During my recent presentation at the World Tea Expo in Long Beach, CA., I paired five teas with five sweets proving that sometimes our preconceived notions can be turned upside down. I know implicitly that smoky black teas work beautifully with dark chocolate in a dessert and delicate white teas bring out the best in fruity baked concoctions like the rhubarb and berry scone which I presented at the session. But a honey and sea salt-encrusted shortbread won hands down as the perfect partner for frothy ceremonial grade matcha, a pairing that on the surface seemed unlikely but in the tasting was perfect. The classic green tea of Japan, with its slightly bitter undertones and marine, vegetal side, brought out the best in this buttery plank of golden brown richness (Recipe below), with the salty sweetness of the shortbread dialoguing with the tea. Each sip refreshed the palate and set it up for another buttery bite of the shortbread. The audience nodded appreciatively confirming my suspicions that this was, in fact, the star pairing of the tasting, a sign that tea drinkers benefit from having an open mind and an open palate, ready to taste deeply and reflectively of what’s in the cup and what’s on the plate beside it.
Though there are few hard and fast rules about which teas will complement which foods, and the search for the perfect marriage of tea and sweet can be elusive, the pleasure is in the quest, with many delicious and felicitous pairings to be discovered along the way, with much more experimentation to follow.
Honey and sea salt shortbread
Yield: 16 wedges
7-1/2 ounces (scant 1-3/4 c.) all-purpose flour
2-2/3 ounces (generous 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
½ t. (.10 ounce) salt
6 ounces (12 T. or 1-1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, cold
1 t. pure vanilla extract
2 ounces honey of your choice
Sea salt (Maldon or other coarse- textured variety works well here), as needed
In a food processor or the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment, mix the flour, sugar and salt until blended. Add the butter and vanilla and mix to a crumbly texture. Do not overprocess.
Coat the inside of a 9-inch fluted tart pan with removable bottom with melted butter or pan release spray.
Empty the dough into the pan and lightly press to even the mixture out. Then chill for 30 minutes. Once the dough is chilled, prick with the tines of a fork or the point of a small, sharp knife, at 1 inch intervals.
Bake in a preheated 350 degree F. oven for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven when the shortbread is lightly golden brown. Immediately after removing the shortbread from the oven, using a small knife, cut into 16 equal wedges, keeping the wedges intact. Brush warmed honey over the shortbread, sprinkle lightly with the sea salt of your choice, and then return the shortbread to the oven for 5-7 more minutes. (The honey should have dried some, soaking into the surface of the shortbread as it bakes). Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Then carefully separate the wedges and store in a single layer in an airtight container at room temperature.
Copyright ©2015 Robert Wemischner
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