Inhale. Allow scents of cinnamon, ginger, black pepper and cardamom to infiltrate your senses. Warmth and comfort coarse through your veins as you snuggle deeper under a soft blanket and anticipate the first taste. Outside, the weather is frigid – perfect for the imminent chai. But a steaming pot of tea isn’t what you smell.
It’s the oven.
Unconventional, but no less satisfying, baking with loose-leaf tea is a way to have your brew and eat it, too. All the nourishing properties of tea can be obtained by adding it to food.
Fermented tea leaves are included in salads at many Asian-fusion restaurants these days, creating somewhat of a probiotic mélange out of such a staple starter. Earl Grey-infused biscuits, found at most gourmet grocery stores, make a fitting and antioxidant-packed addition to any snack-time affair.
Apart from the health benefits you’ve come to expect from a cup of tea, the diverse flavors that accompany each variety add delicious new dimensions to cooking. Green teas can range from light and floral (jasmine) to grassy (sencha) and even metallic (gunpowder). Black and oolong teas are richer and earthier, with smoky undertones accented by notes of dried fruit. Black currant tea is an oft-seen combination for this exact reason, as is the orange-citrus-infused Lady Grey blend. Rooibos, a reddish and decaffeinated variety, boasts a nectarlike quality and works well with African spices. White tea, the most delicate, smells like fresh linen and easily takes on more assertive flavors. And herbal tea, of which the combinations are infinite, can be fruity, floral, pungent or earthy.
This time of year, warming spices are what we crave, but they often come in the form of indulgent confections loaded with sugar and unnecessary calories. Adding tea to your favorite holiday baked goods is a great way to get the flavors you love with more healthful consequences.
In the following recipe, chai tea livens up a batch of whole-wheat apple spice muffins for a breakfast or snack with benefits.
Sarah Manning is a Los Altos High School graduate who blogs weekly about her culinary adventures. To read her food blog, visit www.thechocolatefigSF.com.
Whole-Wheat Chai Apple Spice Muffins
• 1 cup whole-wheat flour
• 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
• 1/4 cup milled flaxseed
• 1 teaspoon baking powder
• 1 teaspoon baking soda
• 1/4 teaspoon salt
• 1 teaspoon cinnamon
• 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
• 1/2 teaspoon cloves
• 1/2 teaspoon allspice
• 1/2 cup vegetable oil
• 1 cup dark-brown sugar, packed and divided
• 1 large egg, lightly beaten
• 1/2 cup brewed chai tea
• 1/2 cup applesauce
• 2 large apples, peeled, cored and coarsely chopped
Preheat oven to 450 F. Grease 12 muffin cups and set aside.
Mix together flours, flaxseed, baking powder, baking soda, salt and spices and set aside. In separate bowl, whisk oil and 3/4 cup of brown sugar until emulsified. Add egg and mix well. Whisk in tea and applesauce. Stir in dry ingredients and fold in apple chunks.
Divide batter evenly among prepared muffin cups, mounding slightly above edge. Sprinkle remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar on top.
Bake for 10 minutes, then turn heat down to 400 F and bake additional 5-10 minutes, or until toothpick inserted in center of muffin comes out clean.
Cool muffins for 5 minutes in tin, then turn them out onto wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 1 dozen.