On the surface, it’s something so simple. Look a bit further, and you realize that it is so complex, as is the case with many things. The process of infusing good tea leaves in good quality water is endlessly fascinating and challenging. Just as the process of putting the same recipe into many different bakers’ hands results in vastly different variations, the cups using the same tea and the same water can also be wildly variant from person to person. Short of pulling out the old gram scale and measuring cup, brewing my daily cups of tea is done, as if by intuition, without resorting to any obvious scientific precision. I scoop the leaves into my strainer, heat the water (or better yet, draw it from an “instant hot” faucet dispensing water set at a temperature), pour the water over the leaves, and wait. No timers or beeps from the microwave interrupt my momentary reverie. I just know when it’s ready to decant.
Likewise with my procedure of making my favorite tea time accompaniment ginger shortbread. Doing this process over and over again has led me to “feel” the right amounts of flour, sugar, butter and spice, never measuring any of them and yet yielding a satisfyingly rich, pleasantly granular result each time. There’s a feeling of freedom when brewing or baking without a recipe, a singular thrill of living on the edge just a little bit, pulling the comforting safety net out from under our most common daily routines. Do I dare? Yes, there’s nothing more at stake than a slightly less than perfect cup of tea or an over-dense shortbread. And tomorrow will bring another opportunity to get it right.
With that said, here’s a recipe for the shortbread for those who haven’t yet experienced the process as many times as I have:
6 ounces unsalted butter, cold, cut into 1 inch pieces
2.6 ozs (generous 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
7.5 ounces (scant 1-3/4 cups) all purpose flour
½ t. salt
1 t. dried ground ginger
2 ozs. crystallized (candied) ginger, chopped into ¼ inch dice
Set oven rack about halfway up from the bottom of the oven. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Spray a 9-inch false bottomed tart pan with pan spray and set aside. Place first 5 ingredients into the bowl of a food processor outfitted with the steel blade attachment. Process, pulsing the machine on and off, until butter is reduced to fine pieces and the mixture is dry and sandy. Add the crystallized ginger and pulse again to distribute. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and gently press the evenly into the pan. Chill for 30 minutes and then remove from the refrigerator. Using a fork or the point of a small knife, make small holes into the mixture at 1” intervals. Place the tart pan on a sheet pan and bake for approximately 30 minutes or until golden brown, turning the pan once during baking to even out the baking. Immediately after removing from the oven, cut the shortbread into 16 equal wedges. Cool and then store in an airtight container at room temperature.
The shortbread keeps its freshness for about 3 days or so but if you cast restraint to the winds as I do, these treats won’t hang around the kitchen beyond a day or so.