Indian tea, spices set apple cake’s flavor apart

A flavor sensation that’s more than the sum of its parts comes from simmering apples with spicy and savory seasonings.

Like the chutney featured in this blog’s previous post, this cake fuses traditional Indian ingredients and, arguably, the Western world’s most iconic fruit. The combination of sweet apples, bitter tea and a pungent spice blend culminates in a cake that stands out from the crowd, particularly during this season of excessive desserts.

The bonus recipe within the recipe is for chai masala, which could be blended and packaged — or left whole, if transferred to a tea infuser — for a nifty bit of gift-giving from the kitchen. Loose-leaf tea mingled with the masala in reusable muslin tea bags, tied with pretty ribbons, would make for inexpensive stocking stuffers or cute companions to a unique mug or tea set.

Apple Masala Chai Cake

Tribune News Service photo

3/4 cup unsalted butter, at room temperature, cubed, plus more for pan

2 tablespoons loose-leaf Darjeeling or other black tea leaves

2 cups flour

2 teaspoons baking powder

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt

1 1/2 teaspoons chai masala (recipe follows, or purchase at Indian or international grocery stores)

2 large Fuji or Granny Smith apples, peeled, cored and diced

1 cup packed light-brown sugar

4 large eggs, at room temperature

Confectioners’ sugar, for topping

Heat oven to 350 F. Butter a 9-inch round baking pan and line bottom with parchment paper.

Start cake by grinding the tea leaves to a fine powder with a mortar and pestle or in a clean coffee grinder. In a large bowl, whisk ground tea, with the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and prepared chai masala. In a separate medium-sized bowl, toss the peeled and diced apples with 2 tablespoons of flour mixture to coat.

In bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment, cream the cubed butter and the brown sugar on medium-high speed until light and fluffy, for 2 to 3 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time, beating after each addition. Stop mixer, add flour mixture, and beat on low just until no streaks of flour are visible, for about 1 to 2 minutes. Remove bowl from mixer and fold in apples. (Alternatively, mix cake with a hand-held electric beater.)

Pour batter into prepared cake pan and level it with an offset spatula. Bake in preheated oven, rotating halfway through, until cake is golden and a skewer inserted into center comes out with some crumbs adhering, for about 45 minutes. Cool in pan on a wire rack, 5 minutes. Run a thin knife around inside of pan to release cake, then invert onto rack, remove parchment and cool completely.

Before serving, dust liberally with the confectioners’ sugar. Cake will keep for up to 3 days at room temperature, in an airtight container lined with a clean kitchen towel to absorb moisture.

Makes 8 to 9 servings.

CHAI MASALA: In a clean spice or coffee grinder, blend seeds from 10 green cardamom pods, seeds from 1 black cardamom pod, 6 black peppercorns, 4 whole cloves and 1 (2-inch-long) cinnamon stick until finely ground. Add 1 tablespoon ground ginger and mix. Makes about 2 tablespoons.

— Recipe from “Season: Big Flavors, Beautiful Food,” by Nik Sharma (Chronicle Books, $35).

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