Tea-Spiced Cookies: Gingerbread versus Earl Grey

When we first moved into our new flat, we met our lovely upstairs neighbor. He’s a kind gentleman who welcomed us to the neighborhood and promptly invited us up for drinks and chit chat. It was a nice change from our previous location where we never saw the faces of those who lived in the same building let alone got an invitation to socialize.

Being from friendly Texas, I know to never show up to a party empty-handed, so I scoured Pinterest to find something that would be a perfect representation of England. I settled on Earl Grey Sugar Cookies. What could possibly be more British?

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Well, what was a friendly gesture turned into a potential death threat since our host is actually allergic to tea! I was mortified–and shocked. Who is allergic to tea? The cookies were a hit with the rest of the guests, but needless to say, he will not be getting the results from this experiment where I explore tea as a flavor and spice.

Last winter, I went on a tea buying binge. Twinings offered seasonal flavors such as salted caramel, caramelized apple, and gingerbread (which are already for sale now! Yes, for celebrating Christmas in August!) The salted caramel and apple flavors were divine and perfect for the holidays. However, the gingerbread was a miss. Now stuck with twenty bags of gingerbread tea and not wanting to throw it out, I decided to try them out in the deadly (to some) sugar cookies.

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I will compare the tastes of Earl Grey and Gingerbread tea in a simple cookie and also seeing how tea blends into a buttercream frosting. There is no reason to just drink tea when it’s a rather versatile ingredient. But as a special bonus (and another way to get rid of this tea), I’m going to show you how to do a simple, typical Chinese snack: a tea-stained egg. More on that below.

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There is so much history about tea that it would be ridiculous to include it all here. So instead of giving you a history about how tea came to be and how it’s cultivated, I’m instead going to tell you a bit about the British afternoon tea tradition. I am reporting from jolly ol’ England, after all.

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The idea of afternoon tea was introduced in England by King Charles II but it was not popularized until 1840 with the Duchess Anna of Bedford. Apparently, she would get a little peckish around the 4 o’clock hour and would request some tea and cake to be sent to her room. After a while, she started to invite friends to join her and thus, high tea was born. It used to be an entire ceremony complete with ball gowns and elbow length gloves, but as time went on and the commoners began to adopt the royal habit, the tea ceremony was transformed into a biscuit or two with a tea bag in boiling water.

There are some places in London that still serve high tea in pomp and circumstance. Jeff and I went to our first high tea shortly after we arrived here at The Ritz. And just a few months ago, I took a friend to Harrod’s for a lovely afternoon listening to gentle Frank Sinatra on the stereo system while enjoying a light white tea with gluten-free goodies. But the tradition of high tea still exists in many houses in Britain. But instead of stale and brittle biscuits from a tin, try these two experiments to compliment your afternoon pick-me-up.

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The first I made was the lovely and light Earl Grey or London Fog Sugar Cookies adapted from Devour. I made a few changes like adding lavender to the cookie itself as well as a light frosting to the top made with brewed earl grey tea rather than just water.

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London Fog Sugar Cookies
makes 50 cookies (depending how you roll the dough)

Ingredients for Cookies:
50g granulated sugar
50g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
1/2 of a vanilla bean pod
(video on how to scrape the seeds out of the pod here from Chow Tip)
113g (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
210g gluten-free flour
1 tsp Earl Grey tea leaves (about one bag)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
Dried lavender flowers for decorating

Directions:
1) In a small bowl, combine the two sugars and the vanilla bean seeds. Whisk them together to break up all lumps. The vanilla pod will need to be broken up with your fingers.rolled dough
2) Cream the butter in a larger bowl and combine with the sugar. Add the egg and vanilla extract. Blend completely.
3) In another bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, salt and add the contents of the tea bag. Mix completely. Add to the butter mixture slowly in three batches. Before adding more flour, make sure it’s blended completely.
4) On a clean surface, put down a piece of parchment paper. Flour the surface and roll out the dough in a log. Put it in the refrigerator to firm up.*
5) When you’re ready to bake them off, pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius/400 degrees Fahrenheit.
6) Cut the cookies about 1/4 inch thick and put on a parchment lined baking tray. Bake for only 6-8 minutes or until golden brown around the edges.

*Note: After two hours, I pulled the dough out and formed it in more of a log since the dough is very soft after blending together. Then I put it back in the refrigerator over night.

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Ingredients for Frosting:
20g unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp brewed Earl Grey Tea (brew for no more than 3 minutes or else it will get bitter)
500g icing sugar

Directions:
1) Sift the icing sugar in a bowl. Add the butter and tea and blend completely.
2) Lightly frost each cookie.

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dough w tea

Gingerbread Tea Sugar Cookies
makes 50 cookies (depending how you roll the dough)

50g granulated sugar
50g icing sugar (powdered sugar)
113g (1 stick) unsalted butter, room temperature
1 egg
1/2 tsp vanilla extract
50g crystallized ginger, chopped
210g gluten-free flour
1 tsp Gingerbread Tea leaves (about one bag)
1/2 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt

Directions for this cookie is exactly the same as above except you’re not adding the vanilla bean and you’re mixing in the crystallized ginger at the tea leaves stage. Otherwise, refer to the above instructions.2015-08-04 12.21.23

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A note on the taste of the cookies. You definitely do not need to frost either cookie as they are sweet enough as it is. But I was curious if the Earl Grey flavor would cut through the sugar. It really didn’t. I couldn’t taste the familiar bergamot in the frosting, so I wound up not using the frosting at all.

The taste of the gingerbread tea, which I didn’t like to begin with, unfortunately, still came through on the cookie. The sugar cookie cut the harshness of the flavor, so it wasn’t as offensive as just a a cuppa. But nonetheless, it still isn’t a favorite in this house.

Lesson learned: no matter how they are prepared, the ingredients you cook with come through on the final product.

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Now, as a bonus, here is a recipe for Tea Stained Hard Boiled Eggs. On a lunch date with a friend to The Tea Box in Richmond, I had my first tea stained egg. It completely threw me, but also made me want to check out how to make them at home!

This savory snack is very popular in the Chinese culture. They are so common, you can find them in 7-Eleven convenient stores and in grocery stores around the country.

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Here is how to make them from Saveur Magazine.

Ingredients:
40g soy sauce
30g of granulated sugar
1/4 tsp whole black peppercorns2015-08-04 14.19.46
1/8 tsp fennel seeds
2 whole cloves
1/2 whole star anise
1/2 stick of cinnamon
1/2 tsp orange zest
1/2 tsp black tea leaves
2 large eggs
2 cups of water
Pinch of salt
1 tbsp white vinegar
2 cups of ice

Directions:
1) Bring the soy sauce, sugar, peppercorns, fennel seeds, cloves, anise, cinnamon, orange zest, and 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan.
2) Once it begins to boil, take off the heat and add the tea leaves. Let it steep for 10 minutes.
3) Pour the marinate through a strainer and set aside.
4) Place the eggs in the saucepan and cover with water. There needs to be about 1/2 inch of water over the tops. Add the salt and vinegar to the water. This will help peel the eggs.
5) Once the water comes to a boil, let the eggs sit for 5 minutes to bring to a soft boil stage.
6) Drain the water and lightly crack the eggs with the back of a spoon, but don’t peel them. (In the picture below, you can see I got a little over-zealous with my cracking. So, don’t dent the egg, just lightly crack them.) Put them back into the saucepan and pour the marinate over them.
7) Bring to a boil and stir constantly for 7 minutes.
8) Remove from the heat and put in 2 cups of ice. Let the mixture cool completely before enjoying.

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This snack wasn’t sweet. I was anticipating some serious flavors to come through the cracked egg since so much went into the marinade. While I did taste some of the tang from the soy sauce and a bit of the warmth from the spices, I didn’t get enough of a taste for the work. I wonder if I didn’t let it steep long enough in the marinade or if it wasn’t as concentrated as it should have been.

I followed the recipe to a ‘T,’ so I can only assume that maybe the flavors aren’t supposed to come through as much as I had anticipated. Give it a try and let me know what you think, or maybe you’ve already tried this recipe at home and have some advice for me to improve it.

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