Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies are buttery beyond words! The cookies are speckled with black tea and fragrant with bergamot notes.
This is an easy riff on my favorite classic shortbread recipe. With just five ingredients, it’s so wonderfully uncomplicated. Earl Grey tea gives it refined flavor and beautiful fragrance, I may just add these to my holiday cookie giveaway trays!
To make these cookies extra-special, I used a fondant impression mat to make them a little fancier than usual. (I think they look like millwork!) Shortbread, when handled just so, molds so beautifully. It’s not difficult, and I’ll show you how in the video at the end of the blog post. However, if you’re not into molding the cookies, there are also simple slice-and-bake instructions in the recipe notes.
My current favorite offshoot of the Earl Grey family is Empress Grey. It’s a bit bolder and has a more pronounced orangey flavor than regular Earl Grey. I also really love using Earl Greyer by Republic of Tea in baked goods. It has bergamot oil added to the leaves (see this Earl Grey au Lait Cake). I recommend using your favorite variety in this recipe.
The dry ingredients.
First, open up about 8 Earl Grey tea bags. Pour them out into a bowl and give the tea mixture a good look. The tea should be fine, but if you see any large dry leaves floating around, grind them finer in a mortar and pestle (or put the tea in a zip-top bag and crush with a rolling pin).
Pour the fine tea into some all-purpose flour and whisk to distribute the tea evenly throughout. Additionally, add in some fine grain sea salt and confectioners’ sugar.
Cream the butter.
Butter is such an important ingredient in this recipe because it imparts so much flavor. The ratio of butter to flour also gives the shortbread its unsticky texture. Cream 1 pound of room temperature butter well in a standing mixer before adding the dry ingredients.
As the mixer blends the dough together, it will clump around the beater. This is a good sign that you’re on the right track. Mix it until the dough becomes so cohesive that the motion of the mixer beater begins to clean the sides of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a piece of plastic wrap and pat it into a disk shape. Cover and refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Molding the shortbread.
I really wanted to make this shortbread look as beautiful as it tastes. My initial plan was to use my new patterned rolling pin to give the dough surface a gorgeous baroque pattern. Well, in full disclosure – and after many tries – I just couldn’t get it to work right. I received a faulty rolling pin with too shallow a pattern and wobbly handles. What a disappointment!
As I rolled and re-rolled in frustration, I thought to myself “This is awful, I’d have more luck with an impression mat”. Which was a real lightbulb moment. Then I remembered this Baroque Scroll Relief Mat I purchased for wedding cake-making. It was perfect and turned out flawless tablets of dough.
How to help molded shortbread cookies keep their shape.
First of all, and especially with molded shortbread with this amount of detail, you need to freeze the cookies. If molding tablets as I have, freeze the tablets before cutting them into smaller cookies. The edges will be sharper and the cuts will be cleaner. Then transfer them to a cookie sheet.
Second, bake them from their frozen state. Cold butter releases its water content slower and the cookies won’t puff out of shape.
Third, bake them at a lower temperature for longer. 300F for 20 minutes was perfect for these 3 to 4-inch cookies. A lower temperature ensures the cookies stay beautifully pale, and the steam escaping from the butter does so slowly. Again, this helps the cookies from distorting or puffing too much.
From the oven, the cookies will be slightly puffed and lightly golden around the bottom edges. The cookies should have a matte appearance when they are done. I just love how architectural they look!
Sidenote: These cookies remind me so much of the edging and millwork on the Wedgwood-inspired Tree we put together for a Confetti Fix blog post last year (you can see that post here). I’m obsessed!
I’ve eaten more of these than I care to admit, but they are too good to resist! They make excellent company with a cup of hot tea and a good book. The molded cookies make a fancy-looking gift presented in a little bag tied with ribbon. However, if you’re not inclined to go that route, see the easiest instructions for slice-and-bake cookies in the recipe notes.
Earl Grey Shortbread Cookies
- 4 tablespoons Earl Grey tea about 8 teabags
- 4 cups all-purpose flour plus extra for dusting
- 1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
- 1 1/2 cups confectioners’ sugar
- 2 cups unsalted butter at room temperature
In a large mixing bowl, combine the Earl Grey tea and flour. Whisk together to disperse the tea throughout the flour. Add the salt and confectioners’ sugar. Whisk until well blended.
In the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter for 30 seconds. Add the dry ingredients and mix on low speed. The dough will slowly form as the beater turns. When the dough is well formed it should not be sticky, and it will be thick and clump on the beater.
Remove the dough to a piece of plastic wrap and pat into a disk. Refrigerate for 10 minutes.
Dust a work surface with flour. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and cut into quarters. Place a quarter on the dusted work surface. Dust the dough and a rolling pin lightly with flour. Roll the piece to a little greater than 1/2-inch thickness. Pick up the dough as you roll to make sure it isn’t sticking to the work surface. If it is, gently prod it loose with a spatula and throw a little more flour underneath it. Lightly re-roll.
Use an art brush (or pastry brush) loaded with flour to liberally flour the silicone impression mold. Turn the mat over and tap out excess flour. Lay the rolled dough over the impression mat and press the dough into the cavities with your fingers. Then, use the rolling pin to roll the dough flat to about 1/4 inch. Flip the mold over onto a parchment sheet and gently peel the mold away from the dough revealing a tablet design. Cut away the excess dough from the edges and transfer the molded piece to the freezer to stiffen completely (about 10 minutes). Meanwhile repeat the molding process with the remaining dough.
Preheat the oven to 300F.
Remove the frozen dough tablets from the freezer and cut into 3-4-inch lengths. Bake the cookies from their frozen state for 20-22 minutes, or until they are very slightly puffed and have a matte surface. The cookies should be pale with the bottom edges very light golden in color.
Let the cookies cool on the pans until they are firm enough to move, about 10 minutes. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely. Keep shortbread in an airtight container at room temperature for up to 6 days.
Mix the dough as directed. Divide the dough into two portions. Roll each portion into a log shape about 12 inches long and roll in plastic wrap. Chill until firm, about 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 375F.
Slice the logs into 1/3 inch coins. Transfer them to parchment-lined baking sheets and bake for 12 minutes, or until the edges are lightly brown. Let cool on the baking sheets until they are firm enough to transfer to a wire cooling rack. Cool completely. Store airtight at room temperature.