Tuesday November 2, 2010 | 1 comment
Tea and shortbread are a classic combination and certainly not just at teatime. But those dense buttery wedges of golden perfection – punctuated with sips of my favorite brew – seemed ripe for reinvention. Why not tea in shortbread? Kitchen science tells us that fat is the carrier of flavor to the palate, so I reasoned that if I could infuse the butter used in the shortbread with tea, the result would be that much more satisfying. A few trials confirmed my hunch. It’s best to choose a tea, such as Chinese Keemun or Indian Assam, with bold flavor and a lingering impression on the palate, something mouth-filling and “thick” rather than subtle or evanescent.
Wishing to add one more layer of complexity to the mix, both in terms of flavor and texture, I turned to the farmer’s market to snag some of the first quinces of the season as a meltingly dense fruit accompaniment to the crunch of the shortbread. These benefit from a slow simmer in a tea-inflected sugar syrup. So plan ahead a bit. What follows are the recipes to accomplish both of these elements for a satisfying do-ahead entry on a leisurely weekend brunch table.
Incontestably, sweet, unsalted butter is the way to go here. And once infusing the butter with the tea, it’s best to freeze it to achieve its characteristic sandy texture when making the dough.
Yields: 12 wedges
6 ounces (1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, plus 1 T. for coating the baking pan
2 T. premium quality whole-leaf Keemun or Assam tea
2-2/3 ounces (1/3 cup) granulated sugar
7-1/2 ounces (1-2/3 cups) all-purpose flour
Pinch of salt
Granulated sugar and a few flakes of sea salt to sprinkle over the shortbread as it comes out of the oven
Evenly and thoroughly coat the bottom and sides of a 9-inch-diameter false-bottomed tart pan with softened butter and set aside.
Melt the 6 ounces of butter and add the tea. Simmer until the butter takes on a golden color. Pour the mixture through a fine-meshed sieve, pressing hard on the tea to extract as much of the butter as possible. Freeze the resulting tea butter until solid.
Note that the dough can be made either by hand, using a mixer, or in a food processor. I prefer the last method.
Place the butter, sugar, flour, and pinch of salt into the bowl of the processor, outfitted with the steel knife blade. Process by pulsing the machine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. The mixture should not be processed to a paste. Fill the mold with the mixture and press it firmly into the pan in an even layer. Using a fork or the point of a small knife, prick the dough all over, at ½-inch intervals. Chill for 30 minutes and prepare the Tea-Poached Quinces, as follows:
Yields: 4 servings
2 quinces, each weighing about 5 ounces, peeled, halved, carefully cored, and then quartered
(Choose deep yellow fruit with a pronounced fragrance for maximum flavor. Note that quinces tend to be very hard and somewhat woody when raw, so peel and core carefully; if you can’t remove every bit of the core, you have another chance to do so after the fruit is cooked and tender.)
1 T. good quality black tea leaves
1 quart of filtered water
5 ounces (¾ cup) granulated sugar
2 cinnamon sticks
Peel of 1 lemon (only the yellow part, not the bitter under pith; easiest removed using a vegetable peeler)
Brew the tea and discard the leaves. Then place the brewed tea into a two-quart saucepan. Add the sugar, cinnamon sticks, and lemon peel and simmer until the sugar is dissolved. Add the quince and simmer until tender, but not falling apart – about 25 to 30 minutes. This poaching time can vary, depending on the fruit’s ripeness. Allow to cool in the liquid. The fruit may be cooked a day in advance and then returned to room temperature, or even re-warmed in the poaching liquid, as desired.
Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place the tart pan of shortbread onto a sheet pan and bake for approximately 35 minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven, sprinkle with the granulated sugar and the smallest amount of sea salt over the surface and allow to cool for about 5 minutes. Then using a small knife, divide the shortbread into 12 equal wedges. For even, clean cuts, it’s best to cut the shortbread while it is still warm. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.
To serve: Place one or two quarters of the quince on the plate. Spoon over a bit of the poaching liquid and set a wedge of shortbread adjacent to the fruit. Dollop a bit of plain Greek yogurt over the quince, if you like. Enjoy!