Soft, tender, and sticky rolls, packed with cinnamon, cardamom and ginger – all the delicious flavours of chai.
This Christmas morning we woke up in the desert, in the farthest flung corner of western Rajasthan. The sky was cloudless, the air bright and crisp. Morning dew had settled over the blankets, the only thing separating us and our camp on the sand from the biting cold of the night. With the moon still clear in the sky, and the sun not yet up, the only sounds were the occasional bellow of a camel, and the gentle hushed busyness of the camel drivers waking up the camp. From under the covers we braved the fresh dawn air, and slipped across the chilly sands to warm our toes by the first flames of a fire. Small metal cups of steaming hot chai were placed into our hands. Wrapping our chilled fingers around the cups, we have rarely been so grateful for tea.
Before dawn on New Year’s Eve, Agra. Bleurry eyed we pulled ourself from sleep to go down to watch the final sunrise of the year over the Taj Mahal. The streets strangely empty, no rickshaws at this time, no persistent, insistent hawkers. Just the call of the Chai-Wallah. A call it is impossible to resist. We watched as he brewed up the chai in a make-shift kitchen on a wooden cart. The process was a skill, an art. Little pots opened, spices flung in, ginger sliced on a cracked chopping board, cardamom pods crushed with the bruised wooden handle of a knife. A long, slurping taste from a teaspoon, then, in a swift, unconsidered motion, more spices. The chai bubbling away at a furious boil, then poured from a height over a sieve into glass cups. Chai drank around a tiny fire, squeezed onto a roughly fashioned bench with rickshaw drivers about to begin their day on the dusty, crowded streets.
We spent our Christmas and New Year in India. While we were there I fell completely in love with chai. Not the chai flavoured drink you get from Starbucks, but proper, freshly brewed chai. Milky, heady, rich with spices. Chai from enormous chipped mugs over welcome hotel breakfasts. Chai at the roadside, still grainy with spices. Chai poured from dented metal canisters, sipped on trains from tiny blue ‘Indian Railways’ paper cups, the taste of anticipation and adventure.
Now, back in Hong Kong, I miss chai, or masala tea, all the time. I’ve never been a hot drink person, and this was the first hot drink I found myself craving on the morning. Keen to get to breakfast, not for the food, but for a steaming, milky cup of chai.
The flavours were, of course, just crying out to be baked with. This is the first, although I strongly suspect not the last, recipe of mine you’ll see with a strong chai influence.
These chai spiced cinnamon rolls are delicious. They’re soft and tender, and packed full of gooey brown sugar and spices. As they bake they fill the whole house with the smell of chai. The warmth of ginger and cinnamon, the rich, full bodied exotic luxury of cardamom. Proper chai will be packed with a wide variety of spices, depending on the region and, indeed, the chai wallah. Cloves, black pepper, fresh ginger, star anise, honey. I’ve kept my spice mix simple. For me its cardamom thats the stand out ingredient. Its that sweet, deep flavour that is the taste of chai for me.
I love this recipe for cinnamon rolls. It requires only one rise, and minimal kneading, making the process quick and incredible simple. The only real skill required is a little bit of patience.
There is something incredibly satisfying about making cinnamon rolls. Something about rolling up the dough around the sugar and spices. Packing the neat spirals into the pan, watching them rise. Then, when they’re cooked, pulling the still-warm dough out of its spiral, biting into a long, sticky rope of spiced, sugary bread. Delicious.
– I’ve used plain flour, rather than bread flour here, as the finer structure gives the buns a more tender texture.
– Watch your bake time carefully and be careful not to over bake. Over baking will lead to dry buns.
- 345g plain flour
- 36g white caster sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 x 7g sachet of dried instant yeast
- 120ml water
- 60ml milk
- 40g unsalted butter
- 1 large egg
- --- For the filling
- 100g light muscavado sugar
- 3 teaspoons of cinnamon
- Seeds of 4 crushed cardamom pods or ½ teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 50g butter, melted
- ---- for the icing
- 100g icing sugar, sifted
- extra ground cinnamon, to sprinkle
- Set aside around 60g of the flour.
- In a large bowl, mix together the remaining flour, sugar, salt and yeast.
- Heat the butter, milk and water together in a pan, until the butter is just melted. Leave to stand and cool for about 15 minutes, until it feels warm, but not piping hot to the touch.
- Mix the warm butter mixture into the dry ingredients. Crack in the egg, and mix with your hands to form a dough. Add in as much of the reserved flour as you need to make an elastic dough. You may not need to use it all, I only needed about 30g.
- Turn out onto a floured surface and knead for about five minutes.
- Place in a light greased bowl, and leave to rest for about 10 minutes. This lets the gluten rest, and makes it easier to roll out.
- Meanwhile, prepare your filling. Melt the butter until just melted. In a bowl, mix together the sugar, cinnamon, ginger and cardamom.
- On a floured surface, roll the dough onto into a rectangle 14″x8″. Spread over the melted butter, followed by the sugar and spice mixture. With the long side, roll the dough up tightly to form a long sausage. Cut into rounds and pack into a lightly greased 9 x 13 inch rectangular tin.
- Cover with cling film or a damp clean tea towel and leave to rise in a warm place for around 1 hour to 90 minutes. Preheat your oven to 375F/190C.
- Bake for 25 – 30 minutes until lightly browned.
- Cool, then drizzle with icing. To make the icing, sift the icing sugar into a bowl. Add water, a few drops at a time, until you have got a thick but pourable icing. Drizzle over the rolls, then dust with a little more ground cinnamon.