Even if you’re here visiting my blog for the very first time (hi!), even if you know nothing else about me, you’ve at the very least probably inferred that I seem to like the combination of cardamom and tea. And you’d be right! (You can read more about why here). Indeed, these spiced chai snickerdoodles get their flavor from cardamom and black tea powder.
A little cardamom goes a very long way, so be careful not to overdo it, lest your cookies go from fragrant to perfumey. I’ve included a lot less cardamom here than the amount of cinnamon you’d use in a classic snickerdoodle. But the black tea powder swoops in to give them that classic snickerdoodle patina. It also lends a nice bitter note—a welcome addition to a typically *sweet sweet sweet!* cookie.
The base snickerdoodle recipe here yields a chewy-crisp cookie. If you’ve always wanted to customize a baking recipe, but find the idea intimidating, snickerdoodles are a great starting point. You can add pretty much whatever spices you’d like to the sugar coating, and you can taste it as you go. Spices and powdered tea won’t affect the chemistry of the recipe, and it’s really all about flavor customization.
So feel free to experiment! This recipe’s dough includes some ground-up black tea, which you can leave in or omit. It won’t affect the texture of the dough one bit.
- anise cinnamon: Omit the black tea in the cookies and sugar coating. Replace the cardamom with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon and a small amount of ground anise seed. Add the anise seed about 1/4 teaspoon at a time, and taste the sugar mixture as you go. My preference for anise is never to add so much that it makes something taste like licorice. Instead, it should add an element that feels like an emotionally moving single note held on the violin. Or if you’re not a metaphor person, just taste as you go, and stop once you’re happy with it.
- masala chai: Leave the black tea in both the dough and sugar coating. Replace the cardamom with your favorite warming spices. Spice blends that work well with tea are perfect. Try this recipe from the chai box, featuring cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and fennel. Add about 1 to 2 teaspoons of ground spices at a time, and taste as you go. Use more sparingly than cinnamon, but more generously than straight-up cardamom—you’ll want to use different blends in different amounts.
- coriander cinnamon: Omit the black tea in the cookies and sugar coating. Replace the cardamom with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon and 2 teaspoons of ground coriander. My friend Rebecca says that coriander smells to her like Cap’n Crunch, which might be why I love using it in small amounts in sweets. If you add too much, it’ll taste perfumey. But if you add just a little, people will just be that little “ooh, these are so good! but what is that background note that reminds me of Saturday mornings??”
- plain old cinnamon: Omit the black tea in the cookies and sugar coating. Replace the cardamom with 2 tablespoons of cinnamon. It’s a classic for a reason!
a quick PSA about the phrase “chai spiced” and “chai tea”
Whenever someone says “chai spiced” or “chai tea,” I always think of Inigo Montoya:
“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
1) Chai simply means “tea,” and tea cannot be used to “spice” something (especially itself 🥴):
In Assyrian, Arabic, Hindi, and many other languages, “chai” just means tea, with or without spices. Calling something “chai” does not necessarily mean it will have spices in it, since it’s just the word for tea. And since you can’t really “spice” something with tea, “chai spiced” just doesn’t make sense when you know what the words actually mean. It’s like calling rice pilaf “chicken-spiced rice.” Or calling French onion soup “onion-spiced soup.” These things are not spices. They can be spiced, but they can’t do the spicing.
And it probably also goes without saying that “chai tea” makes even less sense, and literally just means “tea tea.” It’s like saying “When I was in Italy, I had so much caffè coffee” or “I love Spanish pan bread.” On the other hand, you could of course say “When I was in Italy, I had so much caffè latte” or “I love Spanish pan de barra,” just like you could say “I love masala chai” or “I love spiced chai,” because those additional words are actually specifying the kind of coffee/bread/tea you like. “I like coffee with milk,” “I like Spanish baguettes,” and “I like spiced tea.”
2) Furthermore, chai doesn’t necessarily include spices:
While chai literally means tea, it doesn’t necessarily mean “spiced tea.” Some folks add spices to it and some folks do not. For example, if you ask my grandmother for a cup of chai, she will most likely bring you a cup of plain black tea, maybe with some cardamom if she is using her favorite Persian blend. On the other hand, South Asian masala chai is tea (“chai”) with spices (“masala”), and can include a variety of different flavors (see my friend Izzah’s recipe for kashmiri chai and this super aromatic chai with lemongrass and ginger from Goya Journal).
Whether there are spices (and which spices are used, and even which kind of tea is used) entirely depends on who is making it, but one thing holds constant: “chai” simply means “tea,” and does not mean “spices.” Chai is black tea, it’s green tea, it’s spiced tea, it’s plain tea. It’s literally just a generic term for tea. So if you’re going to call something “chai” flavored, it should really have some actual tea in it.
How to coherently name things inspired by all things related to chai:
- If you flavor snickerdoodles with the kinds of spices you might find alongside tea, but with no actual tea, you do not end up with “chai spiced snickerdoodles”… you’ve just got “spiced snickerdoodles,” which happen to contain 0 chai.
- If you flavor your snickerdoodles with tea and spices, you’ve got something like “spiced chai snickerdoodles” or maybe “masala chai snickerdoodles” if they were inspired by a South Asian blend. Or simply “chai snickerdoodles” works great, as with this recipe (since chai may or may not contain spices).
- And if you flavor them with just tea and no spices, you could totally call them “chai snickerdoodles” or “tea snickerdoodles,” since the word “chai” does not mean spices, and is simply synonymous with “tea.” Will most people be like “where are all the spices?” after you call them “chai snickerdoodles” without including any spices? 100%! If you’re an insufferable know-it-all like me, just correct them. I’m told most people love being corrected, right?
- “Chai spiced snickerdoodles” doesn’t work for any of these, since you can’t spice something with tea. But having it in the title sure does help with SEO if you’re a food blogger, and leads to fewer conversations about language and culture. So I get it.
So to recap: chai = tea, chai ≠ spices, and “chai-spiced” and “chai tea” are both really awkward phrases when you know what the words mean. No shade if you’ve used these phrases without really thinking about it, but I think it’s always nice to know what the words we use mean.
The more you know! ✨🌈Print
- Prep Time: 20 minutes
- Cook Time: 12 minutes
- Total Time: 60 minutes
- Yield: 4 dozen cookies
for the cookie dough:
- 345g flour (2⅔ cups)
- 7g cream of tartar (1½ teaspoons)
- 3g baking soda (½ teaspoon)
- 227g unsalted butter (2 sticks), at room temperature
- 300g granulated sugar (1½ cups)
- 4g finely ground* black tea (from 2 bags)
- 6g salt (1 teaspoon)
- 100g eggs (2 large), at room temperature
- 10g vanilla extract (2 teaspoons)
- 60g granulated sugar (¼ cup)
- 5g ground cardamom (2 teaspoons)
- 8g finely ground black tea (from 4 bags)
- Sift together the flour, cream of tartar, and baking soda in a mixing bowl. Set aside.
- Place the butter, sugar, black tea, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment (or a large mixing bowl to use with hand-held beaters). Mix on medium-high speed for about 2 minutes, until it becomes noticeably lighter and fluffier.
- Add the eggs one at a time with the mixer running on medium, pausing to scrape down the sides between each one. Add the vanilla. Once it smooths out, stop the mixer.
- Scrape down the sides again, add the flour mixture, and mix on low speed, stopping once it comes together and there are no dry patches. Scrape the sides and bottom of the bowl and give it a couple folds to make sure it’s homogenous. Let it rest** in the fridge for 30 minutes, up to 48 hours.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F [180°C] while your dough chills, and line a few sheet pans with parchment.
- Mix together the sugar, cardamom, and black tea in a small mixing bowl.
- Scoop a 20g blob of cookie dough (1 heaping tablespoon), roll it around generously in the spiced sugar, roll it between your hands to make sure it adheres, roll it around in the sugar again, and roll it between your hands again.*** Move to the parchment-lined pan, and repeat with the remaining cookie dough. Leave 3 inches [7.5cm] gaps between them.
- Bake for about 12 minutes****, and slide the parchment out of the pans so they can cool on the parchment right on the counter.
* Use a coffee grinder or mortar and pestle to grind the tea. Feel free to use decaffeinated tea.
** If you’re in a rush, you can get away with skipping the rest, since chilling is not the primary goal of resting the dough here (they will still bake perfectly well without chilling). That being said, pretty much all cookie doughs benefit from resting. A refrigerated siesta allows the sugar and flour to hydrate, and results in very lovely (i.e., less grainy) texture. Thirty minutes is kind of a bare minimum, but if you’ve got time, feel free to let them rest even longer. Or if you absolutely must have at least a few snickerdoodles right away, try chilling at least half the dough to bake the next day, and see if you notice a difference.
*** At this point, you can place them on a parchment lined sheet pan (with just a tiny bit of room between each one), freeze the sheet pan, and then throw the frozen dough balls into a plastic bag in the freezer for longer term storage (if you’d like). You can bake right from frozen—just give them an extra minute or two.
**** Keep an eye on them. Twelve minutes in my calibrated oven works perfectly for cookies that are chewy in the center and crisp around the edges, but yours might differ. If you like crunchier cookies, go for another minute or two.
Thanks for the mention, Kathryn. And I love how you’ve broken down the meaning & naming of chai. These cookies sound and look amazing!
Thank *you* so much for your excellent chai recipe, Izzah!