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Baking with Tea

by Flo Braker

We all know how refreshing iced tea is on a summer day, but it may be a surprise to find out what else tea can do in the kitchen. Tea can serve as a wonderful, subtle flavoring in baked goods from cakes to cookies to muffins.

The secret to baking with tea is creating a concentrate. In the following three recipes, tea flavor is concentrated in milk, but in other cases you will want to use water. When the liquid in your recipe is milk, you infuse it with tea flavor by heating the milk just to the simmer, and then adding a few teabags to steep until the liquid cools completely. (Don't boil the milk or the milk curdles with the addition of tea.)

A Blueberry Tea Cake, baked in a 9-inch baking pan and served in squares with vanilla frozen yogurt, has a hint of orange-spice tea taste. Oatmeal Muffins, with their note of honey-orange tea, are great for breakfast or afternoon teatime. Chocolate Drop Cookies are ideal with a bowl of stemmed strawberries, since they are infused with the scent and flavor of a berry tea.

Tea imparts to food not only the blend that has been added to it, such as mint, orange, spice or honey, but also what you could call a "generic tea flavor," which is delicate and refreshing. As well as baking with tea, it is also possible to use tea concentrates to make frostings, dessert sauces and even ice cream, such as green tea ice cream popular in Chinese restaurants.

Tea works well in savory recipes too. Try making cream puff pastry dough with a concentrate made from steeping the smoky-flavored Lapsang Souchong tea in the water called for in the recipe. Stir in some coarsely grated Gruyere cheese either to the uncooked dough before baking or as a filling after baking.

Finally, remember that personal preference is your guide when baking with tea. Consider which tea flavors and blends would work well in your favorite recipes, and feel free to alter the strength of the infusion to suit you.

Blueberry Tea Cake

1 cup milk
3 orange-spice teabags
2 cups sifted flour
2 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
1 cup fresh blueberries, room temperature

In a small saucepan, heat milk just to the simmer. Off heat, add the teabags, submerging them completely. Set mixture aside to cool. When cool, remove teabags, squeezing them to remove liquid.

Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a 9-inch square cake pan.

Sift the flour, baking powder, and salt. Using an electric mixer at medium speed, cream the shortening and the sugar to blend thoroughly. Add the egg and vanilla and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Add the flour mixture alternately with the steeped tea-flavored milk mixture in three or four additions.

Fold in blueberries and spoon batter into pan. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes or until cake springs back when lightly pressed in center. Cool on wire rack 10 minutes before inverting.

Oatmeal Tea Muffins

3/4 cup milk
3 honey-orange teabags
1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons flour
2 1/4 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup old-fashioned oats
3/4 cups light brown sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3 eggs
1 cup raisins

In a small saucepan, heat milk just to the simmer. Off heat, add the teabags, submerging them completely. Set mixture aside to cool. When cool, remove teabags, squeezing them to remove liquid.
Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat oven to 400 degrees. Grease and flour 12 muffin cups.

In a large bowl, sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Stir in the oats and brown sugar. In a small bowl, combine the steeped tea milk, oil, and eggs. With a rubber spatula, make a well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the liquid mixture. Stir the ingredients together just to moisten and combine. Do not overmix or the muffins will be tough and coarse in texture. Spoon thick batter into the prepared muffin cups, filling each one 3/4 full. Bake 20 minutes or until muffin springs back when lightly pressed in center. Cool on wire rack for about 5 minutes before carefully removing from pan. Serve warm, if desired.

Chocolate Drop Cookies
makes 3 1/2 dozen cookies

1/2 cup milk
2 blackberry or raspberry teabags
1 1/4 cups sifted flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup vegetable shortening
1/2 cup each granulated and brown sugar
1 large egg
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted

In a small saucepan, heat milk just to the simmer. Off heat, add the teabags, submerging them completely. Set mixture aside to cool. When cool, remove teabags, squeezing them to remove liquid.

Adjust rack to lower third of oven and preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease two baking sheets. Sift the flour, baking soda, and salt. Beat together the shortening with the sugars. Add the egg, then the chocolate. Stir in the flour mixture, then the steeped tea-flavored milk mixture. Drop tablespoons of batter, 1 1/2-inches apart, and bake about 12 minutes or until tops spring back when lightly touched. Cool and frost, if desired.

Chocolate Frosting: In a small saucepan over low hear, melt 1 tablespoon butter with 1 ounce unsweetened chocolate. Off heat, stir in 2 tablespoons hot water and a pinch of salt. Blend in 1 cup powdered sugar and 1 teaspoon vanilla until smooth.

Flo Braker has been teaching baking techniques and her sweet miniatures across the country for twenty years and is the author of several cookbooks.



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