Unintentionally this post is perhaps more for my UK-based friends. Or really anyone whose summer is not quite up to scratch, weather-wise. Despite the assurances of nearly every weather pundit that we would be using parasols to defend our delicate sun-deprived skin, we are in fact using them as defenders against ghastly downpours. And in some parts of the UK (Wales particularly), the parasols are probably mini boats floating downstream and down streets, having been blown there by gale force winds. It has not been nice. Not at all. We in Scotland are better off than most but it is more early March than early June. Not in the least summery or barbequey. But what are you gonna do?
All of this rubbishy weather has really had me pining for exotic climes. As a Floridian at heart I really crave the sun on my skin and the feel of warm sand between my toes. At least for a few lousy weeks in the year. But this doesn’t seem very likely as I sit here typing IN A FLEECE.
It is too late for planning a properly foreign getaway but it is never too late to raid the spice cupboard. And that is where this recipe comes in.
Usually by this time of year I have left what little hot drinks that I drink behind in favour of iced beverages – green tea, homemade cordials, juices, plain water, the odd G&T or caiprinha . But, guided by some kind of internal weather-predicting mechanism, I recently found myself ogling different boxes of exotic tea blends. Normally I skip straight past this stuff as they never seem to deliver what is promised (‘fruit’ teas always taste of unsweetened blackcurrants and grass clippings), but I was drawn in by a sniff of masala chai.
Now I’m no rube, really. I know what masala chai is and have even had it properly made: boiled up whole spices, water, black tea, sugar and milk. But I’ve never bought it as tea bags. I’m quite sniffy about such things, dismissing them all as tea factory floor sweepings. But I slung some into my basket anyway. To my surprise and delight they made a damn fine mug of tea that warmed me up and, more crucially, cheered me up – as the wind threatened to ripe off our just-visible Victoria plums. So I stood, mug wrapped in my now only slightly frozen hand, imagining stepping out onto a warm terrace, overlooking a warm beach, that was lapped by warm waves…. And then the haar set in. Ach well. There’s always a spot of baking to warm me up.
These muffins are delicately spiced with extra cardamom, cinnamon and ginger. I also added in some pepper but that might be a step too punchy for most (add 1/2 teaspoon if you like of either black pepper or a quarter teaspoon of chilli pepper). If you don’t have any masala chai teabags you could make up the tea with whole spices, strain and soak the raisins. Here’s a link to an authentic looking masala chai recipe if you want to go this route. Just don’t let the tea get bitter.
Masala Chai Carrot Cake Muffins with Coconut Creme Fraiche Icing
A typical set of Indian chai (tea) spices used in an atypical way, these muffins fuse the smell of exotic adventures and home comforts in one delicious package. Soaking the raisins overnight in the masala chai adds extra depth, but flavour and moisture will be enhanced with just an hour in the chai bath. And, like all muffins, they are best enjoyed responsibly (ha!) and on the same day as they are baked. But, and this is a big but, the moisture from the carrots does help their keeping qualities, and I dare say they would be fine for another day or two without the help of an oven. Otherwise you can heat them up and revive them with a slab of dairy butter or a slather of almond butter (mmm). I think they would make a terrific breakfast muffin with a small pot of yogurt and a piece of fresh fruit, as well as a healthy dessert addition to a child’s lunchbox. Enough reading already, start baking!
50g (2 oz) raisins
2 masala chai teabags (Teapigs brand in the UK is excellent, as is Yogi tea)
255g (9 oz) refined spelt flour OR plain white flour OR gluten-free flour blend (like Dove’s)
2 tsps baking powder
½ tsp bicarbonate of soda (baking soda)
½ tsp fine salt
½ tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground cinnamon
1 heaped tsp ground ginger
2 eggs, beaten
100g coconut blossom (coconut palm) sugar OR light brown sugar
150g (5 oz) rapeseed oil
1 small ripe banana, mashed
200g finely grated carrots
200g (8 oz) crème fraiche or thick sour cream (I haven’t tried fat-free but it should be fine)
8 tbsp coconut milk powder OR 6 tbsp lightly toasted desiccated coconut
4 tbsp coconut blossom sugar OR muscovado/dark brown sugar
1 tsp vanilla powder/paste or real vanilla extract (try and use powder or paste)
Toasted coconut pieces to decorate
First of all you need to soak the raisins in tea. To do this either put the teabags and raisins in a small heatproof container (I used a Pyrex jug) and pour over about 110ml (4 oz) of boiling water and let this soak – covered – overnight. Or you can just as easily bring the water, teabags and raisins to a gentle boil and then turn off the heat to let cool to room temperature just before using. Either is fine. When you are ready to bake just drain the tea, keeping it to add in later. Set the raisins aside.
this is what’s inside the teapig silk bag
Preheat the oven to 190C/357F. When you are ready to get baking, prepare your muffin tin by either lining each hole with paper muffin cups or by spraying with non-stick oilspray. I cheated and bought some pretty and fashionable brown ‘café-style’ muffin papers, but it is easy enough to get a nice effect with squares of baking paper pressed into the tin holes. They won’t stay put properly until you start filling them but it will work, just press the fold as flat as you can against the sides into flush pleats. I did this technique for my courgette and parmesan mini frittatas if you want to see how I did it – I used wine glasses to help form the shapes! The size of the squares depends on the diameter of the tin holes but for 7 cm diameter (2 ¾ inch) holes I would cut them about 15 ½ cm (6 inches) square.
For the muffins, sift the dry ingredients – flour, baking powder and soda, salt and spices – into a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl beat together the egg, banana, sugar, 50 ml (2 oz) of the strained tea and the oil. If you are using gluten-free flour add in an extra 3 tbsp of water or tea. Pour the liquid ingredients into the dry and stir until just mixed before folding in the carrots and soaked raisins. The mixture will be lumpy – that’s fine.
Spoon the batter evenly into the tin holes. Bake at 190C (375F) for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops are well-risen and spring back when gently pressed.
While the muffins are baking mix together the icing ingredients and adjust the sweetness and coconutiness (is that a word?) to your liking. Allow the muffins to cool before
smearing carefully icing the cakes. Makes 12-14 standard sized muffins. These freeze brilliantly without the icing, and taste great without the icing too.