Back when I was in London for research (attending an archaeology conference and looking at manuscripts at the Wellcome, British Library, and Bodleian), I took a detour to the Twinings flagship shop and museum at 216 Strand.
I am a tea lover and also a nerd, so this was the most exciting touristy thing I had planned. The shop is the Twinings tea company’s first store, which was originally a tea shop in front and a coffee house in back, back in the 17th century when the English had barely begun to drink tea and coffee was all the rage. Today, the narrow alley of a store sells every possible flavor of Twinings in collectable tins, plus tea paraphernalia up front, and hosts a tasting bar and tea history museum wall in back.
Although Twinings is not the highest quality of teas, for me it’s the best Earl Grey by far (even if the blend they sell in the US is completely different from the one you can get in the UK) and its other offerings are very good for a brand you can buy in the supermarket. I also have to say that I prefer a lighter black tea – less floral, and less tannic – which is just about the opposite of most really fancy teas. But the real draw of the Twinings shop, the secret winner, is the cookies … fine, biscuits. The tasting counter had small plates of biscuit pieces to go with the free flight of tea on offer (which was a fantastic range of black, flavored, green, and herbal), and of course this just roped me in to buying a full tin. When I asked the man serving the tea what his favorite of the biscuits were, he said “it’s really about which tin you like the most” – and he has a point, the cannisters are beautiful. But in the end I went with green tea shortbread and orange chocolate, since those sounded like flavors I would actually like.
I expected them both to be dense, crumbly shortbread, but was pleasantly surprised. The green tea cookies were light and crisp with that slightly bitter matcha flavor. For the chocolate orange cookies I was expecting a chocolate cookie with orange flavor, but instead I got crisp and airy cookies dotted with pieces of candied orange peel and coated in a perfect layer of chocolate. And it goes without saying that both were great with tea. My husband ate all the matcha cookies in about a week, and I managed to space out the chocolate orange for maybe two, so the tins have been sitting empty on my shelf since early spring (although they make excellent containers for holding the cleaning tool for our coffee maker). So I decided to try my hand at recreating the chocolate orange biscuits (I’ll undoubtedly tackle the matcha at some future date).
As crispy chocolate chip cookie recipes will often tell you, the key to that texture is to melt the butter in the recipe, rather than just softening it, and I think this was the way to go. This makes the cookies spread out quickly and harden. For the flavoring, I wanted the orange, but I also had a feeling of some spice. So I used the zest of an entire large navel orange for half a batch (about 30 small cookies), given that I didn’t want to make candied orange peel and I wasn’t interested in buying it; and I added a bit of Chinese 5 spice powder, which is an amazing complement to the orange (inspired by this recipe, which I ultimately found disappointing for its texture). I toyed with the temperature and timing of the bake, and settled on 10 minutes at 400* for small cookies made with a tbsp of dough for the best results.
When I dipped the cookies in chocolate, I let them cool completely for several hours so that there was no more moisture coming off of them – I wanted the cookies in the chocolate to be as crisp as possible. I tempered the chocolate in the microwave, by melting 2/3 of a bag of chocolate chips for 30 seconds at a time, stirring between each burst until the chocolate was completely smooth, then stirring in the remaining third of a bag and some coconut oil until it was completely smooth again. I did a quick dip of each cookie and let them dry on a baking sheet over night (in the fridge would also be good) – the coconut oil helps ensure that the chocolate hardens all the way, since it’s solid at room temperature.
Chocolate-Orange Spice Cookies
Makes about 30 small cookies.
Preheat oven to 400*.
In a small bowl combine 1 cup plus 2 tbsp flour, 1/4 tsp baking soda, 1/2 tsp salt, and 3/4 tsp Chinese 5 spice powder. Set aside. In a large glass bowl, partially melt 1 stick (8 tbsp) unsalted butter – if using a microwave, about 30 seconds for a cold stick is enough. Add 6 tbsp each brown and white sugar, 1/2 tsp vanilla extract, and the zest of a large orange. Cream together with a mixer (or a fork) until the sugar is completely incorporated and the grains are no longer visible. Thoroughly incorporate 1 egg. Add the dry ingredients a bit at a time until just fully incorporated.
Drop the dough in rounded tbsp portions onto a baking sheet lined with a silpat or sheet of parchment paper – no more than 12 cookies per sheet so that they have plenty of room for air to circulate. Bake for 9-11 minutes, turning once halfway through to ensure even baking. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely for at least 2 hours.
Once cookies are cool, melt the chocolate. Place 8oz semi-sweet chocolate (2/3 of a standard 12oz bag of chocolate chips) in a microwave-safe bowl and melt in the microwave for 30 seconds at a time, stirring in between bursts until the chocolate is completely smooth. Add the remaining chocolate plus 1 tbsp coconut oil and stir again until completely smooth. Using 2 forks, dip each cookie in the chocolate – for the thinnest coating, place the rounded top side in first, then lift and flip to coat the bottom – then place back on the silpat or parchment. Allow to harden overnight or for an hour in the fridge. Enjoy with tea.