The new teatime

Brandi Cowen
February 02, 2012
Written by
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The brew for your baked goods needs to be twice as strong as what you’d brew for your cup.
 
There’s a trend brewing in the baking world, one steeped in thousands of years of history. Tea is finding its way into products ranging from cookies and squares to cakes and chocolates.

To learn about the latest techniques for and trends in baking with tea, Bakers Journal spoke with two certified tea sommeliers: Raelene Gannon, founder of Tea and All Its Splendour, and Laura Bryan, a professor with George Brown College’s school of hospitality and tourism.

A fine balance
When choosing a tea to work with, it’s important to carefully consider the flavours already present in your product, as well as the flavours of the tea itself. Balance is key to ensuring that bolder notes in a formulation don’t overpower the tea’s flavours.

Gannon recommends identifying a flavour in your product that you’d like to enhance, and then choosing a tea with similar notes.

Tips and techniques
There are two ways to get the flavour of a tea into your baking.

To infuse the product with tea, you’ll need to brew a concentrate twice as strong as you would make if you were going to drink the tea. Heat the liquid for your concentrate to about 140 F (60 C) and let the tea steep for half an hour, then drain off the leaves. You can either substitute the concentrate for some of the liquid in your formulation (for example, vanilla), or use one of those liquids as the base for your concentrate. Gannon often infuses milk with her choice of tea.

You can also infuse butter with tea; the fat will insulate the flavour, giving the tea a more potent presence in the final product. Simply melt the butter and then steep the tea in the liquid for 30 minutes, then remove the leaves and add the infused butter to your other ingredients.

Teas can also be baked directly into a product. Something like matcha can be ground up into a very fine powder, which makes it an ideal tea to bake with. Teas like rooibos may be very coarse or sharp and can add an unwanted texture to your baking unless you grind them into a very fine powder first.

“It’s kind of like white pepper and black pepper,” says Gannon. “Sometimes it adds a little bit of flavour but you don’t like the look of it.”

New twists on old favourites
Incorporating tea into a formulation is a great way to put a new twist on your customers’ favourite treats.

Tea is also a useful tool for putting a seasonal spin on a product without doing a complete recipe revamp every few months. In the summer, there’s a large market for lighter, fruity infusions, especially blended varieties. Consumers are sipping on the likes of blueberry rooibos and strawberry green teas. These blends can add a range of natural flavours to your products. For a fruity twist on a classic treat, Gannon adds an acerola cherry fig tea concentrate to her shortbread dough. In the fall and early winter, she works with pumpkin cream rooibos tea to give her mousses and cakes a warm fall flavour.

Tea and chocolate
Trendy chocolatiers are focusing on tea as a way to introduce new flavours into their main medium. The key is to know your chocolate and pair it up with a tea that complements its flavour profile.
“White tea doesn’t have as much flavour. It would probably be used in a pure form in white chocolate – something that doesn’t have a big flavour,” explains Gannon. “You have to balance flavours. That’s why dark chocolate is hard to really use: you have to have a really bold tea to marry with the dark chocolate, whereas you’d have a lot more options with a milk chocolate.”

“Ginger and dark chocolate are really good together,” says Gannon. “You can put matcha with it sometimes, buy you’ve got to really be careful on the ratio. It’s got to be something that really holds up a flavour profile.”

Bryan marries a white chocolate truffle with matcha tea and a hint of almond.

Health halo
Today’s consumers crave products that project a health halo. They’re after products that they perceive as delivering some sort of nutritional or health benefit. Baked goods infused with tea are well positioned to fill this niche.

“I think people are starting to think about drinking tea because it has the aura of being healthy,” says Bryan. Green teas in particular are rich in antioxidants and associated with health benefits ranging from fighting cancer and heart disease to lowering cholesterol, and from burning fat to preventing diabetes and stroke.

To really convey this sense of health, Bryan suggests baking the tea right into a product.

“You put matcha powder in all different types of cookies these days; that way you’re eating the tea itself rather than just having the flavour. It’s perceived as being even more healthy because you’re eating the tea.”

Ethnic fusion
Adventurous consumers are after foods that combine familiar flavours and ingredients in new and interesting ways. The Canadian Restaurant and Foodservices Association identified ethnic fusion as one of last year’s hot menu trends. Using different varieties of tea in your baking can help you bring this trend into your bakery.

Bryan suggests infusing a traditional mousse with jasmine or green tea, giving a traditional European dessert a little Asian inspiration.

Floral flavours
Floral flavours are more popular in Europe, but they’re slowly gaining ground on this side of the Atlantic. In 2011, The Food Channel identified floral flavours as one of the top 10 up-and-coming dessert trends. Infusing your baking with the delicate flavours of herbal teas is an easy way to bring this trend into your bakery.

Bryan suggests poaching the fruits you want to work with in a floral tea such as jasmine. “Just put your tea in a simple syrup when you’re going to poach your fruit. When you’re done, you strain your tea out and then you thicken [the syrup] or reduce it down.”

Earl Grey
“I would start with the Earl Greys because they’re the most popular drinking tea,” says Gannon. Because it’s such a popular variety, most people know what to expect from this tea. “Sometimes you start with the most common and the best known teas, and then you can play around from there.”

Earl Grey works well in a variety of applications, whether it’s added as a concentrate or baked directly into a product. Just break up the leaf, chop it into very fine pieces, and then add them to chocolate, shortbread cookies, cupcakes or other products.

To really bring out the flavour of the Earl Grey, Bryan suggests adding a citrus note as well.

You can also experiment with floral flavours to accent the Earl Grey. Gannon likes to add a lavender Earl Grey to her shortbread.

Chai tea
“Chai has all those Christmas spices that we love – those nice, warm spices that go nicely with chocolate, dairy and custards,” says Bryan.

Boasting bold flavours of cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and cloves, chai tea can be paired up with dark chocolate or other products with strong flavours that are likely to overshadow the more delicate notes of fruity or floral teas.

Tea’s rich history reaches around the world and spans the centuries. Whether poured from a fine china pot or baked into your best batter, this timeless drink has the power to take consumers on a taste adventure, transporting them to another place or time. The only limit is your own imagination.

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