Earl Grey Cherry Bars

If you’ve been searching for a recipe to round out your 4th of July barbecues and celebrations, you need not look any further.  Today’s recipe is a merging of the best in English tea tradition and American regional produce.  Earl Grey Cherry Bars are made from Earl Grey tea and Washington State grown organic Bing cherries.  If we are talking about America’s ties with the British, there really couldn’t be a better recipe to represent the idea.  Juicy and ripe yet fantastically expensive, from the moment I saw these ruby-red beauties I knew how I was going to enjoy them.

My Earl Grey Cherry Bars are a variation of pastry chef Gale Gand’s recipe for Austrian Shortbread.  Made the English way, shortbread dough is commonly packed into baking pans to create a thick, dense, heavy cookie that you can really sink your teeth into.  Here, before baking the shortbread dough is grated in the same way that cheese is grated.  The thick strands of grated dough are lightly packed above and below a luscious cherry jam layer.  This technique yields an airier, more crumbly cookie that’s almost pie crust-like in texture.

Another unique addition to these Cherry Bars is Earl Grey tea.  In this recipe, small flecks of Earl Grey are used to flavor the shortbread.  This doesn’t affect the texture of the bars at all, just the taste.  You can use any fragrant Earl Grey tea to flavor the dough, just keep in mind that if you use a loose leaf or large leaf blend you’ll need to give the leaves a zip in a food processor or spice grinder before throwing them in with the dry ingredients.

Are there any Downton Abbey fans out there?  As Season 5 doesn’t air in the US until 2015, summertime has me in Downtown Abbey withdrawal (I can’t wait to see what happens to Mista Bates!).  On a run to find some Earl Grey for this recipe, I spotted a tin of Republic of Tea’s Downton Abbey Estate Blend.  This limited edition blend is a standard Earl Grey that’s been infused with a pronounced vanilla essence.  It ‘s lovely for sipping on while enjoying scones, a piece of toast, or other simply flavored baked goods because it has a black tea base that’s strong without being bitter.

The Downton Abbey Estate Blend comes in tea bag form.  The tea leaves from it are already cut into small bits, so with a just few scissor snips I was able to get on with using it in the rest of my dry ingredients.  After getting a strong whiff of vanilla upon opening the tea tin, I knew that this blend would be perfect for this recipe.

Although you could technically use any jam to fill these shortbread bars, filling them with freshly made Bing Cherry Jam makes them over-the-top delicious.  Slightly sweet and slightly sour, the jam is thicker and chunkier than your average store-bought jam, making it perfect for cutting out bars with clean edges.  Make sure that the shortbread is completely cooled before cutting with a sharp knife and the bars will cut out beautifully every time.

The ideal drink to serve with these bars has to be cup of the same Earl Grey tea used in the recipe.  Tasting the tea in both its dry and steeped form with give you a full appreciation of tea’s versatility and range of flavor.  I went ahead and brewed my tea in a traditional glazed English teapot known as a Brown Betty.  I think it made my tea taste just that much more Downton Abbey inspired (it would be the type of teapot used downstairs not upstairs).  

As for the Cherry Bars I wouldn’t change a thing about them.  Bergamot infused Earl Grey and Fresh Cherry Jam are seriously a match made in culinary heaven…bake up a batch for yourself this summer and you’ll taste why!

Earl Grey Cherry Bars

(Adapted from Austrian Shortbread recipe by Gale Gand)

Makes 12 large bars or 16 small bars.

Ingredients:

2 sticks unsalted butter @ room temperature

2 egg yolks

1 cup white sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp baking powder

2 Tbsp Earl Grey tea (I used 7 bags of Republic of Tea’s Downton Abbey Estate Blend, but if  you use another large leaf Earl Grey tea, use a food processor or spice grinder to grind it into small bits, then measure it out)

1/8 tsp fine salt

1 3/4 cups {Bing Cherry Jam}

Equipment:

stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment or large mixing bowl and handheld mixer

food processor with grater attachment or hand-held grater

rubber spatula

plastic wrap

9″ x 9″ baking pan

sharp knife

cookie spatula

Directions:

1.)  In a large bowl, mix together flour, baking powder, tea, and salt.

2.)  Place butter and sugar in the mixer bowl and cream on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.  Add egg yolks, one at a time, mixing thoroughly after each addition.  When the wet ingredients are homogenous, place the mixer on low and gradually add the dry ingredients until you get an evenly mixed shortbread dough.

3.)  Place a large piece of plastic wrap on a clean surface and place the dough on it.  Flatten the dough into a 2″ thick square, then wrap it with the plastic wrap completely.  Place the dough in the fridge to chill completely, for at least 3 hours.

4.)  When the dough is completely chilled, take it out and divide the dough in two equal pieces with a sharp knife.  Use food processor or hand grater to grate each of the pieces of dough, keeping the 2 portions separate.

5.)  Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.  In a 9″ x 9″ pan, place 1/2 of the grated shortbread. Spread out the crumbles evenly and lightly press them into the pan with your fingers.  Pour 1 full recipe of Bing Cherry Jam atop the first shortbread mixture and spread out evenly with a rubber spatula.  Place the 2nd 1/2 of the grated shortbread on top of the cherry jam layer. Evenly distribute and lightly press it into the pan.

6.)  Bake the shortbread in the oven for about 30-35 minutes or until the top of the shortbread is a light golden brown.  Remove the baking pan from oven and cool completely before cutting with a sharp knife.

Green Tea Jello with Honeyed Fruit

Just last year my mother-in-law introduced me to green tea jello.  This jello was much like the American version of gelatin that comes in a packet in powder form, where you simply add hot water to make it.  Looking for a way to make that same tea jello dessert with better and fresher ingredients, I came up with this easy Green Tea Jello recipe.  Topped with honeyed ripe fruits, these jellies makes a healthy, refreshing, and effortless spring or summer snack.

To make this Green Tea Jello you need just a few simple ingredients.  As a base for the jello, I’m using my one of my favorite bottled Japanese green teas, but you could easily use a black, white, or even herbal tea instead.  There is no water to boil or tea to steep, as I did say this recipe would be easy!

Other than the tea, there are two ingredients that will make this tea jello simply delicious.  I’ve had this bottle of orange blossom water sitting in my pantry for the longest time.  Since I bought it in the same section that you find rose water, I figured that it would have the same potency that rose water does, but after trying a dab I realized that it’s a completely different ingredient.

Orange blossom water is a by-product of the perfume distillation process.  It’s often used in Middle Eastern cooking, and is sometimes used in making baklava.  Where orange blossom water is soft and fragrant, it gives a light suggestion of beautiful floral notes instead of actually tasting flower-like like rose water does.  It’s optional in this recipe, but if you haven’t tried it before I highly recommend it.

Another yummy ingredient I’ve used in my tea jello is some good-quality local honey.  I received a jar of Bee Local Honey from my friend Yvonne over at Dress this Nest blog, when she sent me a care package as part of the 31 Days of Kindness Project.  I can’t tell you how amazing this honey is!  It’s so smooth and almost buttery in texture.  For this recipe, try to forgo the run-of-the-mill honey bear at your grocery store and hit up your local farmer’s market for the good stuff.

I like to ladle the gelatin into teacups so that it’s obvious that this dessert is made from tea. Top the jello teacups with any variety of fruits that look colorful and are in season.  After cutting the fruit, blot the pieces lightly with paper towel and then lightly drizzle them with a bit of honey to give them a nice glossy finish.

Green Tea Jello with Honeyed Fruits is an amazingly tasty and healthy refreshment or way to end a meal.  It’s deliciousness lies in it’s wholesomeness and the addition of some unique quality ingredients.  Give these a try and you’ll see how rewarding it is to transform tea into something you can actually eat!

Green Tea Jello with Honeyed Fruit

Serves 6.

Ingredients:

4 cups of bottled or canned green tea (I used Ito-En)

2 Tbsp unflavored gelatin

1/4-1/2 cup good-quality honey

2 tsp orange blossom water (optional)

fruits of your choice

extra honey, for coating fruit

Equipment:

medium microwave-safe mixing bowl

large mixing bowl

liquid measuring cup

microwave

small ladle

paper towels

6 teacups, for serving

Directions:

1.)  Place 2 cups of green tea in a medium size bowl and place in microwave on high for 3 minutes.

2.)  Meanwhile, add 2 Tbsp of gelatin to the remaining 2 cups of cold green tea in a large mixing bowl.  Stir the mixture and allow the gelatin to bloom.

3.)  Carefully remove bowl of hot tea from microwave and stir in 1/4-1/2 cup of honey, depending on the sweetness, until it dissolves.  Stir in the orange blossom water.

4.)  Add hot tea mixture to cold tea mixture and stir until everything appears evenly dissolved. Ladle liquid gelatin into teacups and set in fridge to chill for 3-4 hours until fully set.

5.)  Dice the fruit into 1/2″ pieces, then blot dry with some paper towels.  Drizzle and toss the fruit with the reserved honey to create a glossy look, then spoon atop the set jello and serve!