MY MOTHER ALWAYS SAID it’s bad luck to return an empty container. Or if not bad luck, then bad form. If you end up with someone’s loaf pan or pie plate in your kitchen, then wash it carefully and find a way to fill it—with gratitude, but also with a treat to pay back the owner’s original kindness.
Now, this “treat” does not have to be food. It could be a finely crafted candle or bar of soap, a ball of luxury yarn for a knitter, or perhaps a gift card from a bookstore. But saying thank you with home-baked sweets comes most naturally to me. Some of you know this firsthand. In fact, the photograph above is of a tin filled with tea cookies; a gift of thanks to an editor friend and mentor who, although we’ve never met face-to-face, has given me volumes of generous advice. She happens to share my passion for fine tea as well.
This past weekend, more than 100 kind souls showed the content of their devastated hearts for Haiti by, among other things, commenting on my Helping Haiti post. While their hearts are far from empty containers—to the contrary, they are full of love and concern for others—I still long to fill those hearts (or stomachs?) in return. If I could, I would get the address of every person who left a comment and send each one a cookie tin or candy box or cake. I wish it were possible. Who knows, eventually maybe it will be. But for now I will simply say thanks in the humble way of a baker and blogger: with a recipe for something sweet.
Before I do that, though, I’d like to share the results of the fundraising drive and give a few nods of particular appreciation.
At the close of the effort, there were 142 comments tallied. A couple were my own, it’s true, but I’m happy to chip in those extra dollars. As promised, every comment counted toward at least $1.00 in aid for Haiti. Originally, I was going to count double only those comments that showed that a person had also read some other post(s) on the blog. But because each of the comments felt like a gift to me, I have decided to count every one of them as $2.00, making the comment value $284.00, on top of my originally planned donation (which was somewhere in the $50 to $100 range). Round it all up, and in honor of the open hands and hearts among my readers, I will be making a donation of $400.00 to aid the recovery in Haiti. I will update this post with information about which organization receives the funds [based on comments and advice, funds were donated to MercyCorps, earmarked for "Haiti Earthquake"; I am also planning a separate donation to the United Nations' World Food Programme] and here’s a link to a donation receipt for the sake of transparency.
In addition, my longtime friend and colleague, Gina Frangello (OV Books), offered to match $1.00 per comment and round up to the nearest ten, adding another $150.00 to the effort. She has my deepest thanks on so many levels.
For support in getting the word out, I also owe a debt to the following members of the online community:
- Food News Journal
- Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs of Food52
- David Leite of Leite’s Culinaria
- Alice from Savory Sweet Life
- Hilda from Saffron & Blueberry
- Ree Drummond from The Pioneer Woman
- Woodstock Council for World Peace
- . . . and of course many individuals who were kind enough to retweet, post on Facebook, etc.
Really, if you want the full “honor roll,” just read the comments on the Haiti post. Everyone who took the time to leave a word of support deserves a gold star in the Big Book of Accounting, if you ask me.
Or maybe a pink, rose-scented, edible star.
Following is my recipe for White Tea Rose Shortbread Stars. I created these back in October 2009 for the gift tin shown above. After they’d been received and happily devoured, the recipient asked if I would share the recipes. I said I’d get around to providing them, but then the rest of the year slipped by too fast, as years tend to do. Here, though—finally—is the first of the Tea Cookie Trio (the others are Matcha Green Tea and Honey Earl Grey). They’re offered up in this baker’s gesture of thanks.
White Tea Rose Shortbread Stars
These delicate shortbread stars start with a buttery base (adapted from Claudia Fleming) that is infused with organic Wild Rose White Tea (sourced from Rishi). Cultivated in the Chinese province of Fujian, white tea is harvested by hand for a few weeks only each spring. The silvery-white leaves are minimally processed and are very low in caffeine, while also being high in antioxidants. The rose aroma—undisputedly one of the most romantic in the world—is enhanced in this teatime treat with royal icing scented with rose water. Even if you’re unsure about stopping to “eat the roses,” do try the recipe; you can always go with a lesser amount of rose water, then add more (or not) to your taste. A subtle hand is best, as rose water can be potent. Made in miniature, these avoid being overwhelming in color or flavor; however, feel free to play with sizes and shapes to suit the occasion.
Yield: 2 dozen larger cookies
(I never counted how many mini stars came out of the batch. Why bother to count the stars? Just enjoy them.)
For the shortbread cookies
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, divided and softened
3 Tablespoons high-quality white tea-rose blend (whole leaf tea, not tea bags)
3/4 cup confectioner’s sugar
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour, sifted
1/2 teaspoon salt
For the royal rose icing
1-1/2 Tablespoons meringue powder
1/4 cup warm water
8 ounces confectioner’s sugar, sifted (2-1/4 cups)
1/2 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/2 teaspoon rose water (make sure it’s designated for culinary use and that the product is fresh)
1-2 drops red food coloring (all-natural, whenever possible)
For decoration (optional)
White sanding sugar
Make the shortbread dough. Heat 1/4 cup (= 1/2 stick = 4 Tablespoons) of the butter in a small saucepan over medium heat until melted. Remove from heat and stir in the tea leaves. Steep for 5 minutes, strain through a fine-mesh sieve, and discard the solids. Combine the infused butter with the remaining butter and sugar in a large bowl and beat until creamy and smooth, 2-3 minutes. Add vanilla and beat. In a separate bowl, combine sifted flour and salt. Gradually add the flour to the butter mixture and beat until just incorporated. Form the dough into a disk, wrap it in plastic, and chill in the refrigerator for 3 or more hours (up to 3 days).
Preheat the oven to 300F. Between sheets of wax paper or parchment, roll the dough to a thickness of 1/4 inch. Use a star-shaped (or other) cutter to make the cookies and place them an inch apart on ungreased baking sheets. Bake until pale golden around the edges: 10-15 minutes for miniature shapes; 20-25 minutes for larger cookies. Cool completely on wire racks. Once cooled, cookies may be frosted, or else frozen in an airtight container for up to 3 months.
Make the royal rose icing. Combine the meringue powder, water, confectioner’s sugar, and cream of tarter in a large, grease-free bowl. Beat on high speed for 7 minutes, then add the rose water in small quantities, tasting to find the intensity that’s right for you. Add a drop of food coloring and beat to distribute the color uniformly. Add more color if desired.
Frost the cookies. This can be done by first piping the outline of the cookie with thicker icing and then “flooding” the interior of the cookie with icing that has been thinned. If you don’t want to fool with that, then just place a bit of royal icing in a small bowl and gradually add a teaspoonful or more of water, stirring to blend so that the icing becomes of a consistency that’s easy to spread over the cookies (or into which you can dip the cookies, letting excess icing fall back into the bowl). Place frosted cookies on a rack to harden.
If desired, sprinkle cookies with sanding sugar when the icing is almost set but still a little tacky. Let harden completely before storing between layers of wax paper or parchment in an airtight container. Cookies keep frosted for one week.
Notes on Royal Icing:
You are likely to have more royal icing than you need. This seems to happen to me every time, no matter how I try to adjust the quantity. For reasons of food safety, I always make my royal icing with meringue powder, never raw egg white. Royal icing made with meringue powder will keep for a week or two stored at room temperature in a grease-free, airtight container, preferably glass. If it hardens too much, just beat it again on low when ready to use. To avoid the icing developing a crust, you can put a lightly moistened paper towel over the icing first, then the lid (make sure the paper towel is strong enough and won’t disintegrate when damp, as some can do).