As a child, I never appreciated the joy of tea. In fact, I never really had the chance, as my grandmother would say, "Children should not be drinking tea; it is not good for them." If it had been any other beverage, I would have fought with her, but I didn't care enough about tea. I did, however, outgrow that stage. I began to experiment with different teas and learn how to flavor tea with my real passion: spices.
About The Author
An engineer turned food writer, Monica Bhide writes about food and its effect on our lives. Her work has appeared in The Washington Post, The New York Times, Food & Wine, Prevention, Cooking Light, Health and Self. Her latest book is Modern Spice: Inspired Indian Flavors for the Contemporary Kitchen (Simon & Schuster). Read more at her website.
I recently interviewed chef Carla Hall, one of the co-hosts of The Chew, while sipping a mint tea in Washington, D.C. Her eyes lit up as she told me about her newly found passion for tea — not just drinking it, but cooking with it.
"After going to a Women Chefs & Restaurateurs tea seminar with Cynthia Gold [tea sommelier at L'Espalier in Boston], I was fascinated and hooked by how tea can be paired like wine. In the past, I had used various teas in bouquets garnis or flavor sachets in soups, rice and broths," she said. She said she realized she could use tea for baking. And baking is what Carla's company, Alchemy by Carla Hall, does terrifically well. They make sweet and savory petite cookies — "petite" as in the size of a peanut M&M.
The key to using tea in baking, she says, is to use premium teas with whole leaves and less filler.
Hall is not alone in her passion in using tea in cookies. Emeric Harney, a third-generation master tea blender in New York, says flavoring desserts with teas is gaining popularity fast. "I've seen people start to use matcha [powdered Japanese green tea] in whipped creams, spreading it between layers of crepes, making green tea mille-feuilles," he said. He advises using teas with strong inherent flavors when cooking. For flavoring cookies and desserts, he says teas such as Earl Grey and Paris (black currant, bergamot and vanilla) are great. He also suggests using matcha or powdered teas for flavoring oatmeal raisin cookies.
I talked to chefs in the Washington, D.C., area who also are cooking with tea. At Buzz Bakery in Virginia, "We serve an Earl Grey and sour cherry scone with lemon glaze that is so popular, we can't take it off the menu," said Tiffany MacIsaac, pastry chef of the Neighborhood Restaurant Group. Her favorite pairings: jasmine tea with milk chocolate and black tea with mousse.
Tea is not just being used to flavor cookies and pastries, however. Fabrice Leray, pastry chef at Washington, D.C.'s Plume at The Jefferson, pairs teas with fruits in desserts. "Pairings that work well are green tea with red fruits like cherries, raspberries and strawberries; chamomile tea with orange; and black tea with plum," he said. This year he created a matcha green tea parfait to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Japanese gift of cherry trees to the nation's capital.
So I have at last learned to fully appreciate tea — by thinking outside the cup.
Tips On Cooking And Serving With Tea
Chef Carla Hall recommends a few ways to flavor cookies with tea:
Grind loose tea to powder and mix it with the flour. Be sure to grind the tea finely and sift out any large pieces, as these will not break down during the baking process.
Substitute strongly brewed tea for wine or liqueur in the recipe. When brewing tea, be attentive and make it strong but do not overbrew, as this will make the dish bitter.
Infuse tea into a wet ingredient. Loose tea or tea bags are both perfect for steeping flavor into cream and simple syrup.
To enjoy drinking a cup of tea with your cookies, Hall suggests these flavor compatibility pairings:
Earl Grey, an astringent black tea flavored with the oil of the bergamot orange (a citrus fruit), with cranberry-orange oatmeal cookies
Keemun, a roasted black tea with chocolate overtones (considered the Burgundy of teas), with chocolate chip cookies or chocolate crinkles
Darjeeling, a light-bodied, musky, spicy tea, with strawberry linzer cookies
And for flavor contrast pairings, she suggests:
Earl Grey with chocolate shortbread: Think how well orange plays against chocolate.
Darker Oolong with ginger snaps:Smoky and nutty, Oolong offsets spice.
Sencha with white chocolate–macadamia nut cookies: A Japanese green tea, sencha has subtle flavor that balances well with creamy textures and vanilla.
4 teaspoons loose chocolate chai (available at gourmet retailers and online on Amazon.com)
2 cups finely chopped dark or semisweet chocolate
In a small bowl, combine flour, cinnamon and salt.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Mix in vanilla extract.
With mixer on low, gradually add flour mixture. Mix just until blended (do not overmix). Chill dough for at least an hour.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Roll out dough between two pieces of plastic wrap to 1/4-inch thick. Using a 1-inch round cutter or a cutter of your choice, cut out cookies. Place cookies 1 inch apart on an ungreased cookie sheet. Reroll and recut scraps.
Bake 10 to 12 minutes, until cookies are pale gold, not brown. Let stand for 2 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.
While the cookies are baking, prepare the ganache. In a small pot, bring cream just to a boil. Stir in tea and reduce heat to low. Remove from heat. Steep tea in cream for 5 minutes.
Place chocolate in a stainless-steel bowl. Strain warm infused cream over chocolate. Stir until chocolate melts completely. Let cool until spreadable.
Line up cookies in pairs, flat bottoms facing up. Spoon 1/2 teaspoon of ganache onto each cookie. Sandwich two cookies together and squeeze gently, being careful not to break the cookies. Set aside until the ganache firms up completely, about 30 minutes.
If you can find it, there are commercial lemon teas with lemon grass, which goes beautifully with butter and a hint of sugar in Carla Hall's simple lemon shortbread. Lemon grass can be course like straw, however, so be sure to sift the dry ingredients through a fine mesh strainer a couple of times after combining them. You can substitute other lemon teas for this recipe as well.
In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat butter and sugar until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Beat in lemon and vanilla extracts.
With the mixer on low, gradually add in flour mixture. Mix just until blended (do not overmix). Chill dough for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Roll out dough between two pieces of plastic wrap to 1/4-inch thick. Using a 2-inch round cutter or cutter of your choice, cut out cookies. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Reroll and recut scraps.
Bake 12 to 13 minutes, until cookies are pale gold, not brown. Let stand for 2 minutes. Carefully transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
Store in an airtight container, preferably between layers of waxed paper.
1 tablespoon premium mint tea or Earl Grey tea, finely ground
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted
2 medium eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 tablespoon strongly brewed mint tea
1/2 cup mini chocolate chips
1 cup confectioners' sugar
In a small bowl, stir together flour, granulated sugar, tea, baking powder and salt.
In a large mixing bowl, beat cocoa and butter until combined. Stir in eggs and vanilla. Gradually stir in flour mixture. Fold in chocolate chips. Chill dough for at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.
Roll dough into 1-inch balls and toss in powdered sugar. Place balls on the baking sheet. Bake until cookies are cracked slightly but soft in the middle if pressed lightly, about 10 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool completely.