- Courtesy Photo
Shortbread cookies and I have a checkered past. Despite their relatively simple ingredient list, I just can't quite get them to work out. When Chef Katie Weinner of SLC POP (slcpop.com) sent me a recipe for Earl Grey shortbread cookies, I took it as a sign that it was time to stop running from these buttery cookies and make them more of a fixture in my homebound baking renaissance.
Though my journey included a few false starts, this was an experience that helped me think critically and draw upon some of my existing knowledge in order to reach success. It was a humbling process, but it also let me know that I've developed some baking instincts over the past few months, which is a nice feeling.
Once Chef Weinner established herself as a professional, she moved to Utah from California to pursue a teaching career; she worked as a culinary instructor at the Art Institute of Salt Lake City while filling her spare time working as a private chef. She also created SLC POP, which hosts creative restaurant pop-up events all over SLC. All this culinary cred led to her being selected as a contestant on Bravo's Top Chef: Boston.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, Weinner has spent the month of April preparing meals for local doctors and nurses, who seldom have the time or energy to cook for themselves and their families. She eventually started a GoFundMe campaign called Curry for Caregivers to help cover costs and reach more people.
Grateful that Weinner found the time to send me a few recipes during all this community outreach, I printed up the shortbread cookie recipe and got ready to face down a few of my baking demons. The familiar ingredients of flour, powdered sugar and lots of butter were before me, dredging up memories of the gritty messes that my previous shortbread doughs had become. This time, however, I was committed to success.
My first batch was a gritty mess.
A few things that may have contributed to that result: I split the recipe into two bowls, wanting to make half of the cookies with Earl Grey and the other half with vanilla chai. This attempt most likely messed up my measurements, which turned one half into a sandy heap and the other half into a slightly-less-sandy heap. I also learned that I have zero patience when waiting for my butter to reach room temperature, which no doubt contributed to this debacle—I could see the tiny clumps of not-warm-enough butter mocking me within the wreckage of my dough.
Tempered by this failure, my second attempt was more successful—though the final product was far from perfect. I stuck to one batch, gave my butter ample time to reach room temperature and picked up the idea to cream the butter before adding the flour and sugar while searching for basic shortbread recipes online. Armed with this new knowledge, I created a dough that was still a bit grainy, but held its shape once rolled into a dough log and refrigerated. I was able to slice the dough into cookie-adjacent shapes and get them baked. A few of my dough discs crumbled, but most of them kept things tight; the rejects became an ice cream topping. Overall, I was happy with how these turned out.
This is one of those recipes that makes your kitchen light up with the fragrance of tea (or whatever flavor ingredient you decide to use) during every phase of the process. It takes to the air when you're whipping up the dough, and wafts out of the oven while they're baking. The end result is a light, crisp but slightly crumbly cookie that is right out of an English breakfast. They're not overly sweet, so the tea flavor gets to be front and center, and they make the perfect partner to a hot cup of tea. I'm looking forward to practicing this recipe until I achieve shortbread enlightenment.
EARL GREY SHORTBREAD COOKIES
2 cups flour
2 tablespoons loose Earl Grey tea leaves (can be substituted with ground espresso, herbs, peppers, spices or citrus zest)
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup confectioners' sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla1 cup butter, room temperature
Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mix flour, tea, salt, sugar, vanilla and butter until a dough is formed.
Place dough on a sheet of plastic wrap and roll into a log about 2½ inches in diameter. Tightly twist each end of wrap and chill in refrigerator for 30 minutes.
Slice the log into 1/3-inch discs. Place on parchment- or silpat-lined baking sheets, 2 inches apart.
Bake until edges are brown, about 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes then transfer to wire racks and cool to room temperature.