The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Masala Chai (Mixed-Spice Tea) Sourdough Boule

bakingbadly's picture

Masala Chai (Mixed-Spice Tea) Sourdough Boule

For weeks I ventured into the herbal and spicy world of Southeast Asia. Cambodian mint, Thai basil, black and white peppercorns, cassia, cardamom, ginger, turmeric, galangal, lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, star anise, and so on...

For days I spent fine-tuning an Indian beverage called masala chai---a brew consisting of black tea, milk, sugar, and an assortment of spices and herbs.


Over the course of a month, I visited four separate Indian restaurants to order one thing: masala chai. Yes, I had other Indian dishes but my only concern was to imprint the flavours of the said beverage into my memory.

(Off tangent story: As a Canadian who's fond of Italian cuisine, I'm not too familiar with Indian food, and during my first visit to an Indian restaurant in Cambodia I requested "spicy" rather than "non-spicy"---BIG mistake!)

After taste-testing four different variations, I noticed that each masala chai possessed a few common traits: they were faintly to mildly sweet, fragrant of spices (namely cinnamon), and induced the sensation of burning warmth (not chili hotness) in the back of the throat and around the mouth. 


My version of masala chai was an adaptation of this photo-based recipe.

Through trial and error I learnt that 1) prolonged boiling and simmering of tea leaves results in sharp bitterness and astringency; 2) excessive amounts of ginger irritates the throat, which may incite bouts of coughing; 3) too much water dilutes the flavour; 4) milk alone cannot counterbalance the bitterness of black tea.


While kneading by hand, I found myself questioning the consistency of the dough.

"Why isn't it coming together!" I exclaimed

Then, my intuition alerted me to my mistake. Somehow, I ommitted the salt from my written recipe, as well as the dough. This negligent error was amended by adding a spoonful of salt---and just like that, the dough pulled itself inwards, tightening into a sticky, wet blob.


Enriched or sweetened dough aren't typically baked in a steamed oven, but I wanted to observe its effects. So what happened? Well, the crust was paler and thicker than expected, and it didn't set until much later into the bake.


For those of you who can instantly "read" the flesh of a loaf, you may notice that the pores are oddly arranged---blotches of open and closed crumb. During final shaping, I accidentally disfigured my batard and then hastily shaped the dough into a boule.

The above was the result. 

Flavour-wise, the bread was rather bland (due to a lack of salt), harboring a hint of sweetness and butteriness, accompanied by a faint tang. Interestingly, a very subtle cooling / numbing sensation was felt in the back of my throat while eating the loaf. Additionally, the crust and crumb wafted a distinct and pleasant smell of cloves and cinnamon.

If you're interested, you may find my recipe below:

White Sourdough Starter:

  • White sourdough starter, 60% hydration [13 g]
  • Mineral water [149 g]
  • Type 55 French flour [259 g]


  • Unbleached all-purpose flour [526 g]
  • Masala chai, Iced, Strained (variation of this recipe) [361 g]

Final Dough:

  • White sourdough starter [372 g]
  • Soaker [801 g]
  • Unsalted butter [60 g]
  • Sea salt [7 g] (increasing salt amount is highly recommended)
  1. Mix starter ingredients; rest starter at above room temperature for approx. 12 hours
  2. Prepare and chill masala chai; when cool, add ice cubes, wait 10 to 20 minutes, and strain masala chai
  3. Mix soaker ingredients; chill soaker for approx. 12 hours
  4. After 12 hours, briefly mix starter and soaker until dough forms
  5. French knead dough for 10 minutes; add salt
  6. French knead dough for 20 minutes; add unsalted butter
  7. French knead dough for 15 minutes or until medium gluten development
  8. Shape (wet, sticky) dough into rough ball and place into oiled bowl
  9. Bulk ferment (rest) dough at above room temperature for 2 hours or until double
  10. Shape deflated dough into ball (add flour as needed) and place back into oiled bowl
  11. Bench rest at above room temperature for 20 minutes to relax gluten
  12. Shape dough into ball (add flour as needed), place onto parchment paper, wrap with flour-dusted cloth
  13. Proof (rest) dough at above room temperature for 2 hours or until double (perform "poke test" every 30 minutes to prevent overproofing)
  14. Preheat oven to 220C / 428F (convection mode off) for 1 hour, with steam (optional)
  15. Lightly dust dough with flour and score / slash dough
  16. Bake dough at 220C / 392F (convection mode off) for 10 minutes, with steam (optional)
  17. Bake dough at 200C / 392F (convection mode on) for 75 minutes, without steam
  18. Rotate dough every 15 minutes to ensure even heat distribution
  19. Cool loaf for at least 24 hours to develop flavour

 Thanks for reading. Best wishes to all and have a happy baking. :)


dabrownman's picture

3/4th of the chai I have had is not very good in my book but some are great.  We like Indian Marsalas around here and the link you posted for the chai  sounds like it would be a good tasting one. I'm surprised more of it dodn't come through in the bread.

The numbing in the back of the throat, along with the lips, tongue and mouth is something we love in Szechuan food.   I bought a special 'Hot and Numbing Powder' made from a variety of hot chilies, white pepper, ginger and Szechuan pepper to put in some bread bake but haven't gotten around to it.   Just want to see if the bread would numb the mouth.   But, it is sure is good in beef, pork, chicken and veggies chows (Chineese for stir fry) with some 5 spice powder too. 

I think your bread came out very nice looking on the inside and outside.  I like the crumb and your version is picture perfect for the irregular holes theorists :-)  With 1% salt it is bound to be bland.  Next time this happens and it will if you are like me, since you have a lower hydration dough, just disolve the salt in a little water and incorporate it into the dough by squishing it through your fingers - no worries if you remember the salt eventually - while in the kneading process.  I only use 1.5% salt to total flour weight anyway and add it to the autolyse now so I don't forget it.  I can tell any difference in the bread if the salt is in the autolyse or not.

We love the French slap and folds to replace kneading but 45 minutes for a 66.5% hydration dough would have been excessive if the salt was in it.  10 minutes should have been plenty otherwise, followed by a couple S& F's on 15 minute intervals to strenthen the dough further if needed. 

The video you posted for French slap and folds is the same one I learned it from!  I ti is a great technique for higher hydraation dough.  Isn't the Internet great?

Always nice to see your bakes Zita!  Happy Baking!


bakingbadly's picture

:) Oh neat! That's a great way of incorporating salt into dough. Thanks for the suggestion!

Truth be told, I didn't know how much salt was going into the dough, at least in terms baker's percentage. I weighed out 7 grams of salt on my digital scale, then dispersed it onto my dough, hoping it'd be enough... Of course, it wasn't. Lesson: Don't be so hasty. 

I didn't expect to knead the dough for a total of 45 minutes, and I suspect the prolonged kneading had something to do with my starter. Even at 60% hydration, it wasn't firm and behaved more like a thin, pourable batter than a dough. That's when I learnt that my flour, type 55 French flour to be precise, can be easily broken down by my starter. Further, I opted to French knead the dough rather than S&F because I wanted to hasten gluten development. I was trying to minimize the tang in my dough and felt it was necessary to reduce the time the dough spent fermenting. In the end the tang was faint, which was what I was aiming for.

Always a pleasure reading your comments, DA, and hope you have a happy baking.


Alvaremj's picture

Looks good!

I just recently made a Chai spiced bread that came out pretty good. I added the spice mix directly to the dough water at 1% by weight. The flavor came through in the bread and wasn't overpowering. I backed off on the powdered ginger in the spice mix so I didn't get the back of the mouth burning. 


bakingbadly's picture

Hmm, perhaps I should do a comparison test. When preparing a masala chai loaf, is it better to separately incorporate the black tea, milk, water, and spice mix into the dough? Or with the cooled masala chai?

Thanks for commenting, J. You've sparked a few ideas in my head. :)


Grumio's picture

I think you will get better results & have more control over the different masala chai ingredients by incorporating them separately. The ground cinnamon, cloves & cardamom (+ black pepper & dried ginger instead of the fresh) could be added directly to the flour for the soaker, but you'd probably get a good deal more bang for your buck by gently simmering them in the butter for a minute or two (then letting the spice-infused butter cool). You could also simmer the whole hard spices in the butter; that would give a more subtle infusion. A lot of the flavor compounds in hard spices are oil-based & thus don't extract very well into water. Heating whole spices in oil at the beginning of cooking & powdered spices (briefly - they burn easily) later in cooking are standard moves in Indian cooking for this reason; it's also the reason for boiling the spices with the milk in masala chai recipes - the fat in the milk helps with the infusion of the spice flavors.

Another great solvent for spice compounds is - BOOZE! Ethanol is a terrific solvent. You could steep your crushed (not powdered) hard spices in, say, an ounce or two of vodka for a day or two, strain it & add the spiced voddy with the other liquid ingredients. This is a terrific way to get spice flavors into sorbet, btw. I don't think I've ever put spirits into bread dough before, though, & don't know what sort of effect it might have. I have seen liqueur in bread recipes before, though; presumably it's doable.

Finally, regarding your chai recipe, try withholding the tea until the very end of the process, ie, simmer your spices & water & milk in whatever way it calls for, then turn off the heat, add the black tea, steep for 4-5 minutes, then strain it. Boiling the tea as described in that recipe sounds ghastly. 

bakingbadly's picture

Thank you for this informative post! 

If I were to re-do the masala chai loaf, I'd rather not add the spices and herbs directly to the flour / dough. If I'm not mistaken, yeast and bacteria are sensitive to spices or herbs, hindering their growth when used large amounts. I prefer incorporating the spices and herbs into either milk or butter, simmering it, then straining it. (This techniques also reduces the amount of specks in the dough.)

Spiced booze? Very interesting. I know homemade vanilla extract can be made by submerging vanilla bean pods in vodka for several weeks, months even. Regardless, I think I'll give that a try and produce my very own "mixed-spice extract".

I know... I thought it was absurd when the recipe instructed to boil the black tea for a prolonged period. Apparently, this technique is common in India when preparing masala chai. They use a specific kind of loose black tea that can withstand boiling temperatures. 

Anyway, thanks again for your post. It has put in the path towards better tea, better flavour extracts, and of course better bread.





varda's picture

Zita, Very good looking bread.  In fact I'm green with envy (or perhaps a muted shade of cinnamon) for your journey through spice world.    Great work!  -Varda

bakingbadly's picture

Thank you for the compliments, Varda. Since many different types of spices and herbs are grown here, they're unbelievably aromatic (if kept well). And it'd be a shame to neglect them.

Wishing you the best,


Franko's picture

Hi Zita,

I quite like the look of your bread, crust and crumb both. The crust has great colour, with some nice blistering, and the scoring is attractive. The crumb looks fine to me with a good variety of cell sizes and nothing odd about the arrangement at all. It just looks like a nice moist crumb that would have a good mouth-feel and be very pleasant to eat. The flavour combination is probably more than I'd venture for myself but vive la différence! I'm pretty conservative when it comes to bread and still getting used to the flavour of breads with caraway. Still, just from your loaf's appearance alone I wouldn't say no if you offered me a slice, it looks that appealing to me.

Great stuff Zita, I'm enjoying reading your blog and it's chronicle of your steady progress in learning to make real bread.

All the best,



bakingbadly's picture

Thank you for kind compliments, Franko. Much appreciated. :)

Perhaps I'm being paranoid, but I thought the crumb structure of my loaf was a bit odd. The gaps are much more irregular than what I'm used to seeing in my loaves, and I figured it was the result of how I shaped the dough. (I may be mistaken on that one.)

I know I'm experimental with my breads. And I know bread purists / traditionalists will detest what I craft. But I enjoy exploring and seeking unique flavour combinations... There's just so many things you can do with bread, and I can't help but be curious and try new things.

Cheers and have a jolly baking,


Janetcook's picture

Hi Zita,

Love your writing.  What detail of searching for just the right combination of spices.  Puts me to shame because, when I make our chai loaf, I buy the chai ready made at the grocery store so all I have to do is pour it into the dough :-)

I like the scoring on your loaf.  Glad you remembered to toss in the salt.  I leave mine in a small bowl right next to my mixer....helps me to remember :-)

Thanks for the post.

Take Care,


bakingbadly's picture

Thank you, Janet! It's a great a feeling to know that somebody enjoys reading my posts. :)

Balancing the flavours of mixed spices and herbs is a skill that may take years to master. Despite spending days trying to perfect my masala chai, I wasn't able to achieve what I wanted. To complicate matters, each leaf, pod, and seed of an herb or spice may differ from one another in potency, which makes consistency a problem. Having said that, I understand if you prefer to buy pre-made spice mixes or chai.

Best wishes,



pepperhead212's picture

I'll definitely have to try this, as is, first, then with my chai mix.  Being a tea addict (my number one way of hydrating myself), I sometimes make some chai, just for a change of pace, and my favorite spice mixes I have come up with all had a generous amount of black pepper in them.  And my favorite also has not just fresh ginger, but also powdered - seems better than with just one or the other.  I tried one with black cardamom, one with black and green, but stuck on the green, as the smokiness of the black didn't fit with the sweet tea drink, for me at least.  I have tried versions with a couple points of star anise that were really good, but probably not for bread.  Like you, I don't grind up the spices - too hard to strain out.  But then, there's no bad way to make chai, once you've tweaked it to your own taste.


P.S.  I'm going down now to refresh my firm levain to make this! 


bakingbadly's picture

My masala chai was far from perfect. It contained freshly chopped ginger and peppermint, as well as freshly (lightly) ground Chinese cinnamon (i.e., cassia), cloves, black cardamom, and black peppercorns. With exception to the cloves, all of the herbs / spices mentioned were produced here in Cambodia.

I read that green cardamom is generally preferred over black cardamom when used in masala chai. But it may be a totally different ball game when used in breads. Nonetheless, I would like to get my hands on green cardamom and experiement with it.

Best of luck on your chai bread. And if you have the time, tell me how it turns out. I'd love to hear about it. :)


Mebake's picture

You had me laughing on the Spicy choice you took in an Indian restaurant! :)

Nice, really nice, but why would you choose to add masala chai?, while there are numerous other fine ingredients that lend themselves very well to sourdough breads? don't get me wrong Zita, i admire your presuit of new flavors in bread, but i think that it is best to work your way from simple basic ingredients to really complex ones such as the ones you display here. I have a hunch, that if you adhere to basic recipes at first and progress slowly into the complexities you seek, you will be one of the best amongst us to achieve that. 

All the best wishes,

bakingbadly's picture

You speak the truth, Khalid.

I know I must get back to the basics and work my way up. I know it'll improve my skills as a baker. But the problem is, I keep giving in to my temptations. Typically, I only have enough time to bake once a week, and prior to that I encounter too many interesting things. I can't help but wonder, how will bread taste with that ingredient?

But why masala chai? Just curiosity. I happen to enjoy the drink and wanted to see if it could be combined with sourdough. (The answer is yes, and the overall flavour isn't too shabby.)

Thank you for your honest feedback. It's individuals such as yourself that pushes me to do better.

Take care and all the best,



isand66's picture

Zita, sorry for the delayed comments.  I had started writing you yesterday but I hit the wrong button on my Ipad and it didn't go through!  Anyway, I admire your experimentation and willingness to try new flavor profiles.  It looks like it paid off this time adn you have a nice crust and open crumb.  I am not a huge Indian food aficionado, but I see nothing wrong with trying to incorporate something you enjoy eating or drinking into your baking.  Sometimes it works, sometimes you gain valuable experience for the next creation.  I have ommitted the salt in the past and can attest to how awful the bread tastes without it so it's a good thing you caught yourself.

I look forward to your next bake Zita. 


bakingbadly's picture

:) Hey Ian,

No need to apologize. Sometimes things happen and I don't expect all of my "regulars" to comment on my post. Nonetheless, it's always great to get a reply from you.

I'm not an Indian food aficiondao, either. Generally speaking, I'm not into Asiatic and heavily spiced foods. However, masala chai is an exception because it's not (chili) hot, it's aromatic, and often lightly sweetened.

Likewise, I look forward to your next bake. Happy baking!