Drink in the Spring Flowers

Flowers have been a time-honoured ingredient in fine teas for over a thousand years. Jasmine-scented green tea is the most well-known in the West, of course. It is one of the original Chinese scented teas, traditionally crafted by hand in a meticulous and laborious process. But as oranges are not the only fruit, jasmine is not the only flower to entice tea drinkers with floral delights. 

Flowers have been used in tea making for thousands of years in China, the homeland of tea. Magnolia, chrysanthemum, magnolia, lotus flowers, even roses are part of many notable, time- honoured blends you may never have heard of. What better way to welcome spring, as you glory in the beauty of fresh spring flowers, than to drink flowers in your teacup as well?

Why try traditional teas? 

Traditionally, flowers are added, not to the finished tea, as they are today, but as the tea leaves are rolled and dried. It is a painstaking, days-long infusion, with thousands of buds laid on the tea. In the case of jasmine tea, the tea is stored for month, then the blossoms are laid out late in the day, waiting from them to bloom at night. These hand-picked, carefully scented teas have little in common with their frowsy, flamboyant modern cousins. 

Potpourri teas, as I call them, are popular nowadays. Dried petals thrown in with candied bits of anything-you-like to make new tea blends for the bored consumer with a restless palate. These bejazzled teas are often ham-handed in terms of flavour, using a bombardment of spices, herbs and dried fruits to disguise the flavour of inferior tea. 

Teas made in the traditional manner, however, allow you to taste the tea leaf as well as the flowers, balancing their perfume with the particular varietal of tea plant, and the skill of the tea maker. 

Not Just Jasmine

Here are five traditional teas you may not be familiar with, but will definitely help you welcome in spring: 

  1. Tie Kuan Yin
  2. Osmanthus oolong
  3. Magnolia oolong
  4. Rose Congou
  5. Violet Tea 

Iron Goddess

The first floral tea I’m going to suggest is one that doesn’t have any flowers in it at all. Tie Kaun Yin, also known as Iron Goddess, is an oolong made from tea leaves that have an incredible floral scent. 

(An oolong tea is not quite as light as a green tea, and not as dark as a black tea. Oolongs occupy a wide spectrum of colour, scent, taste and body, from floral and bright to dark and woody. They are hard to define, but much loved in all their many incarnations.) 

Photo by Timothy Newman on Unsplash

Tie Kuan Yin is both a cultivar—a particular variety of tea bush—and a process. The most famous Iron Goddess is made in the Taiwanese style. The leaves are picked and processed in such a way as to preserve as much of their floral scent as possible to produce a delicate cup. It’s got a unique mouthfeel, though, when brewed properly: milky and silty, almost as if very fine chalk had been turned liquid. Many oolongs have this creamy texture on the tongue but I’ve noticed it’s quite pronounced in a good Tie Kuan Tin. 

Tie Kuan Yin is often an eye-opener for people who are used to heavy black teas. It shows the incredible range of flavours and scents that can come right from the leaf, before you add in a single flavouring. It’s called a gateway tea with good reason. 

Tie Kaun Yin at Tao Tea Leaf

Osmanthus Oolong

This both hard one is hard to say and hard to find. It’s also likely unfamiliar to those who don’t eat a lot of Chinese cuisine, but this is my very favorite floral tea. Perhaps my favourite tea ever. 

This tiny, bright yellow flower is often likened to a peachy flavour, but I find it much more like butter biscuits and sweetened milk. A hint of geranium, maybe. In China it is highly prized and is used in jellies, jams, cakes, and liqueurs. It’s also known for its sedative properties and for easing digestion (but then again, so is all tea). The level of antioxidants in osmanthus flowers approaches that of green tea, and so may be similarly beneficial in terms of reducing inflammation, boosting the immune system and supporting better aging. It’s also a sedative, doubling down on the relaxing effects of theanine already present in the camellia sinensis tea leaf. The scent of osmanthus flowers was proven in one study to decrease the motivation to eat, which is a good or a bad thing, depending on your point of view. 

I’d drink this for the taste alone, but I do love the relaxation that follows a cup of Osmanthus oolong. It’s a tea I drink on a Sunday afternoon when I read a book, and the world is for a while the most wonderful place. 

Try this or this from Canadian tea purveyors, or this all the way from Mei Leaf in England. So worth it. 

Magnolia oolong

Magnolia is often the first tea I offer guests as an alternative to jasmine. Magnolia offers a gentle shift and a chance to distinguish subtle but real difference without taking you in an entirely different direction (like, for example, a vibrant and tart hibiscus.) 

Magnolia has not achieved the popularity of jasmine in the West and I’m not sure why. Perhaps it’s because it’s not as strong on the nose. It doesn’t hit you with that incredible, all-encompassing, gorgeous jasmine smell. It is sweeter and more subtle when you first breathe it in, but no less delightful to sip. It’s a little warmer, with hints of pistachio and orange blossom, and with a buttery taste. That honeyed sweetness is stronger to taste, too. 

Photo by Frame Harirak on Unsplash

Magnolia was once reserved for the royal family of China and is revered as a special gift. Modern studies have shown it has it’s uses in treating anxiety in menopausal women and is also used to treat digestive difficulties. In traditional Chinese medicine it is associated with strengthening the lungs, feminine beauty and personal growth. Sign me up for all three. 

Like many oolongs, magnolia tends to be sold in as rolled oolong, or in little balls, and thus benefits from several steeping as the leaves unfurl. I tend to brew magnolia oolong at around 90°C (195°F) with a large amount of leaf, then re-steep the same leaves in the tea I’ve just made. This strengthens each brew without fear of letting it sit too long to get bitter. It also encourages movement of the liquid through the leaves. I end up with a very yellow, rather thick-looking concoction that is quite flavourful.

If this sounds fussy, just wait until you have a work problem that’s stalled in your mind. Get up and pour your tea between two vessels back and forth, never mind about any little spills, until it seems right. If the process doesn’t help, maybe the tea will. 

Murchie’s Tea does a lovely version. Buy it here. David’s Tea has nice one, too. Buy it here.

Rose Congou

Rose scented teas appeared in China at the same time as jasmine scented teas, and they were produced in the same manner. Rose congou, however, is typically a black tea, whereas jasmine is usually green or white tea. The process is the same: the petals are laid upon the tea leaves to absorb their scent. Except that a black tea requires more withering, and so allows the essential oils to coat the tea leaves as they wither. 

Photo by Cloris Ying on Unsplash

As tea was introduced to Europe, rose congou (a variation on gong fu or kung fu) was very popular in England at afternoon tea, whether for the sweetness or the familiarity of the roses, one can only guess. Perhaps this is why we most often see roses scenting black tea. Or perhaps the warmth and depth of black tea is a more assertive partner to balance the power of the rose. 

Tea connoisseurs often recommend against milk with this tea, but if it is brewed quite strong, I’m happy to add milk and        even rosewater as a sweetener. Makes an exquisite warm cocktail with rose gin as well. 

Violet Black Tea


“That which above all yields the sweetest smell in the air is the violet.” —Sir Francis Bacon

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

We tend to think of violets as decorating a fine china teapot, rather scenting than the tea that’s in it. Or as a perfume, or a candied cupcake topping, but not an actual flavour in itself. Violet can be somewhat soapy, after all, and so the greater association with fragrance and skincare. 

Or perhaps that’s because New World violets are a different breed from the English violet, or Viola odorata – commonly known as sweet violet or wood violet. These are the violets that would have been used to scent teas in Victorian England, when violet tea was at the height of its popularity. And different again from Parma violets, which were the violet of choice in Edwardian England, and are still found in candies. 

Violet is an elusive scent, as it binds to our scent receptors, first to stimulate them, then to shut them down quickly so that we cannot detect it. Then, after a few breaths, it registers in your brain as a new stimulus, and you can smell it again. Violet leaves are also traditionally used in herbal medicine, but I’m definitely not recommending a tea made of those.  

If I can find violet sirop or essence, I’ll definitely buy it, but until then, violet tea is a lovely, old-fashioned seeming delight that speaks to afternoon teas of years past. It’s both novel and familiar, and tasty as well. 

Murchie’s once again is where I re-discovered this nostalgic treat.

***

Would you like to learn about more floral teas? There are so many! And please tell me about your favourites. The more I learn about tea, the happier I am. 

Happy sipping, 

Theresa

Smoky Duck Breast with Tart Black Currant Sauce

Duck lends itself to sous vide cooking and strong flavours, so don’t think I’m part of a cult that only cooks sous vide and with tea. Although that’s not a bad basis for a cooking obsession. But I sincerely believe that this recipe is transformative to a duck breast in the best way. So don’t assume I’ve gotten lazy. Assume that you’ll love this.

As it is sous vide, it’s oddly easy to make on a week night, as you can make it ahead. Of course, with many people working from home, you could take a 10 minute break, pop the duck in the water bath and return at your convenience to quickly brown these darlings when you please. And dry duck breast is a tough, miserable business. Sous vide can keep it lower temperature longer, preserving the texture and eliminating the risk of over cooking.*

My husband loves every bit of this and eats the fat without hesitation. The smoky and salty flavours permeate the fat and flesh, and fill you up, so that all you need is a side green or a salad as accompaniment. Ina Garten’s mashed rutabaga is also perfect with this, but you don’t need it.

You simply wash and dry your duck breast. Salt it all over. Throw it in your cooking bag and pat Lapsang Souching liberally all over your duck breast until you’ve covered both sides. Pack it generously with fresh bay leaves and forget about it for a few hours. The tannins in the tea and bay leaf will tenderise the duck breast and infuse it with delicious smokiness, like duck bacon but meatier.

If you have time, chop an onion in a fine dice, put it in some melted butter in a pan, and stir it in. Leave it on low for an hour or two while you go back to work. When you are ready to brown your duck breast, you’ll have some lightly caramelized onions as a home base for some quickly sautéed Swiss chard. The bitterness of the greens is balanced by the sweet onions and rich duck.

I thank Kenji Lopez-Alt for his sous vide duck recipe. The man was an engineer before he switched to food. You can trust that his calculations are precise, and in the name of food safety I would never vary from his recommendations of cooking times and temperatures. That said, I stick to the very lowest recommended cooking time because I like my duck breast as rare as is permissible.

*(FOR YOU NON-SOUS VIDE BELIEVERS: don’t trust that sous vide cooking is safe? Read this by Cook’s Illustrated. New to sous vide? Read this by Serious Eats engineer-turned-chef J. Kenji López-Alt.)

Kenji is not a snob and so recommends IKEA Lingonberry jam with your duck breast. I don’t doubt him for a minute. Blackcurrant jam would be more French and is what I like, having had it on pigeon every chance I got in France. But I am trying to cut sugar, which is changing my palate. Also, most jam tastes more of sugar than fruit. So I have devised a sauce that has all the flavour of black currant, all of the sour, and as much sweetness as you like. But the black currant is the thing.

This dish goes well with a medium bodied, peppery red wine but is also just a fabulous with a Blanc de Noir. In Toronto this is pretentious. In France this is just Tuesday. We won’t be in France for a while, so let me dream.

The blackcurrant sauce is a reduction of freeze-dried black currents, although if you have fresh or frozen by all means use those. Black currants are high in pectin, which means a steep reduction doesn’t need any thickener. They are boiled down in red wine into a tart juice with fresh bay leaf, peppercorns and a shallot or onion. Much as I love all thing garlic, it doesn’t really work here. I have tried and it just doesn’t fit. You can add a little duck juice at the end if you can get it mostly separated from the fat, but you’ll likely just have melted duck fat in the pan, so skip it.

The resulting liquid is really very tart, but you taste the black currants first and foremost. Then you add a little honey, bit by bit, unless you have the right balance of sweet and sour. I tend to favour the sour, but you just do as you please.

Smoky Sous Vide Duck Breast with Tart Black Currant Sauce

Smoky tea and fresh bay leaf tenderize and flavour a duck breast. Sous vide cooking keeps from going beyond medium rare. Freeze-dried black currants dominate a red wine reduction without the excessive sugar of the more traditional blackcurrant jam.
Prep Time 10 mins
Cook Time 45 mins
Total Time 1 hr
Course Main Course
Cuisine Canadian, French

Equipment

  • Sous vide appliance
  • Cast iron pan

Ingredients
  

  • 2 duck breasts
  • ¼ cup kosher salt
  • ¼ cup lapsang souching tea
  • 1 package fresh bay leaves
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 cup freeze-dried black currants
  • 2 cups red wine
  • 1 tbsp black peppercorns
  • 4-6 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 tbsp butter
  • 1-4 tbsp honey
  • 1 tbsp brandy (optional)
  • ½ tsp sea salt

Instructions
 

  • Wash and pat dry duck breast. Rub salt all over. If you have time, leave them uncovered in the fridge overnight. If not, skip it.
    When you are ready to cook, preheat your water bath to 54°C (130°F).
  • Place in a Ziploc bag and sprinkle in tea, making sure to get tea all over every part of the surface on both sides of each breast.
  • Using half of the leaves from the package, line the sides of the bag with fresh bay leaf.
  • Lower into the water, letting all the air out, and cook for a minimum of 45 minutes, up to 4 hours.
  • Heat wine and black currants until boiling, pressing down on currant and stirring them in until fully hydrated. Add in shallot, bay leaves, thyme and peppercorns. Reduce heat to low and allow to simmer for about 15 minutes, or until reduced to ½ cup. Turn off heat. Let sit until ready to use.
  • When duck is done, remove the breasts from the bag. Brush off as much of the tea as you can. If it really sticks, you can rinse it off, but if you have a clean scrub brush, try that instead.
  • Heat oil in a cast iron pan set on high heat until smoking.
  • Add duck breast and cook until sizzling, about 2 minutes.
  • Reduce heat to medium and cook about 5 minutes, pressing and moving to make sure the skin is browned evenly. Flip and cook the skinless bottom until barely browned, about 30 seconds. Transfer to paper towel-lined plate and allow to rest for 5 minutes.
  • When ready to use the sauce, remove the herbs and strains out the shallot and peppercorn. You can add in a few more black currants if you like texture in your sauce.
  • Reheat reduction, adding in honey to taste. Add brandy, butter and salt to finish.
  • Slice and serve with sautéed greens.
Keyword #blackcurrantreduction, #duckbreast, #freezedriedblackcurrants, #sousvide, #sousvideduckbreast

Pistachio Meringue Roll with Roasted Strawberries

Welcome Spring, and failing that, welcome Easter. Sadly, we won’t be welcoming family or friends again the year. But don’t give up. Drop off desserts, make each other care packages, decorate whatever outdoor spaces you have, and remember—this will not last forever. It’s not much longer now.

Every Easter we are drowned in chocolates: eggs and their nests, bunnies, chickadees, or more modern creations like some of the beautiful chocolate creations I ordered for my family at the Grand Order of Divine Sweets. I went for the Star Wars theme, but there are many other gorgeous creations, including Wonder Woman and Doctor Who-themed merch, and multicoloured, hand-painted eggs. Chocolate not only makes beautiful gifts, it counts as self care, too.

Every spring I make a lemon cake accompanied by coloured white chocolate eggs, either more lemon or coconut, just for variety’s sake. But this year I went back to my favourite combination for inspiration: pistachio and strawberry. If strawberries don’t represent spring, then what does?

Some of the strawberries we see at this time of year are maybe not as ripe or intensely flavoured as one might hope. Easily fixed by roasting them. I used BraveTart’s recipe, following her recommendation to use toasted sugar, which takes the sweetness down a peg or two. I was keen to use rosewater or orange blossom water as well as spent vanilla pods on my berries, but this might have been pushing the palates of my loved ones, so I’ll save that for a dinner party.

Roasting the strawberries not only concentrates the flavours, it removes the fresh sharpness that is normally such a great balance to the sweetness of a ripe berry. Pistachio is such a gentle flavour, it didn’t want any tartness to overwhelm it.

For the pistachio paste: BraveTart has a beautiful recipe for that as well, and I urge you all to make it and play with it. Only good things will come from such endeavours. However, Soma has a beautiful pistachio paste that you can just pick up when you are buying your Easter bunnies. I always keep a couple of jars on hand, because you never know when you need to make something fabulous at a moment’s notice. I was also lucky enough to come across some Watkins pistachio extract, which is not easily found. You could use almond, but use half the amount. Or use pistachio liqueur, if you can find it. I used vanilla as well. I find it supports the flavour perfectly.

I did this as a roll, but you could easily do it as a stack, or in mini-mason jars as little individual desserts. There are a few steps, and it’s best made the same day, but you can make the pistachio cream, the roasted strawberries, and the candied nuts a day ahead. The candied pistachios could also benefit from rosewater or orange blossom water, but again, it’s not for everyone. The meringue you do want to make same day, and leave time for the eggs to hit from temp, then for it to cool. But it’s not hard to throw together, and it will crack, so you can just not worry about that at all. Cover it with more cream and strawberries and absolutely no one will care.

Pistachio Meringue Roll with Roasted Strawberries

A beautiful pistachio cream coats a chewy, dense, nut-laden meringue filled with roasted strawberries.
Course Dessert
Cuisine American, British, Canadian, French
Servings 8 servings

Ingredients
  

Pistachio Cream

  • ½ cup pistachio paste (see link)
  • 2 cups whipping cream
  • 1 cup mascarpone
  • ½ tsp pistachio or ( ¼ tsp. almond extract)
  • ½ tsp vanilla extract

Pistachio Meringue

  • 1 cup ground pistachios (available at Nuts.com, or make your own)
  • 1 cup white sugar, plus 2 tbsp.
  • tsp cornstarch
  • ¾ cup egg whites, at room temperature
  • 1 tsp vinegar
  • ½ tsp pistachio extract

Candied Pistachios

  • 1 cup pistachios
  • 2 tbsp sugar

Roasted Strawberries

  • 7 cups fresh strawberries
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 1 hull vanilla bean
  • juice from ½ lemon
  • 1 pinch salt

Instructions
 

  • Set the oven rack to the middle position and set the oven to 425°F (220°C).
  • Line a 12 x 17 inch (30 x 43 cm) sheet pan with parchment paper and set aside.
  • In a small bowl, combine the ground pistachios with 2 tbsp of sugar and the cornstarch.
  • Place the egg whites in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the whisk attachment. Begin mixing on medium speed until egg whites are foamy. Increase the speed to medium high and beat until soft peaks.
  • Add remaining 1 cup of sugar in a slow stream, then stop the machine and scrape down the edges.
  • Continue beating until the egg whites form stiff, shiny peaks.
  • Add in the vinegar, pistachio or almond extract.
  • Remove the bowl from the mixer and gently fold in the ground pistachio mixture, one third at a time.
  • Spread the meringue evenly in the pan, levelling the top gently.
  • Place in the oven. Immediately reduce the heat to 275°F (140°C).
  • Bake until meringue is lightly set and light golden brown, about 40 minutes. Leave on a wire rack until completely cool.
  • Turn oven back to 375°F (190°C).
  • Wash strawberries and slice off the tops. Slice biggest ones in half. Toss with lemon juice, sugar and vanilla pod.
  • Roasted, stirring one or twice, until just softened and swimming in juice, about 30 minutes. Let cool.
  • Rinse out the bowl of the stand mixer. Add 1/2 cup of cream to the pistachio paste, and blend together with the paddle attachment. Blend until smooth.
  • Scrape off the paddle attachment and replace it with the whisk attachment. Add in mascarpone, the extracts and the rest of the cream. Beat together until stiff.
  • Spread the cream evenly over the meringue, leaving a little border for spillover.
  • Strain strawberries and rough chop (or squish with freshly washed hands) and spread over cream.
  • If you have a helper to assist with the roll, do so. It will crack. You don't care, because you are not Martha Stewart and you are covering it with cream anyway. Do your worst.
  • Slather more pistachio cream over the outside, and pop it in the fridge or freezer while you candy the whole pistachios.
  • Warm pistachios over low heat with 2 tbsp sugar stirring all the time. Let cool.
    Decorate roll with more strawberries and pistachios.
  • Serve within a couple of hours. Prepare yourself for adoration and pledges of undying loyalty. Happy Easter!
Keyword #pistachio, #pistachiocream, #roastedstrawberries, #strawberry, #strawberrydesserts

Hearty Kale Salad

Isn’t all kale salad hearty? and healthy? Isn’t that why we eat it? Surely nobody actually LIKES kale salad. Well, do it right, and you might.

I was eating kale long before the Great Kale Craze of 2012. I tend to prefer it cooked, if only because raw kale tastes like cut grass, and not in a good way. Why else was everyone drowning it in Caesar dressing back in the day?

That approach is not without merit. A good amount of fat and salt can make almost anything taste good. But withering kale with a physical rub and salting it to soften the texture and flavour can make it something that I actually want to eat. And not just because it’s healthy.

Kale salad also has the benefit of being the only kind of salad that stays nice when made ahead. Whether you are still going into work sometimes, or whether you just want a batch of greens you can dig out of the fridge at a moment’s notice, kale salad is your friend.

The secret is twofold: use strongly flavoured, non-wilting ingredients that can stand up to the kale, then get your hands mucky.

Kale pairs well with strong cheese such as old cheddar or blue cheese. I used beef bacon, because for some reason it just really complements the flavours in this salad, but any bacon would do. Shredded duck with crispy skin would also be a perfect accompaniment, but I topped this with slow roasted chicken to make a complete meal. Keto much?

I always make an incredibly garlicky and mustard-filled dressing with a strong olive oil. Before I toss it and let it sit, though, I salt the kale, and massage it with some force for every batch I wash. I just keep grinding a little salt on, then taking every fresh bit I’ve washed and kneading it like bread to break it down. This recipe is not for baby kale. This is for the hearty stuff that you know you should eat, but are afraid will taste like hay and alfalfa sprouts. It won’t.

This recipe would be great with the addition of my Smoky Onion Pickles, if you have them. Or use a smoked mustard in your vinaigrette, like Kozlik’s Old Smokey.

If you find kale—or any cabbage—hard on your digestion, try sipping some Puerh tea along with it. This fermented tea does wonders with its probiotic properties, and the mushroomy, earthy flavours nicely offset the robust vegetal kale.

Do it! You won’t hate it. You might even like it. And your body will thank you.

Hearty Kale Salad

This one-bowl meal features rough chopped vegetables marinated in a flavourful dressing and kale that is tamed by massage. Hazelnuts and cheddar add fat and umami, carrots and purple cabbage adds crunch and colour.
Course Main Course, Salad
Cuisine American, Canadian
Servings 4

Ingredients
  

  • 2 heads green or purple curly kale
  • ¼ head purple cabbage
  • 4 carrots
  • 4 celery sticks
  • 1 shallot
  • 1 cup toasted hazelnuts
  • 1 cup cubed strong cheddar
  • 4 pieces crispy bacon (beef bacon works well here)
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 tbsp onion powder
  • 2 tbsp strong mustard
  • 3 tbsp apple cider vinegar
  • ¼ cup olive oil

Instructions
 

  • Wash kale carefully. Spin dry, then rip into smallish pieces.
  • Graet salt over each batch, then rub forcefully and throughy every time, incorporating the fresh washed kale with the salted and massaged.
  • Let the kale sit as you chop your other vegetables and fry the bacon.
  • Fry beef bacon on medium low until entirely crispy. Crumble into big bits.
  • Turn oven onto 350°F. Put hazelnuts on a baking tray and toast for 8-10 minutes, or until fragrant. Rub skins off. Rough chop or crush with a rolling pin.
  • Slice carrots into coins, not too small. You need the freshness and heft to stand up to the kale. Slice celery, erring on the side of bigger pieces.
  • Thin slice shallots.
  • Finely chop or puree the garlic, then mix with other dressing ingredients.
  • Toss dressing with all vegetables. Add bacon, cheese and hazelnuts.
  • Top with smoked duck breast or roast chicken. Or a cup of cooked lentils. Feel yourself slowing becoming fortified against any cold or or dreary landscapes, and wait for spring.
Keyword #kale, #kalesalad, #wintersalad

Tea Tasting with WNED PBS

Hey Tea Cuppers! I’m going to represent the Canadian contingent with an online tea tasting on April 15th in partnership with Sloane Tea.

We’ll be talking about how to brew white, green, oolong and black tea, as well as herbal teas.

We’ll cover single leaf teas, blended teas, and why the journey from crop to cup really matters.

Check it out here:

https://www.wned.org/community/screenings-and-events/Tea-Basics-A-Virtual-Tea-Tasting/

Sing up online by March 21 to order a tea package for $40, or sign up anytime before the event for just $10 to attend.

Christmas Tea Raisin Tarts

We wait every year for traditional Christmas foods. For those of who grew up in Western Canada, Murchie’s Christmas Blend Tea is a cherished annual treat. It’s on my list of seasonal creature comforts, not only for an afternoon break, but as a festive way to start my day.

Since the original writing of this post, Murchie’s Christmas Blend has sold out completely. Not to worry, the Orange Spice Blend is a perfect substitute.  It seems I’m not the only one who gets nostalgic for Murchie’s tea at Christmas!

Black tea is a fabulous ingredient in baking, especially in desserts. These little raisin tarts are not too sweet, thanks to the judicious use of brown sugar and the astringency that comes from soaking the raisins in double strength black tea. The tannins in the tea balance the sweetness of the syrup and the dried fruit, adding depth and just a hint of bitterness due to the extra strong brew. Like a cross between butter tarts and mincemeat, these little treats are delicately spiced, drawing on the flavours in this scented tea blend for a perfectly balanced taste. 

Tiny tartelettes are perfect for gifting and are just the right size to share space on a dessert platter with your shortbread and slices of Murchie’s Christmas Cake. They make a sweet contrast to my tangy Cranberry Apple Christmas Rose Tarts!

I use the rest of the pot to make a hot toddy based on the same flavours in the raisin tarts. You really won’t find a more comforting pairing than a tea toddy with tea-infused raisin tarts! 

CHRISTMAS TEA RAISIN TARTS

A cross between butter tarts and mincemeat, these little treats are delicately spiced, drawing on the flavours in this scented tea blend for a perfectly balanced taste. 
Prep Time 2 hrs
Cook Time 30 mins
Course Dessert
Cuisine Canadian
Servings 24

Equipment

  • minimuffin baking trays

Ingredients
  

  • 1 cup golden raisins
  • 1 cup sultana or Thompson raisins (or black currants!)
  • ¼ cup diced candied lemon or orange peel
  • 1 cup double-strength Murchie’s Christmas Blend black tea
  • ¼ cup dark rum 
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • ¼ cup cornstarch
  • 1 pinch salt
  • 1 tsp lemon zest (or orange zest)
  • 1 tbsp vanilla
  • 2 tbsp butter (if salted, skip pinch of salt above)
  • 1 batch your favourite double-crust pie dough 

Instructions
 

  • Roll your pie dough and cut out circles, rolling and re-rolling the leftover dough until you have 48 identical shapes. The ring of a wide-mouth mason jar is the perfect size for mini-muffin pans and should yield the correct number of pastry shells for 4 dozen tarts. Press circles into mini-muffin tins. Refrigerate for two hours, or up to 24 hours in advance. 
  • Preheat oven to 400ºF. 
  • Brew a pot of Murchie’s Christmas blend double or even triple strength. Loose leaf or tea bags both work just fine. 
  • Stir together brown sugar, cornstarch and pinch of salt, if using. 
  • Combine raisins and candied peel in a pot on the stovetop with tea and rum. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes on low. 
  • Turn up the heat to medium and add in the sugar mixture. Stir together for 2-5 minutes, until liquid begins to look a little less cloudy. 
  • Turn off the heat, then add vanilla, zest and butter. Stir until butter is melted and let cool. 
  • Carefully spoon the cooled filling into the prepared tart shells. Try to scoop up mostly fruit with your spoon, filling each shell no more than halfway. Distribute remaining syrup evenly throughout. Caution: too much filling will spill over during baking, making the tarts hard to remove from the muffin tin. 
  • Bake for 12 minutes, checking at 9 minutes to make sure they don’t bubble over. Unlike a cake, you can pop these out of the oven, and then put them back in to brown further if you desire. 
  • Serve with a Hot Tea Toddy. Merry Christmas! 

Notes

This recipe works beautifully with dried currants as well. Substitute raisins with dried currants (or a mixture equaling two cups) and cook for an extra 5 minutes on the stovetop. Pairs equally well with lemon or orange candied peel and zest, or a combination of both.
Keyword #buttertarts, #cookingwithtea, #mincemeattarts, #tea