strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer. (Straining should catch any clumps of cooked eggs. You don't want that in your buttercream.)
Working with the paddle attachment of your stand mixer, beat the custard on medium speed until it is cool, about 4-5 minutes. Add the butter 2 tablespoons at a time, beating until smooth.
Once all the butter is in, beat in the buttercream on medium speed until it is thick and very smooth, about 5 minutes. If your buttercream looks curdled just keep beating and it will become smooth. Add the honey and beat for another minute.
You should have a smooth and silky buttercream. You can now frost your cooled cupcakes.