Monday, June 4, 2012

Cookies and Tea With The Queen

England Swings by Roger Miller
Now that I've actually been to England a couple times, I am amused that this song, an American folkish song, sums up my joy and enjoyment of that charming and wonderful country.  When I'm there I feel like I'm smiling about 90% of the time - the rest of the time I'm probably sleeping.  This song makes me smile, not just because there's whistling, which is always fun, but because it lists some of the English things that bring that smile to my face.  I can picture in my mind the bobbies, Westminster Abbey, and the tower of Big Ben.  But I can hear the rosy-cheeked children with their sweet little accents asking for another biscuit, please.  What the song doesn't cover are the misty morning walks along the Cam, the fields along the roadside that are impossible shades of green, and the ever cheerful cab drivers with their magnificent wit and dry humor.   Love, love, love England - and I wish The Queen well.

My daughter texted me the other day, wondering what I was going to post for The Queen's Diamond Jubilee.  I was caught a little off guard.  Yes, I knew about the celebrations.  I'd even thought several times how I wished I had planned a trip over there this year to be a part of it all.  But, in all honesty, I hadn't considered devoting a post to it - and, why not?  It was a fantastic idea!

My first trip to England was with this daughter.  She and I had enrolled in an exchange at Cambridge University - she for college credit, myself for the experience alone.  We were in England three weeks and had many choice moments together - some plain and simple and some rather wondrous.  When she sent the text, however, the first memory that popped into my mind was an afternoon tea we had while in Cambridge.

We had a daily ritual of classes in the morning and wandering and exploring the area in the afternoons.  We both were curious about the English tea tradition but were hesitant to participate lest we make fools of ourselves by doing something "unseemly."  We had watched all the people in our beloved BBC productions take their tea and were pretty sure we had it down and could behave properly, if only for an hour.  But we were searching for the right venue for the occasion - some place that wasn't too small where any errors on our part would be local gossip for the next week.  We also didn't want some place that was so large that it felt more like a factory.  We wanted quaint and charming - but forgiving.

We finally found what we thought would be the perfect place and slipped in one afternoon.  The hostess was very kind and seated us.  Once seated, everything went perfectly.  I ordered my favorite herbal tea - chamomile - and some scones.  It was such fun and I couldn't help but think that they had a good thing in this afternoon tradition.  A chance to sit a spell and rejuvenate yourself.  

My absolute favorite part of the tea involved another pair of customers.  A mother and her little girl had come in and sat at a table behind me.  My daughter and I had been too engrossed with our own conversation to really take much notice but we finally hit a lull in our discussion just as the little girl behind me asked her mother, "Mummy, could I have another biscuit, please?"  I wish there was some way I could write an accent because this simple request had me smiling ear to ear!  The only reference I can give you is the child's voice at the beginning of Pink Floyd's "Goodbye Blue Sky" from the album The Wall saying, "Look, Mummy!  There's an aeroplane up in the sky!"  So sweet, so polite, so very British.  This plain and simple moment has stayed with me, the sole reason being the pleasure that child's voice gave me.  

I wanted to make something for tea time for today's post and thought of my favorite cookie - the simple Shortbread cookie.  Yet, for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee, I wanted to give it a little special attention.  It didn't take too many turns of my brain before I settled on a lavender shortbread cut into diamond shapes sprinkled with turbinado sugar on top.  I found a shortbread recipe and messed with it a bit and came up with this stellar result.  The rice flour helps create an airy quality that is heavenly to bite into.  Shortbread cookies are mostly butter but somehow this cookie is not only light and airy, but luxuriously buttery as well.
I pulled out a cup and saucer my grandmother gave me years ago and filled it with some herbal roobios tea.  I added the diamond-shaped cookies and called it good!  If Queen Elizabeth were to appear at my door for tea, I would most certainly serve her these delectable delights!  Tata for now, loves!

Lavender Shortbread Cookies
makes 4 dozen small diamonds or 2 10" tart rounds
Printable Recipe Card
3 c. all-purpose flour (430 g)
1 c. rice flour (130 g)
1/2 t. kosher salt
2 c. unsalted butter, softened
1 1/2 c. powdered sugar (180 g)
1/4 c. dried lavender buds

Combine the flours and salt in a bowl and whisk to mix well.  Set aside.

In the bowl of a food processor, combine the powdered sugar and the lavender buds and process until the buds are broken up and fine - about a minute.  If the thought of eating lavender buds is a little "out there" for you, then simply add the buds to your sugar in a sealed bag or container for about 24 hours, then sift them out and discard before using the sugar.  You'll have the lavender flavor without the texture.  I, personally, didn't mind the bud pieces at all.

Place the powdered sugar mixture into a mixer bowl and add the softened butter.  Cream together until light and airy - about 3 minutes.  All at once, add the flour and salt mixture and mix at low speed just until combined and dough comes together.

Line a sheet tray with parchment paper so some of it hangs over the edges.  Spread the dough out evenly - I used a handy roller tool I got at a Pampered Chef party.

Wrap with plastic and chill for about an hour, until set.  If you are making wedges, simply pat the mixture into the round tart pan, wrap with plastic wrap and chill.

After the dough has set, remove from tart pan or sheet tray and cut into the desired shapes.  Preheat the oven to 325 degrees and place cookie shapes on a parchment-lined sheet tray.  Brush the tops lightly with water and sprinkle with turbinado sugar.  Bake for 15 minutes until the edges just begin to get a little color, turning the pan halfway through baking time.  Let cool.


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