Stocking Stuffer- Last Minute Edition- Chai Mix


Merry Almost Christmas!

Oh I love Christmas. I really do. The lights, the family, the warmth, the present buying. It’s all wonderful thing.

Christmas is also hectic. It’s running around, it’s trying to see everyone, and in my industry it’s Christmas baking for the masses and making cakes for Christmas parties, and this year there was also a huge winter wedding that required two wedding cakes just a couple days ago. Which has made this holiday season a little more crazy even than the usual.

So this is a bit last minute, which is too bad, not only because it’s acknowledging my total break in organization, but it’s also dissapointing because this is one of my favourite in this line of Stocking Stuffers that my amazing friend Jen and I did together.

I am not a coffee drinker. It kills my stomach and gives me terrible acid reflex, and it’s just generally a terrible idea for me. But when I was waking up at 4am to bake bread a few years ago I needed something that would give me a kick and wake me up that was just a bit more gentle on my belly, and that’s when I became obsessed with Chai.

It’s a potent mix of flavours, the cardamon meddling with the cinnamon , balancing off the dark black tea, it’s a truly wonderful thing. Traditionally it’s served very strong and steeped in milk, but I will happily drink it black, and even, often, with soy instead of cows milk- because my sensitive stomach doesn’t like dairy much either. It’s the perfect thing first thing in the morning for someone like me.

Once again Jen Cook has blown the packaging out of the water, these little bags are so charming and so easy I’m just blown away, as I have been every week as we’ve been making these stocking stuffers. So please, even if you’ve made all your Christmas presents already, make this as a gift to yourself, to keep you warm on cold mornings.


Chai Tea Mix

4 5” Cinnamon Sticks

40 Green Cardamon Pods

3tbsp Black Peppercorns

3tbsp Whole Cloves

1 cup Ceylon Tea

In a small pan over low-medium heat toast the spices seperately, until they are fragrant but not smoking. 

Pulse them in a spice grinder until they are just broken up but not ground finely. 

In a bowl mix the spices with the black tea and then evenly put them into four bags. 

Tape the bags shut and put them into the boxes and give them out at will- or keep all the chai for yourself!


Finnish Cardamon Bread

Sometimes in Vancouver it rains. Some might say that most of the time it rains but I’m feeling optimistic so I’m going to say sometimes.

Sometimes in Canada it gets bloody freezing. That doesn’t happen much in Vancity, but it has this deep humid chill that gets into your bones. It’s a wet cold that creeps into your shoes, and blows down your neck, and sneaks behind your ears.

Sometimes around here you wake up and think “I can’t possibly go outside, it is to cold, what can do to justify just not leaving the house.”

Sometimes, you need to stop feeling guilty and just make Finnish Cardamon Bread.

You need to have your whole house smell like rising bread, and you need to feel that comforting squish of yeasted dough between your fingers, and you need to sprinkle cardamon on it, which seems at first a wee bit crazy, but very quickly becomes the best idea you’ve had all day.

Sometimes you just need to let it rain, you need to make a strong cup of tea, and you need to eat Finnish cardamon bread.

And you need to be happy.

Finnish Cardamon Bread

Adapted from Pure Vegetarian By Lakshmi

2 cups Lukewarm water

1 1/2 tsp Dry Yeast

1 cup Sugar

1 tbsp Cardamon, ground

5-6 cups AP Flour

1 cup Butter

Brown sugar and cinnamon for sprinkling

In a small bowl mix together the water, yeast and a pinch of the sugar.

Let this get foamy on the top- that’s how you know your yeast is still alive. If after about 5 minutes you see no movement start over. Make sure the water is about the temperature of your hand- much hotter and you’ll kill it, much colder, and you’ll make it dormant.

In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook, OR in a food processor with the dough attachment, OR in a bowl with some serious arm muscles, put the remaining sugar, salt, cardamon and flour and mix in the yeast mixture.

Continue kneading the dough until it all comes together, and when you stretch a small piece of it, it gets thin enough to see light through.

Shape it into a ball, put back in the bowl and cover it. Wait until the dough has doubled in size, about an hour- an hour and a half.

Prepare a pan by covering it with parchment paper.

On a lightly floured surface roll out the dough into a large rectangle, about a foot and a half by 3/4 of a foot.

Sprinkle the brown sugar and cinnamon on top- use as much or as little as you want, I used about a cup and a half of sugar and a teaspoon of cinnamon.

Roll the dough a long the long end so that you have a long thin roll.

You can either cut them into rounds and place them on a pan, or you can cut slices almost all the way through, on a diagaonal. Then flip every other slice to the other side side so that going left right left right and you can see all the pretty slices.

This is easier to do on the pan then on a board and then have to move it.

Cover the dough with a tea towel and wait until it has doubled in size again, another hour or so.

Preheat the oven to 350F.

Bake your bread until it is golden brown.

Wait at least 15 minutes before getting into them! (Bread that is still hot is hard to digest!)

Cardamon Spiced Apricot Cake

At the very first restaurant I worked at I was incredibly lucky to have been taken under the wing of the chef, who was unbareably talented. I’m fairly certain it had nothing to do with any talent I might have had and more to do with my bubbly 17 year old personality and my eagerness, my excitement, my glee to work 15 hours a day for well below minimum wage, but whatever the reasoning I will always be grateful.

I worked at the “garde manger” section, the cold side, the appetizers station, chopping vegetables, making aoilis and, joyfully once a week, I worked with the only other women in the kitchen in pastries.

But most days I was generally doing bitch work, except when this kind chef would come over and ask me questions and make me think deep and hard about what I was doing, how it all tasted, and why things worked that did. It was during one of these conversations I learnt about the amazing combination of apricots with cardamon.

In fact, I had actually brought up the two together on a whim, and then he drilled me on my choice and made me very insecure, but when we made the cooked down the apricots, pushed them through a seive, sweetened them with honey and added some crushed cardamon pods I knew I was onto something. At that restaurant we smeared some of this jam on a plate and toped it with foie gras, but these days, simpler days, I just bake it all in a cake.

Cardamon Spiced Apricot Cake

1/2 cup Butter

2/3 cup Sugar

1/3 cup Honey

2 Eggs

1 1/2 cup AP Flour

1 tsp Cardamon

1/4 tsp Cinnamon

1/2 tsp Baking Powder

1/4 tsp Baking Soda

2/3 cup Milk

10 Apricots, cut in half lengthwise and then each half cut into 3rds lengthwise

Preheat the oven to 325F

Butter and flour an 8 inch round baking pan.

In a medium bowl sift together the dry ingredients

In a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment cream the butter, sugar and honey together until light and fluffy.

Add in the eggs one at a time beating well between each addition. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat for another minute.

Turn the mixer to the lowest setting and mix in one third of the dry ingredients. Stir until just combined then add half the milk. Continue like this until all ingredients are incorporated.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and smooth out with a spatula. Put the apricots on the top of the cake in a flower pattern- starting from the outside and working in.

Bake the cake until an inserted skewer comes out with only a few moist crumbs, about 35 minutes.

Allow to cool in the pan, carefully remove it, sprinkle with icing sugar and enjoy!