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Vegan Chai Masala Cupcakes

Growing up, an oven was just a fantasy. My mom’s home in India like millions of other kitchens still is without an oven. In recent years, with more westernization, people have started installing convection ovens in their kitchens in India but still depend on their faithful gas cook top for majority of cooking. Relying on an oven to do their everyday cooking is not considered natural for a home cook in India. As my mom says, without fire, cooking feels incomplete and is just not right. The only thing close to an oven growing up was a humble toaster oven made by Sharp electronics. We still have this toaster that fits about 2 slices of bread. My American born kids love using it when they go visit Naani (aka maternal grandma) in Mumbai. As a teenager, I used my magenta Sharp toaster oven from toasting bread to many food experiments….yes, I tried my hand on baking a cake in this miniature gadget with success. My first exposure to baking was in the food lab during my under graduate years learning about the wonders of food science. I was fascinated by leavening, rising, dextrinization and other fun chemical changes that occur during baking. But baking always intimidated me as I saw it as a science experiment more than cooking…..and cooking equates to effortless joy for me.

I found the joy of baking when I came to USA in 1998. My house mate who eventually become my American sister loved to bake. She would bake cookies, muffins, savory dishes in the oven so effortlessly and I would watch her with envy across the kitchen island while I mix my spices, chop vegetables and scare her with my pressure cooking skills. Over time, we traded our skills and taught each other our passions. Jennifer taught me many baking tricks. I stressed her often when I would start baking, I would bake like I cook.........a little bit of this spice and a little bit of that ingredient and make changes as we go kinda thing!!

Once we graduated and left our blue home at the corner of Glenwood Ave in Cleveland, OH our suitcases exchanged treasures from our culture. Jennifer packed a pressure cooker in her moving boxes and I had collected many cookie sheets and pans that found its way to bags headed for Dallas, TX. I carried on with my baking mostly during holiday time and baked up a storm each year for my friends and family.

I continue to bake like I cook. The only way I can enjoy baking is not thinking of it as science but as an art like a food artist that adds different ingredients and bakes a new creation each time. Just as I can’t cook without my spice box, I experiment with a lot of spices when I bake and never hesitate to change a recipe and ingredients to make it my own. Spices not only adds flavors to baked goods but helps with stimulating many digestive enzymes in our gut. The aroma of cinnamon in cookies while baking in the oven is enough to increase salivation and appetite.

beSPICED's Chai Masala is a mixture of many exotic spices used in Indian cuisine. Every Indian mom has her own chai masala recipe and traditionally this spice blend is added to Indian black tea and milk to cook up a warm and sweet spiced chai….a separate blog post on this soon, I promise!!. I found that my heirloom chai masala spice blend is extremely versatile in many dessert recipes and holds beautifully in baked goods. Cardamom, often referred to as the queen of spices is the foundation of my mom’s secret Chai Masala blend. Cardamom has over 25 volatile compounds that offer many healing properties, from providing relief for stomach cramps, gas, bloating and other digestive problems. It is the third most expensive spice in the world (saffron being the first followed by vanilla) and is a native to the tropic regions of southern India. Apart from cardamom, beSPICED's Chai Masala contains many healing spices such as ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, black pepper, cloves….etc which are helpful in reducing kapha qualities (mucus or heavy qualities) when added to drinks or food. When added to baked goods, it may help with digestion of starch and gluten and calms our tummy by reducing bloating and gas.

When I first experimented with beSPICED's Chai Masala to a standard cake recipe by simply swapping the cinnamon with Chai Masala….it transformed the simple cake to something wow! Since then, I have added my Chai Masala to many cookies, cakes, brownies, apple crisp and other dessert recipes and never failed.

In August, I was so happy to have my third Ayurvedic wellness series at the Crow Collection of Asian Art, my favorite museum and a personal place of calm in Dallas. Since it was also my birthday month, I decided to bake for my lovely and loyal audience that decide to pause for an hour and come and spend time with me diving into the ocean of Ayurvedic wisdom. The vegan cupcakes were a big hit and was tested by over 50 people enjoying and not knowing it was vegan. I usually share that it is vegan after folks have eaten the cupcake. Somehow, the thought of something being vegan before enjoying the dish changes our perception. Once, I heard the comments such as yummy, so moist, perfectly spiced, not overly sweet reached my ears, I shared that the cupcakes were vegan, and had my chai masala spice in them. As promised, here is the simple recipe to create them right in your kitchen. The only ingredient that is required and may not be swapped is the beSPICED's Chai Masala. Remember, every chai masala blend is different and may result in different flavors.

Let the baking fun begin.

Preheat the oven to 350 F while you gather all the ingredients together. Makes life so much easier!

In a large bowl, mix all purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt and most importantly, beSPICED's Chai Masala. Set aside.

Make a flax egg by mixing 1 tablespoon flax meal and 3 tablespoon of lukewarm water in a small bowl and set aside for a couple of minutes.

Cream (although there is truly no actual cream) vegetable oil, organic cane sugar, brown sugar together. Add the flax egg, vanilla, almond milk (can substitute with soy if desired), apple cider vinegar and beat for a minute.

Gradually, add the dry ingredient mix(from step 2) to the mixer. Beat all the ingredients for another minute or so until smooth.

Fill the cupcake liners about 2/3 way full.

Place the cupcake pan in the oven and bake for about 14 minutes. Tip: Fill one of the empty cupcake slots with water. This helps add moisture to the cupcakes while they bake.

While the cupcakes bake, prep for making a yummy chai masala frosting, Delish!! You need room temperature vegan butter, powdered sugar, vanilla, beSPICED chai masala and almond milk.