Though I love bold-flavored savories and sweets, I’m not a flavored tea fan. Many fruit-flavored teas are unsubtle at best or artificial at worst and the tea flavor is usually all but smothered entirely under the flavor of fruit. Quite another thing entirely, however, is having fruit gently poached in tea. This scenario yields two pleasures – a refreshingly light dessert and a complexly flavored beverage.
At this time of year – a virtual Eden for pastry chefs – when farmers’ markets are overflowing with stone fruit, berries, grapes of all varieties, and even fresh lychees and goji berries, my thoughts turn to making the most of iced tea weather and poaching fruit in tea.
The process is simple. Buy the best, most flavorful, ripe fruit you can find. For three to four servings, use about a pound of fruit (after peeling and pitting) per quart of freshly brewed tea made with premium-quality whole leaves. Brew your favorite tea to drinking strength, sieve out the leaves, and then add the fruit to the tea liquor with a bit of sugar to taste (I use about 2 to 3 ounces of sugar per quart of liquid, but if you like things sweeter, increase the amount as you wish). Place the prepared fruit and tea in a pot and poach at the barest simmer over the lowest possible heat until the fruit visibly absorbs some of the tea liquid and becomes tender. (Depending on which fruit and which tea you are using, the fruit may slightly take on the color of the tea, a sign of doneness.) Remove from the heat, allow to cool, gently scoop the fruit out of the liquid, and store the fruit and liquid separately. The liquid becomes the base for an iced drink diluted, if you wish, with a bit of purified water and garnished with some of the fruit from which it was made and perhaps a lime wedge.
When it is time to serve dessert, simple garnish the poached and chilled fruit with a dollop of your favorite well-drained plain yogurt, or if you wish to be somewhat more indulgent, fold some lightly whipped and sweetened heavy cream into the yogurt and spoon it generously over the fruit. Then pour in a bit of the poaching liquid around the fruit and serve it perhaps with tea-flavored shortbread – recipe below.
The immense of variety of fruits in season can be overwhelming. As a point of departure, here are some admittedly subjective suggestions for fruits and the teas that complement them.
Lychees, white peaches (Saturn, donut, flattened varieties) – White teas
Melons such as Crenshaw, honeydew, Galia, Charentais – Green teas
Plums (red fleshed) – Oolongs including Ti Kuan Yin
Peaches (yellow work best here), nectarines – Black teas such as Keemun, Yunnan, Assam (malty varieties)
Peaches of all kinds but red (sometimes called Indian) peaches in particular – Darjeelings (muscatel varieties)
The best shortbread is the one that is made with the highest-quality ingredients, but the quality of the butter counts over all else. So buy the best unsalted, higher-fat butter you can find (American-made Plugra or Beurremont from Vermont are both reliably good, but imported butters from France or Italy can sometimes be good as well).
1-2/3 cups (7-1/2 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
1/3 cup (2-2/3 ounces) granulated sugar
6 ounces of the best-quality unsalted butter
1 T. finely pulverized tea leaves of your choice
Granulated sugar, as needed, to garnish the top of the shortbread, if desired
Place the flour and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer or food processor. Add the butter, salt, and tea and pulse or mix until well blended and sandy in texture. Do not process to a paste. Remove the mixture to a well-greased 9- to 10-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. Using your fingertips and the palm of your hand, press the mixture into the pan evenly, making sure that the sides and middle are at the same height for best results. Chill for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove the filled tart pan from the refrigerator and prick the dough all over with the tines of a fork. Place the pan on a sheet pan and bake on the middle rack of the oven for about 40 minutes, or until pale golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 10 minutes. Then, using a knife, cut the round into even pie-shaped wedges. Sprinkle the baked dough lightly and evenly with additional granulated sugar, if desired.
Thanks to the author’s daughter, Lauren Wemischner, for the photo of the fresh lychees.