From as long as I can remember, which nowadays, unfortunately, is not as long ago as it used to be, tea was my panacea of choice. Toothache? Earl gray. Bad day at school? English breakfast. Tummy ache? Chamomile. Even in my finer moments, I never questioned the logic (it worked, for heaven's sake!) until last night as I sipped my orange pekoe and ate some leftover jam-filled cookies that we had made the other day...
Why is tea such a universal, literally cross-cultural panacea? Undoubtedly certain kinds, especially herbals, have true medicinal properties. But I'm referring more to the idea that a cup of tea makes everything better, physically and metaphysically.
I once had a high school teacher who loved tea arguably as much as I. She drank it every day and with cream. That lady was a genius. She was also a chemist. I am convinced, though it is naught but conjecture, that her genius was augmented by tea. She was so relaxed and literally "chilled out" when drinking her tea that she would prop her feet up on a desk as she wrote on the overhead. When her feet popped up, we knew that our questions were no match for her genius. Even fellow teachers would go to her for her advice and help with science-related questions. And her tea. They always went away with tea.
Now, contrary to what these pictures might suggest, the best thing to go with black tea is biscotti. I'm sorry, cookies are a little too sweet. But biscotti is perfect - subtlety sweet undertones with a nutty base. And it's dry and crunchy. Perfect for dipping if you like. Myself, I'm not a dipper. I prefer to enjoy them side by side. Bite, sip and repeat.
A friend of mine from Wisconsin made a delectable biscotti which she sent us for Christmas. She, and every Italian in the world, might be angry if I don't elaborate further because it's actually Greek biscotti, or paximadia. They were divine. I shall post her recipe and you may decide for yourself. (Naturally I am convinced you'll rule in my favour...)
And so, my friends, panacea or not, I have no doubt you've now understood that no coffee drinker am I. No sir. I'll take bags (or leaves, as the case may be) to beans any day. My nice steaming cup of tea - with plenty of milk (omit if herbal tea you drink), and a heaping spoon of sugar. For, as my father-in-law stated, "If it's not sweet, it's not tea." My father-in-law is also a man of genius...
PAXIMADIA(These keep very well airtight in the fridge or at room temperature and are nice to have on hand for company.)
1 cup butter
2 cups sugar
5-6 cups flour
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
1/4 tsp nutmeg
1 1/4 cup finely ground almonds, blanched
1 cup Crisco (or margarine)
1 tsp vanilla
4 tsp baking powder
Cream sugar, butter and Crisco together. Add sugar, eggs, vanilla and spices. Add flour slowly, cup by cup so as not to overdo. Add nuts. Separate dough into about 5-6 balls. Roll each ball into a long, thin log. (Remember the logs will spread in the oven, so don't worry if you think they look too small.) Place on baking sheet. Score diagonally along each log, being careful not to cut all the way through.
Bake at 350 degrees F for 20-25 minutes. Remove from oven. Let cool slightly and then cut pieces all the way through. Separate and lay them on their sides on the pan. Bake for another 10 minutes, remove, let cool slightly, flip biscotti and bake another 10 minutes making sure to keep an eye on them. Biscotti may seem soft, but will harden as they cool.
*Optional: Prepare 1 cup of granulated sugar mixed with 1 tsp cinnamon in a bowl. Roll each biscotti in the sugar mixture while cookies are soft and warm.
After all this, if cookies you still prefer, do try these elegant jam-filled petit fours...
PETIT FOUR COOKIES
1 cup butter, softened
3/4 cup icing sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/2 tsp baking powder
(optional: 2 Tbsp cocoa)
Mix butter until white and fluffy. Add together with sugar. Add egg and vanilla and beat until creamy. Add remaining ingredients. Refrigerate dough until firm (15-30 mins). Using cookie press, create various shapes. Bake at 350 degrees F for 10-15 minutes. Allow to cool slightly before removing from tray.
Take two cookies and sandwich together with a smear of apricot or raspberry jam. Dip in melted semi-sweet chocolate and sprinkle chopped nuts, rainbow or chocolate sprinkles on top. Place on wax paper when wet and put in fridge until chocolate is firm. Very elegant to serve to guests or give as a holiday gift.