Monday, September 19, 2011

Chai Tea Cupcakes with Honey Vanilla Bean Buttercream

I do some of my best thinking in the shower.  And I'd venture to guess that I'm not the only one out there who can say that- please tell me that I'm not.  Please?

Back when I was teaching, I used to walk into my teaching partner's classroom first thing in the morning and start off with "so, I was in the shower this morning and...".  He always smiled and waited for me to finish the "brilliant" idea I had to connect some social studies lesson of his with my science unit or some new way to teach our 7th graders to get along.  To this day, I'm still not sure if he was just humoring me or if my shower epiphanies really were useful.  I always think of that when my husband walks into the rooms and says "You know, I was thinking..." and I know a new house project is about to begin.

So you might be wondering what on earth my shower brilliance has to do with cupcakes.  Well, the idea for these cupcakes came to me while washing my hair one morning last week (of course!).

My birthday was Saturday and I was having some friends over and wanted to make cupcakes for the occasion.  I thought about what I wanted to make for weeks, even testing out some new recipes trying to come to some conclusion as to what flavor my guests would enjoy the most.  Then it hit me- it was MY birthday and I should make something I would enjoy and be happy to celebrate with.  One morning, as I was contemplating popping into Starbucks for my favorite chai tea while sudsing up with the shampoo, it occurred to me that those flavors I love about the tea- the cinnamon, cardomom, cloves, nutmeg and ginger- would all be great flavors in a cupcake.

So thanks to both Starbucks and Martha Stewart (whose recipe I used), I served these beautiful little cupcakes at my party and they were a big hit. The frosting was especially good, it tasted almost like a cream cheese frosting with the unexpected flavor of the honey.  I love tea with honey and thought it would be the perfect match for the tea-infused cupcake.  Thanks to my shower epiphany, I had a cupcake that both myself and my guests enjoyed.

Chai Tea cupcakes with Honey Vanilla Bean Buttercream
Both recipes slightly adapted from Martha Stewart's Cupcakes book
Makes about 12 cupcakes (I got 14 from one batch)

For the cupcakes:
3/4 cup milk
2 bags black tea (use a boldly flavored tea if you want it's flavor to come through, I actually used my favorite chai tea to bump up the spices a bit)
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup cake flour
1 1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground cardamom
pinch of ground cloves
pinch of freshly grated nutmeg
4 tbs softened butter
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs

For the frosting:
2 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup softened butter
2 tbs honey
seeds scraped from half a vanilla bean (I had one left over from making ice cream so I used it, you could add a tsp of vanilla extract if you didn't have the vanilla bean)

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Line cupcake tins with paper liners (these from Sur la Table were the best ones I've ever used- no sticking to the cupcakes or color fading).

In a small pot, bring the milk to a simmer over medium heat.  Remove from the heat and add the tea bags.  Let steep for 15 minutes then squeeze the bags over the milk and remove.  Let the milk cool completely.

In a bowl, whisk together the flours, baking powder and spices.  Set aside.  With a mixer, beat together the butter and sugar until they are light and fluffy.  Add the eggs one at a time until fully incorporated and scrape down the sides of the bowl.  Add the flour mixture in three batches, alternating with the milk until you have a smooth batter.  It may be necessary to scrape down the sides and bottom of the bowl to get all the ingredients fully mixed in.

Divide the batter evenly among the cupcake liners, filling them about 3/4 of the way.  Bake, rotating the pan halfway through, for about 15 minutes.  The cupcakes should be firm to the touch and golden grown and a toothpick inserted into the center of a cupcake should come out clean.  Let cool completely on a baking rack before frosting.

Make the frosting while the cupcakes cool.  In a bowl of a mixer, beat together all the ingredients (start on low so the powdered sugar doesn't fly everywhere!).  Once all the ingredients are mixed together and smooth, give the frosting a few more minutes on a medium high speed.  It will get very fluffy.  Frost the cupcakes as soon as they are ready.  You can refrigerate the frosting if you need to, just be sure to bring it back to room temperature before trying to use it.  A few minutes in the mixer again doesn't hurt either when trying to bring it back to life after being in the fridge.

Serve the cupcakes with a swirl of frosting.  To really gild the lily, you can sprinkle a bit of cinnamon sugar over the tops.

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