While glossy sugar cookies and stylish Christmas bars get the glamour shots during holiday cookie season, my heart belongs to the quieter cookies, the buttery yet simple ones that are meant to lie beside a cup of afternoon tea and join the respite a tea break offers in busy days. These chai tea cookies, a riff on my old favorite of Earl Grey Tea Cookies, fill that spot on the tea saucer sweetly and neatly.
This thin, crisp, flaky shortbread flecked with black tea and spices is one of the simplest cookie recipes I know, and it comes together in just a few moments in the food processor. (If you don't have a food processor you can make the dough by hand, working the butter into the dry ingredients with a pastry blender until it holds together in a rough, moldable mass.) You don't need a big food processor; I usually make this recipe in my 3-cup food chopper.
Once the dough is made, you chill or freeze it in a log, ready to be sliced and baked; and like any other good icebox cookie, it can then be gifted either as baked cookies or in its frozen state. I like to wrap up logs of this dough in white freezer paper, tie a ribbon around one end, and write the baking instructions right on the paper. This is a sweet offering for the freezer and for a busy cook who might appreciate a crisp, buttery wafer of a cookie, redolent with spice and the smoky savor of black tea, during her afternoon tea break.
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 cup powdered sugar
1 tablespoon chai tea mix, from several chai tea bags (see Tea Note below)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom, optional
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon, optional
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup unsalted butter
In a food processor or small chopper, pulse the flour, sugar, powdered sugar, tea mix, and salt until the tea is pulverized and distributed throughout the dry ingredients. If desired, add the cardamom and cinnamon as well, which will give a more pronounced chai spice flavor to the cookies.
Add the vanilla and butter. Pulse together just until a rough dough is formed. Scrape the dough out of the chopper and form into a log 8 to 9-inches long on a piece of wax or parchment paper. Wrap the paper around and roll the log smooth. Freeze the dough, or chill for at least 30 minutes.
To bake, preheat the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment or a Silpat. Use a sharp knife to slice the chilled or frozen log of dough into 1/3-inch-thick pieces. Place on the baking sheet and bake until the edges are just beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks. Store cooled cookies in an airtight container.
Tea Note: The word 'chai' or 'masala chai' is a catch-all for a spiced black tea drunk in great quantities throughout Southwest Asia and parts of Africa. Any bagged spiced black tea would be lovely in this recipe, as would an equal amount of homemade masala chai mix.