1 heaping tablespoon Masala Chai Tea (we used Smith Teamaker)
2 1/4 teaspoons Instant Yeast
2 teaspoons Granulated Sugar
1/2 cup packed light or Dark Brown Sugar
5 tablespoons Unsalted Butter, softened to room temperature and cut into cubes
1/2 teaspoon Pure Vanilla Extract
2 large Eggs (room temperature)
1 teaspoon Salt
1 teaspoon Ground Cinnamon
1 teaspoon Ground Cardamom
1/2 teaspoon Ground Ginger
3 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour, plus 1/4-1/2 cup for kneading
For the chai spiced syrup:
1 cup freshly boiled Water
1 heaping tablespoon Masala Chai Tea
1/2 cup Granulated Sugar
For the icing:
1-2 tablespoons Chai-Spiced Syrup
1 cup sifted Confectioner's Sugar
Spread chopped and drained cherries onto a double layer of paper towels to dry. Set aside.
In a small saucepan, add 1 cup of whole milk and 1 Tablespoon of chai tea. Bring to a simmer, stirring frequently, until milk has darkened to a pleasing amber color and has become fragrant. Strain out the tea with a fine mesh strainer, add the 2 teaspoons of sugar and set aside to cool, skimming off any skin that forms.
While the tea cools, mix the flour, salt and spices together in a medium bowl, making sure to set aside the extra 1/2 cup flour for kneading.
Once tea is cool enough to dip a finger into, measure and pour 3/4 cup into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Add yeast, brown sugar, butter, vanilla, and eggs, stirring to combine (the butter will still be semi solid). Add flour mixture in three batches, scraping down the sides of the bowl with each addition, and mix on low for about four minutes or until combined. Toss 1 cup of the chopped cherries in a few Tablespoons of flour, then add to the dough and mix in. The dough will be quite loose and sticky.
Add 1/4 cup of flour and "knead dough" with the bread hook for two minutes, or until the flour is combined. If the dough is still very loose and sticky, add the last of the flour and mix in. Continue to knead on low speed until the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the bowl.
Oil both your hands and a large clean bowl with a neutral cooking spray. Turn the dough out into the oiled bowl, form a loose ball, and toss to coat in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and place in a warm spot to rise for 1-2 hours, or until doubled in size.
While the dough rises, make the chai-spiced syrup. Place the freshly boiled water and tea into a small saucepan and let steep for 10 minutes. Strain out the tea leaves and discard, returning the prepared tea to the saucepan. Add the sugar and bring to a simmer, cooking for 10 minutes, or until the mixture has become slightly thickened and syrupy. Set aside and once cooled, cover and leave in a convenient place at room temperature.
Once the dough has doubled in size turn it out onto a floured surface and form it into a ball, then gently punch it down into a loose disc. Using a sharp knife or bench scraper, divide the dough into 15 even-ish pieces. Using a few drops of water on your hands to prevent sticking, shape each piece into a tight round ball, pinching the seams, and place seam-side down into a greased 9x13 baking dish (in five rows of three) or two 9" round cake pans (you can make the dough into 14 or 16 buns for this method). Cover with plastic wrap and a towel, and let rise for about an hour, or until noticeably puffy and not quite doubled.
Preheat your oven to 350 and place a rack just below the center. Bake the buns for 20-25 minutes, or until the tops have achieved a lovely medium-golden brown hue. Remove from the oven and immediately brush the buns generously with the chai-spiced syrup. While the buns cool, whisk 1 Tablespoon of the chai-spiced syrup with the sifted confectioner's sugar, adding more syrup in teaspoon increments until the mixture is very thick and paste-like. Place the icing into a zippered food storage bag or piping bag and seal tightly. Once the buns are cool to the touch, snip a corner of the bag and pipe crosses on the top of each bun with the icing. Allow to set for 10 minutes or so, and enjoy the buns while they are still slightly warm!