These days I’m living and breathing the book. I feel like it’s all I think about which most likely is driving my family crazy. This almost obsessive behavior comes from the desire to create a book that represents the best of me right now – the best recipes, photos and words I can possibly muster. In the past couple of days I’ve also come face to face with the reality of the weight of the story I’m telling behind the food. I often tell people that I feel as if I’m writing a book about marriage and cooking simultaneously. It’s one that I’m honored to tell and am eager to talk about how the simple act of sitting around the table with my husband has led us to the best season of our marriage in the 10 years since we said, “I do.”
Because I want these recipes to feel authentic and lived in we are pretty much devoting every meal to some sort of recipe testing. Apple cake for breakfast, roasted onions and brownies for lunch and an even more random potluck of dishes for dinner. On such a day a couple weeks ago, I sat at my computer adjusting 2 tablespoons to 3 and increasing the salt by just a touch when the rain pelting against the window set me shuddering. The gray skies demanded something warm and the 3 o’clock nudge for a bit of sweet hit me hard. A moment later the words caramel and chai danced around my head and suddenly I put down the demands of the book and blanketed the bottom of a sauce pan with sugar. While the sugar melted and crept into caramel I reached for cloves, cinnamon, a plump vanilla bean, peppercorns and fresh ginger. The house smelled comfortable and warm.
It should be noted that for the past two weeks this sweet and creamy blend of spices, milk and sugar has been in a jar in our fridge – replenished as soon as the previous batch runs out for the occasion when a bit of warmth and encouragement is needed in these busy days – so, pretty much everyday.
I find the sweetness here is perfect for an afternoon indulgence but it’s a little too sweet for the morning. Which makes it perfect for adding a bit of strong brewed coffee to the mix to cut the sweetness and add the caffeine needed to start the day. Add more milk if you think it too sweet and don’t care to add more caffeine All of the spices are at their best when toasted before adding to the milk.
1/2 cup sugar
4 cups milk
1 cinnamon stick
8 cardamom pods, smashed
8 whole cloves
1 vanilla bean, split
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
1 tablespoon loose black tea or the contents from 2 black tea bags.
In a wide saucepan add the 1/2 cup sugar in an even layer. Set the pan over medium high heat and allow the sugar to melt. If the edges start to caramelize carefully stir the sugar so it cooks evenly. Cook the sugar until deep amber in color and the caramel is smoking.
Remove the pan from the heat then carefully add the milk a little at a time to prevent it from boiling over. The caramel will seize but will melt once you bring the pan back to the heat.
Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, vanilla bean, peppercorns, sliced ginger and tea.
Bring the milk to a simmer, stirring to blend in the caramel. Turn off the heat and allow the spices to steep with the milk for 20 minutes.
Strain the chai then serve.
Any leftover chai can be stored, covered, in the refrigerator for 1 week.