Creatures of habit that we are, it’s often refreshing to shake things up, step outside of the box a bit, and loosen our grip on the familiar and the routine. Goaded by the offer of some beautiful tea cups (or perhaps it would be more accurate to call them bowls as they have no handles) made by Jeff Smith (Los Angeles), a friend and part-time ceramist, I jumped at the chance to add three new tea-drinking vessels to my collection. Even among the mugs in the cupboard, some are my favorites designated to be used only for tea. With the arrival of these new pieces of utilitarian art, I realized that the inherent pleasures of tea drinking depend not only on the quality of the tea and the precision of brewing (dosage of leaves, brewing time and temperature) but also on the vessel from which the beverage is being consumed.
Never having given much thought to this before, I now realize that there is a whole new range of sensory experiences derived from the composition of the cup. Think about the difference between drinking from a bone china teacup and a sturdy hand-formed mug or the difference between a delicate gaiwan and tiny thimble cups for the best oolongs. The feel and heft of these vessels differ widely and thankfully so, each designed for a different purpose and occasion.I am paying close attention to the features of each of my newest cups: the color and reflective quality of their glazes, the shape and thickness of the walls of the vessel, the depth, the texture and even the transfer of heat to my two hands—all of these influence my enjoyment of the several-times-a-day ritual. I like that they are designed to be held by two hands, almost in supplication, as an offering (perhaps to the tea gods or goddesses). The takeaway here: Little things can mean a lot. So, on that note, here is a simple recipe for a spice cookie that would complement most any cup of tea, no matter what kind of vessel you use to serve it.
Yield: Approximately 20 cookies
Scant 7.5 ozs (1-1/2 cups) All purpose flour
Spices in any proportion you favor, totaling 3.75 teaspoons
(NOTE: I suggest using an amount of cinnamon that is equal by volume to the total of the other four spices, as cinnamon mellows and softens the aggressiveness of the others).
Scant 4.5 ozs (9 T,) unsalted butter, softened
2.5 ozs (1/2 c.) dark brown sugar
3.8 ozs (1/2 c.) molasses
1-1.2 t. hot water
Granulated sugar, as needed, to coat the scoops of cookie dough before baking
Sift flour with spices and set aside.
Using the paddle attachment of an electric mixer, cream butter until light. Add brown sugar and molasses and mix to blend. Add hot water and mix in. Add the sifted dries and mix only until the flour disappears.
Portion out the dough into 1 ounce balls, using an ice cream scoop, dropping the scoops into a bowl of granulated sugar. Toss to coat and then place the dough onto parchment paper lined sheet pans leaving about 3 inches space between cookies. Chill until firm. Preheat oven to 350° F. and bake the cookies on an oven rack positioned halfway up from the bottom of the oven, for approximately 15 minutes or until lightly browned, but still somewhat soft (they will harden as they cool). When cool, transfer to a container with a tight-fitting lid and store at cool room temperature.
Photo courtesy of Robert Wemischner