Bake something to write home about this holiday season.
When the holiday season rolls around, so do the family recipes we’ve come to cherish. But if you’re anything like Nancy Figueroa, owner of Pinch ’n Rub Spice & Tea Hub in Stillwater, it could be the perfect time of year to add something unique to your baking repertoire.
For Figueroa, infusing tea into baking and cooking provides a fun way to play in the kitchen. Pioneering tea-infused recipes is a process, often taking a few experimental batches to perfect. “[The recipe] depends on the tea and your palate, but the flavor comes through, and it just makes it more unique. [Tea] makes it feel more gourmet because you’re playing,” Figueroa says. “I’m a firm believer that you should play and enjoy your time in the kitchen.”
At Pinch ’n Rub, Figueroa stocks more than 80 varieties of loose leaf tea—and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. While there are some options that may work better with others in any given recipe, there is a world of tea varieties available to uplift baked goods.
While you could just throw some tea leaves in a recipe and call it a day, “There’s so many ways to impart the tea into your recipe,” Figueroa says. To pull the best of the tea’s flavor without sacrificing texture, Figueroa suggests infusing the tea in the liquid element of a given recipe.
Tea-infused butter or oil is as simple as warming butter or oil, adding the tea to the liquid and steeping over low heat before straining out tea leaves with a fine mesh sieve. Start with 1 1/2 tsp. of loose leaf tea per tablespoon of butter or oil; the more delicate the tea variety, the more will be needed. Remember to use more butter or oil than a recipe calls for, as some will stick to the discarded tea leaves.
If a recipe calls for water, you can brew a tea instead. To make the flavor come through, use two to three times as many tea leaves as you would use for drinking. To accommodate for the absorbing quality of tea leaves, add about 1/4 cup more water than the recipe requests while brewing.
Milk makes a great base for tea infusions, though there is more risk. “When you are doing milk, you have to be kind of careful because anything that’s too acidic is going to make the milk curdle,” Figueroa says, listing oolong, green and white teas as the most common culprits. She says, “… Sometimes, it’s just trial and error!” Start by steeping your tea in milk over low heat for eight to 10 minutes. Another option is to cold brew tea in milk overnight to use in recipes. (Bonus: You can drink the leftovers!)
Tips for Tea
The fresher the tea, the better. Matcha powder can be added directly to a recipe with great results. Well-known options, such as chai and Earl Grey, are likely to come through beautifully, while loose leaf green teas and herbal teas might struggle to become a hero flavor. But don’t let that stop you from experimentation. “If it sounds good, try it,” Figueroa says.
Even in infused recipes, whole leaves can be used—in moderation—to add a visual appeal. “Depending on the tea, it’s nice to still throw a couple teaspoons in just to have that little effect of the specks of the leaves or the flowers in there,” Figueroa says. Matcha and colorful fruity teas can also be used to dye frostings and baked goods.
What is the best way to find out what works? “Don’t be afraid to experiment,” Figueroa says. “If you have to throw a batch away, you throw it away and start over. But I haven’t had to throw too many things away.”
Combining tea flavors, portions and techniques can be a fun and surprising way to add international flavors to your baking. But if you’re looking for something a bit simpler, Figueroa shares a few of her favorite tried-and-true tea-infusion recipes here.
Matcha Green Tea Shortbread Cookies
- ¾ cup powdered sugar
- 2 Tbsp. Pinch ’n Rub Matcha Latte Green Tea powder
- 10 Tbsp. butter, room temperature
- 1 ¾ cup flour
- 1/8 tsp. Himalayan pink salt, fine
- 3 egg yolks, beaten
- sugar for dusting (Consider using Pinch ’n Rub
- Vanilla Bean Sugar or Lemon Sugar.)
Whisk powdered sugar and matcha powder together. Beat butter with sugar mixture until smooth. Stir in flour and salt, and mix until just incorporated. Stir in beaten egg yolks until smooth dough is made. Knead the dough into a ball. Place on plastic wrap, and roll to ½-inch thickness. Cover in plastic, and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Remove dough from the refrigerator and, using a cookie cutter, cut into shapes. Cover shapes on all sides with sugar, and place on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake cookies until golden on edges (approximately 12–14 minutes). Enjoy!
Variation: Roll dough into a log before refrigerating for slicing instead of cutting with a cookie cutter.
Mumbai Chai Latte Cupcakes
Spiced Chai Mix:
- 3 tsp. ground cinnamon
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground ginger
- 1 tsp. ground cardamom
- 1/2 tsp. ground allspice
- 2 Tbsp. Pinch ’n Rub Mumbai Chai tea
- 3/4 cup whole milk (to get 1/2 cup infused)
- 1 3/4 cup cake flour, spooned and leveled
- 3 1/2 tsp. Spiced Chai Mix
- 3/4 tsp. baking powder
- 1/4 tsp. baking soda
- 1/4 tsp. fine grain sea salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 3 large egg whites, room temperature
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/2 cup sour cream, room temperature
- Optional garnish: cinnamon sticks and whole star anise
Spiced Chai Buttercream Frosting:
- 1 1/2 cup unsalted butter, room temperature
- 5–6 cups powdered sugar
- 2 tsp. Spiced Chai Mix, divided
- 1/4 cup heavy whipping cream
- 2 tsp. pure vanilla extract
- 1/8 tsp. fine sea salt
Prepare Spiced Chai Mix in a small bowl, set aside. Steep the tea by bringing whole milk to a boil, stir in the dry tea leaves and let steep for a minimum of 30 minutes. Strain infused milk through a fine strainer, squeezing out the tea leaves with a spoon to get your 1/2 cup milk for the batter. Set aside. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and line a 12-cup muffin pan with liners; then line a second pan with two or three liners as the recipe makes about 14 cupcakes. In a large bowl, whisk cake flour, 3 1/2 tsp. Spiced Chai Mix, baking powder, baking soda and salt. Set aside. In a separate bowl, beat softened butter and sugar on high speed until smooth and creamy. Beat in egg whites on high speed for about two minutes, being sure to scrape the sides and bottom with a spatula if needed. Beat in the sour cream and vanilla extract. Turn mixer to low, and gently add the dry ingredients, until just incorporated. With the mixer still on low, slowly pour in the 1/2 cup of infused milk (cooled to room temperature) until just combined. Do not over mix. Spoon the batter into the liners. Fill only 2/3 full. Bake for 20–22 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.
Make the frosting while cupcakes are cooling. Beat the butter on medium speed until creamy, one to two minutes. Stop the mixer and add powdered sugar, heavy cream, 1 3/4 tsp. Spiced Chai Mix, vanilla extract and salt. Beat on low until combined; beat on high for two minutes. Add 1/2 cup more powdered sugar if too soft to pipe or 1 Tbsp. heavy cream if too thick. Taste, and beat in another pinch of salt if frosting seems too sweet. Allow cupcakes to cool completely before frosting. Pipe the frosting on to your liking (Tip: an 8B open star nozzle works great for an elevated look). Insert a small cinnamon stick or whole star anise into the tops of a few; dust with remaining Spiced Chai Mix.
Amaretto Spiced Vanilla Almond Scones
- 3 Tbsp. Pinch ’n Rub Amaretto Spice tea leaves
- 1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/2 cup almond flour
- 1/4 cup sugar
- 1/4 tsp. fine grain sea salt
- 1 Tbsp. baking powder
- 6 Tbsp. cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
- 1/2 cup sliced almonds, divided
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1/2 tsp. almond extract
- 2 tsp. vanilla extract
- Optional garnish: Pinch ’n Rub Vanilla Bean Sugar
Heat heavy cream in a thick bottomed saucepan over medium heat, stirring often to prevent browning. Heat just to boiling point, about 5 minutes. Turn off heat. Stir in the loose leaf Amaretto Spice tea. Let steep and set aside for at least 40 min to brew and cool. When ready to use, strain through a metal sieve, pressing the mixture with the back of a spoon to get your 3/4 cup for the recipe and reserve another 2 Tbsp. to brush over the scones before baking. If the leaves have absorbed more than you need, add a bit more cream to get to 3/4 cup and 2 Tbsp.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with a silicone baking mat or parchment paper. Set aside. Add the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and butter to a mixing bowl. Use a pastry blender or pulse in a food processor to cut the butter into the dry ingredients until the combined ingredients resemble small pebbles/coarse sand. Set aside. Add 1/4 cup of the sliced almonds, lightly chopped, and fold into the mixture with a spatula. Iin a separate bowl, whisk together 3/4 cup infused heavy cream, almond extract and vanilla extract. Add the liquid mixture into the butter and flour mixture. Use a spatula to gently fold ingredients together. Don’t over mix; the dough will form quite quickly and shouldn’t be one complete, perfectly round ball of dough. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface. Dust the top with a bit more flour and use your hands to push the dough together, gathering up the bits into a mound. Sprinkle the top lightly with a little flour, if needed, and push the dough down into a round shape about 1 inch thick. Use a large floured knife to cut the dough into 8 wedges and transfer the wedges onto the baking sheet with about an inch of space between each wedge. Use a pastry brush to lightly dust off any excess flour. Then brush with 1-2 Tbsp. of the reserved infused heavy cream. Top with remaining almonds and sprinkle with Pinch ‘n Rub Vanilla Bean sugar. Bake for about 20 minutes until the tops and bottom edge start to turn golden in color. Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire cooling rack immediately. Enjoy!
Chai Tea Cookies
This thin, crisp, buttery shortbread flecked with black tea and spices is one of the simplest cookie recipes. It comes together in just a few moments. Once the dough is made, you chill or freeze it in a log, ready to be sliced, baked and enjoyed! As with any good icebox cookie, it can be gifted either as baked cookies, or in its frozen state. I like to wrap up the logs in white freezer paper, tie a ribbon around one end, and write the baking instructions right on the paper to gift to friends and family during the holidays.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup Pinch ’n Rub Vanilla Bean Sugar, or granulated sugar
- 1/4 cup powdered sugar
- 1 Tbsp. Pinch ’n Rub Mumbai Chai tea
- 1/2 tsp. ground cardamom (optional)
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon (optional)
- 3/4 tsp. fine grain sea salt
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes
- 1 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
Place the flour, sugar, powdered sugar, chai tea and salt in a food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Process until the tea is pulverized and distributed throughout the dry ingredients. If desired, pulse in the cardamom and cinnamon, which will give a more pronounced chai spice flavor to the cookies. If you don’t have a food processor, be sure to pulverize the chai tea in a mortar and pestle, or run through a spice grinder before adding to the dry ingredients. Add the butter and vanilla extract. Pulse just until a rough dough is formed, or cut in with a pastry blender. Scrape the dough onto a piece of wax or parchment paper. Form into an 8 to 9-inch log. Wrap the paper around the log and roll until smooth. Freeze the dough, or refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. To bake, arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and heat to 350 degrees F. Line a baking sheet with parchment or a silicone baking mat. Use a sharp knife to slice the chilled or frozen log of dough into 1/3-inch-thick rounds to yield about 24 cookies. Bake until the edges are just beginning to brown, 10 to 12 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely.
A Decade of Pinch ’n Rub
Longtime spice-lover Figueroa spent years driving to the Twin Cities to indulge her cooking and baking explorations before opening Pinch ’n Rub on Main Street in downtown Stillwater in July 2012. More than a decade in, Figueroa and her staff have become a source of quality, internationally sourced teas and spices for locals and visitors alike. Though Figueroa now oversees operations from her new home in Las Vegas, she occasionally works in the store alongside her daughter, grandkids and staff. The shop peddles spices, blends, sea salts, infused sugars, herbs and coffees alongside teas. “Adding tea into recipes is adding healthfulness and a little bit of the world,” she says.