I have never been obsessed like some people are with pumpkin spiced lattes, pies, candles and other things of that nature. Don’t get me wrong; I love those flavors all year round, and pumpkin pie is always on my table for Thanksgiving. But for me, there is so much more that can be done with pumpkin desserts. I wanted to experiment with different types of pumpkin-based sweets instead of just the basic pie this year. So, I am going to teach you about Chai spice and how to use it in three different pumpkin desserts and a different take on a fall cake.
I find myself turning to Chai spices to warm me up on cool fall days. Chai spice is similar to pumpkin spice, but the addition of cardamom really makes it stand out in my book. I add star anise to my chai spice mix to create an even more complex flavor profile. When making my spice mixes, I tend to favor whole spices which I can toast and grind myself. I find they have a more robust flavor but ground spices will do for most recipes. I love having this mixture of spices on hand for tea, baking, roasted vegetables and anywhere else you use sweet warming spices. My mix below consists of cinnamon, ginger, clove, nutmeg, allspice, cardamom, star anise and black pepper. The amounts are preferential, but I generally start with 1 part cinnamon, 1/4 part black pepper and the rest is half a part.
I decided to make a different kind of cake for this fall season to pair with all of the many pumpkin experiments I was working on. This Chai Spiced Chocolate Stout Cake is a perfect pairing with a cup of tea in the morning or in place of the pumpkin bread that is popular right now. It can be made with any stout beer, and it utilizes Chai spices but any assortment of spices would be fine. It has a light texture and tons of flavor considering all of the molasses and if it starts to go stale, it makes some killer French toast!
Chai Spiced Chocolate Stout Cake
Scroll down for a printable version of this recipe
Makes 2 9” pans, 2 ¼ sheet trays, 24 cupcakes
Active time: 15 minutes
Bake time: 45 minutes
1 1/2 cups chocolate stout beer
3 teaspoons baking soda
3 Tablespoons fresh ginger, finely grated
1 1/2 cups molasses
1 1/2 cups granulated sugar
1 1/4 cups vegetable oil
5 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon cardamom
1 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon ground ginger
1 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon ground star anise
3 large eggs
1. Preheat the oven to 350°. Prepare your baking vessel of choice with pan spray.
2. Bring beer to a rolling boil. Put the baking soda into a large heat resistant bowl, and slowly pour in the boiling beer. It will bubble up. Add the ginger and mix. Set aside.
3. In a large mixing bowl, combine the molasses, sugar and vegetable oil. Add the ginger mixture, and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Set aside.
4. Combine the flour and all of the spices. Stir half of the dry mixture into the molasses ginger mixture using a rubber spatula. Add the other half once the first is fully incorporated. Mix well.
5. Add eggs 1 at a time after all of the flour is mixed in.
6. Pour into prepared pans and bake for 45 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean.
What I like about baking cakes in sheet trays is the fact that I can cut out shapes other than the standard triangle from a circular cake pan. Any scraps can then be dried out or crisped up to use as a topping or garnish for other dishes. Now that I had a base for my dessert, it's time to make the pumpkin portion.
I love experimenting in the kitchen. I totally understand that may be difficult for most people. Not knowing where to start can be challenging. But if you can understand the fundamentals, then the kitchen is your playground. In most cooking, you can get away with a pinch of this and a dash of that, quite literally you can make it up as you go and still have a perfectly edible meal. But in baking, there is a finesse to it that requires some amount of preciseness in order to achieve the same result. This experiment all started with a base of equal parts coconut milk and pumpkin puree: 1 can of each. I then went down the custard rabbit hole and thought of the many things I could make with this combination.
A custard is defined by a mixture of dairy, flavoring and thickened with egg. There are variations of custards where you can thicken with cornstarch or even set with gelatin, and they can be baked or cold. So, I set off to make three different variations. I started with making a pastry cream but instead of using whole milk, I used 2 cups of my coconut milk and pumpkin mixture.
Yield: 3 cups
Start to finish: 30 minutes
2 cups whole milk
1 teaspoon vanilla bean paste
4 egg yolks
2 tablespoons cornstarch
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 Tablespoons chai spice
Pinch of salt
1/2 stick unsalted butter
1. Combine the milk and vanilla bean paste in a heavy saucepan. Heat over medium heat until barely steaming.
2. Whisk together the egg yolks, cornstarch, sugar and salt in a medium mixing bowl.
3. Temper the warm milk mixture into egg mixture gradually while whisking constantly. Return the mixture back to the saucepan.
4. Simmer, whisking constantly, until thick and boiling. Remove from heat and strain mixture through a fine sieve.
5. Whisk in the butter until melted.
6. Transfer the pastry cream to a shallow dish and cover with plastic wrap that’s directly touching the custard to prevent a film from forming.
7. Allow the custard to chill completely before using.
You can eat this pastry cream as is, and it is delicious. Pastry cream is one of my favorite desserts, but I decided to take it even further. I steeped some gelatin in bourbon and added it to my pastry cream to set.
Once my gelatin pastry cream was cooled, I split it into 2 bowls and folded in whipped cream into one batch and whipped egg whites into another batch. The whipped cream was mousse like in texture, really light and airy with great pumpkin flavor. This mixture is called a diplomat cream.
The whipped egg whites’ batch of pastry cream had great structure and was perfect for piping. The texture was fluffy and melts in your mouth. This is called a chiboust cream.
The last thing I made with my coconut milk and pumpkin puree was a panna cotta. A panna cotta is just a milk-based gelatin set dessert. So I took my base, flavored it with my chai spice and sugar, then set it with gelatin.
If you have never handled gelatin before, it is actually quite simple. It needs to be steeped or dissolved in a liquid: usually 1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup of liquid, and it begins setting almost immediately. Once the gelatin has been dissolved, it can be added to the base. There is powdered gelatin and sheet gelatin. I prefer the powder, but a general rule of thumb is 1 Tablespoon will set about 2 cups of liquid, depending on your desired firmness and 4 sheets is equivalent to 1 Tablespoon of powder.
What is great about these desserts is you can serve them in individual serving glasses or ramekins, or even set on top of the cake!
There are so many things you can make out of just one simple pastry cream recipe, and there is so much I can discuss when it comes to baking and pastry. If you have any questions, feel free to comment below, and I'll get back to you. If you are interested in learning more dessert recipes, we have many baking Boot Camps coming up:
If you are not a confident baker but are in need of a pie for the holidays, we are offering our famous Apple Pie and classic Pumpkin Pie for Thanksgiving. Also new this year, every Saturday I am baking fresh pie for pick up at our Lincoln Square location. November’s pie of the month is Chocolate Bourbon Pecan pie and coming up in December I will be whipping up a Cranberry Eggnog Chiffon pie, which coincidently is a pastry cream base!