Not content with the simple pleasure offered by a biscuit and a cup of tea, I have been experimenting with a very British method of gilding the lily: baking tea into the biscuit itself. It’s hardly an unprecedented move: just think of the humble Rich Tea biscuit, beloved by millions for its milky blandness and its perfectly calibrated texture, designed for dunking into a soul-soothing cuppa in the middle of the afternoon. I’m not sure if there is actually any tea to be found in the Rich Tea, but I’ve also come across excellent versions of Earl Grey shortbread, where crumbly butteriness blends perfectly with the refreshing snap of bergamot. Shortbread is the ideal foil for assertive tea flavours; comforting, rich, dangerously moreish, it can take a heavy-handed scattering of tea leaves through the mix.
These shortbreads, though, go way beyond the classic Earl Grey. Instead, I’ve used one of Bluebird Tea’s new spring blends, Carrot Cake. A blend of rooibos, caramelized hazelnut, cinnamon, carrot flakes, vanilla, mallow flowers and nutmeg, this heady blend delivers sweet caramel flavour in droves. It’s not sickly, but warming and deeply spiced, smelling very much like your kitchen might if you were in the midst of baking a carrot cake. I thought the caramel-spice notes would work perfectly in a buttery shortbread, and I threw in some pistachios too, because their nutty crunch works well with carrots in both a sweet and savoury context, and they pair irresistibly with butter and spice.
I ground the tea in a spice grinder to make a fine powder that would permeate the shortbread without being gritty, then added it to a basic dough of butter, sugar, plain flour, a little rice flour for that crumbly texture, and ground pistachios. One of my favourite ways to make shortbread is to roll the dough into a log and slice off rounds that then bake into biscuits. There is something incredibly satisfying about slicing thick circles of cold, buttery dough, which transform in the heat of the oven, becoming burnished at the edges and crumbly within. These were no exception, especially because the tea gives them a lovely golden colour.
The smell as these bake is absolutely unbelievable. It’s better than the tea itself, I would venture to say. Perhaps even better than carrot cake. They have a powerful warming, spiced aroma and the perfect crumbly texture. I love these as they are, with a compulsory cup of tea on the side, but I’ve also served them alongside bowls of homemade cardamom ice cream or blood orange sorbet – you can keep a log of the unbaked dough in the freezer, ready to slice, bake and serve at short notice, and the little biscuits are a lovely accompaniment to a variety of sweet things.
If you don’t have Bluebird’s excellent Carrot Cake tea, no worries – just use a generous teaspoon of mixed spice, or another favourite spiced tea, and you’ll still have an excellent shortbread.
Carrot cake tea and pistachio shortbreads (makes 20-30 small biscuits):
- 70g shelled pistachios
- 110g cold butter
- 125g plain flour
- 25g rice flour
- 50g caster sugar, plus extra for sprinkling
- Pinch of salt
- 2 tsp Bluebird Carrot Cake tea (or other tea of your choice)
Blitz the pistachios in a food processor until they are finely ground (but don’t overdo it – you don’t want them to be as fine as shop-bought ground almonds).
Rub the butter into the flours with your fingers until the mixture resembles fine breadcrumbs. Stir in the caster sugar, salt and pistachios, leaving 1 tbsp of pistachios aside for later. Grind the tea to a fine powder using a spice grinder or mini chopper, then stir in too. Work the mixture to a rough dough with your hands, taking care not to overmix.
Roll the dough into a log (or two logs, if easier) around 5cm in diameter, wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for at least an hour.
When ready to bake, pre-heat the oven to 160C. Slice the dough into 1cm slices and arrange them, evenly spaced apart, on a baking tray lined with non-stick parchment. Sprinkle with the remaining pistachios and a little caster sugar, then bake for 20-25 minutes or until crisp and golden. Leave to cool on a wire rack before eating.