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Well, that didn’t take long.  Despite my good intentions, despite the fact that it’s only been two months, and more importantly, despite my student budget, I bought another cookbook.

Oh, I could protest that it was just a lucky find on the bargain table (always a bane to my willpower), that I’ll stop after just this one more, but we all know that’s classic junkie denial, don’t we?  I’ll do it again. I won’t even feel guilty about it until we’re packing to move back, and then I’ll curse the weight and the extra shipping expense.

Although hey, it’s not just a cookbook.  It’s Sally Schneider’s cool treatise on how to improvise in the kitchen, in which she gives basic recipes and shows how she plays with variations to come up with new and creative dishes.  This is already an approach I’ve been trying to take since making the decision a while ago to be less recipe-bound, but with its pretty pictures and enthusiastic narrative, this book is a great source of fresh inspiration.

Riffing on her basic recipe for brown sugar butter cookies produced a sophisticated and pretty shortbread flavored with lemon and speckles of black tea.  One of the suggested variations used Earl Gray tea, which I actually loathe despite my usual love of citrus in all forms.  Since I liked the idea of fusing my tea and cookies, I put together my own lemony blend and made a few other changes.  The new all-me shortbread has a great up-front citrus hit followed by a low note of smoky floral tea, wrapped in a buttery, crumbly matrix.  They’re perfect for a rainy afternoon snack with more tea or, if you feel like mixing your metaphors, a cup of cocoa.  I’ll definitely be trying this again, since I’m now tempted to try darjeeling and spices for a chai feel.

Lemon Black Tea Shortbread
Makes 3 dozen bite-sized cookies
(Adapted from Sally Schneider’s The Improvisational Cook)

1/2 cup (1 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into 16 pieces
3 tablespoons packed light brown sugar
2 tablespoons granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon Penzeys dried orange peel, rehydrated in just enough boiling water to cover
Grated zest of one large lemon
Contents of 2 premium black tea bags (approximately 2 teaspoons)
3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons cornstarch
Raw sugar for coating

In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together the butter, sugars and salt until fluffy.  Beat in the vanilla, orange peel, lemon zest and tea.

Whisk together the flour and cornstarch, and add to the sugar mixture in the mixer.  Stir on low speed until just clumping into a ball, then dump out onto a sheet of parchment paper and shape into a long log 1 1/2 to 2 inches in diameter.  Wrap the log tightly in the parchment and then in plastic wrap.  Refrigerate until firm, at least 1 hour.

Preheat oven to 325 F.  Line baking sheets with additional parchment.

Slice the log into 1/8 inch slices.  Roll the edges in the raw sugar to coat, and set the slices on the baking sheets 1 1/2 inches apart.  Bake until golden in the middle and just browning along the edges, approximately 18 minutes.  Remove to a rack to cool.

Like all shortbread, these will keep for days or even weeks in an airtight container, should you have the willpower to keep your hands off.

Notes:

These are two-bite cookies, just right to rest on a saucer.  You could make the log fatter if you would like fewer but bigger cookies.

Since I’m a citrus freak, next time I would increase the amount of lemon zest, but these are plenty lemony as is if you’re not as crazed as I am.

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