Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Masala Chai Shortbread Cookies

I first made these cookies for my New Year’s Eve party at the very end of 2010. The menu for my party had a bit of an Indian slant, so I took my Earl Grey tea shortbread cookies and simply swapped out the Earl Grey tea for regular black tea and added all the spices that go into a comforting mug of Indian masala chai. [Please, folks, don’t call it “chai tea” – chai means tea in Hindi so you’re calling it “tea tea” – masala chai is the correct term for the now-common Indian beverage of milky, spiced black tea.]

I wasn’t sure how these would go over at the party but they were a hit, particularly among two of my close friends who literally stood in front of the stand on which these cookies were resting for about a half an hour while they systematically demolished the entire platter. Thanks for leaving some for the rest of the guests, guys, but also thanks for the huge praise.


Well, these two loved the cookies so much that they asked me to make them for high chai (high tea, get it?) at the reception the night before their recent commitment ceremony (which was at a vineyard on Sonoma, hello, gorgeous). How could I say no? For me, baking is a real expression of love. I always make a cake or some other confection for special occasions for my close friends and family and this would be no exception. Of the two, I've known one since college and I've come to love the other just as much.

I made about 150 of these as well as 180 of these sparkly sesame cookies gilded with luster dust to match the violet, copper, and gold colors of the d├ęcor of their Asian-themed reception the week before the reception and they survived the flight to California with my friend (Tupperware to the rescue). They were served with tea sandwiches and masala chai – of course – and were well-received given that most of the crowd was Indian and what Indian person can resist a mug of masala chai? I certainly can’t.
Copper, gold, and violet luster dusts make these tender cookies sparkle.

Anyhow, these shortbread cookies - like all other shortbread - are really a cinch to make. The base recipe is featured in one of the darling Amy Cao’s Stupidly Simple Snacks videos, which gives you an idea of the difficulty level. The only differences are the type of tea used and the addition of some extra spices. But beyond that, they’re a breeze to make, although you’d never think that from their exotic yet warm, comforting flavor.

These have earned a spot as one of my signature flavors, but I know that every time I make them from here on out, I’ll think of my two friends, both devouring them in my dining room on New Year’s Eve as well as all fancied up at their stunning and moving commitment ceremony. Congratulations, guys – I’m so proud of you as people and also to have you as my friends.

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Masala Chai Shortbread Cookies
makes approximately 30 1 ½” round cookies

1 cup all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon salt
Leaves from 5 black tea bags (I used Twinings English Breakfast)
Heaping ¼ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom (use an additional 1/8 teaspoon if using pre-ground)
¼ teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/16 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, room temperature
¼ cup sugar

*****
Sift the flour, salt, tea leaves, cardamom, ginger, nutmeg, cinnamon, and black pepper into a medium bowl.

Add the butter and sugar to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment and beat on medium speed until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add the flour mixture and mix on the lowest speed until just combined.

Transfer the dough to a large sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log about 1 ½” thick. Wrap well and freeze for 30 minutes or refrigerate for at least an hour. If you want to cut the dough into shapes, form the dough into a disk, wrap well, and refrigerate for at least one hour.

Heat your oven to 325 F and line two baking sheets with parchment or Silpats.

Form the cookies:

If you’ve rolled the dough into a log, use a sharp knife to cut it into slices about 3/8” thick, the most important thing being that all the slices are of even thickness.

If you’re cutting out the cookies, lightly flour your work surface and roll it out about 3/8” thick and cut out shapes using a cookie cutter. Gently re-roll the scraps and repeat.

Bake until the edges are barely golden, about 15 minutes. Cool the cookies on the sheet completely, then transfer to an airtight container. The cookies last about two weeks at room temperature but will keep longer if you refrigerate or freeze them.
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