Sweet Tea Shortbread
Here we go! My second ever Showstopper Challenge! The bakers were required to create a 3 dimensional biscuit scene with one requirement: the biscuits must stand up. Paul gave some good advice explaining that with this requirement then, you must choose a biscuit recipe that is rigid, yet must taste good. Mary continued by emphasizing that Paul and she are looking for every element to be homemade which, is a comment that will carry some weight in this challenge.
I had been thinking about this challenge for a while, and I easily figured out the flavors and shape that I wanted this showstopper to take on. In considering my Birmingham, Alabama roots, I wanted to created a 3D version of a symbol of my city, a clear indicator for those who reside here. It was obvious, really. Perched high on top of Red Mountain looming over our city is the statue of the Roman god, Vulcan. Vulcan can be viewed from almost any place within the city limits with his spear raised high...and his bare a$$ can be viewed from many places "over the mountain." He is the god of fire and forge symbolizing Birmingham's inception as a steel-producing, industrialized city. I could not think of a better representation of my town to be reproduced in biscuit form.
Now, when it comes to flavor, there is no taste more quintessentially Southern than sweet tea and shortbread would lend itself well to my desired outcome. I found an Earl Grey shortbread recipe to use as a base, replacing Earl Grey for Lady Grey tea and adding a lot of lemon zest. Conceptually, it was perfect. In practice though....well, read on.
Entering into this challenge, Jordan and Enwezor were sitting in a precarious position and they really needed to nail this. Jordan planned on putting together a Monster Attack theme using Custard and Bourbon biscuits, but stumbled for just a minute when his biscuits stick to his baking pan forcing him to remake a batch. Enwezor straight up offended Mary Berry by explaining that he is absolutely not making the fondant that will go between the layers of his gingerbread biscuits in the construction of his freestanding rocket ship. What kind of atrocity is this Enwezor?! Let me tell you, if I bake anything for queen Mary Berry, you better believe every last element will be homemade. This is the time to impress! *Groan* These two are not off to a good start.
Meanwhile, Luis put together a chocolate and paprika dragon showing off his design skills while Richard proved his building prowess by constructing a purely whimsical gingerbread octopus. I mean, these guys are really killing it. It's not even fair at this point given their respective backgrounds in design and construction.
Where I lack in baking skills I do make up in other ways. One of things that I am good at is drawing and I was able to free hand a template of my Vulcan structure with ease. But now comes the hard part. I knew once I decided on shortbread that I might have difficulty in the assembly as shortbread is inherently rather crumbly - a trait not well-disposed for construction. But dangit I really wanted some shortbread! It will have to work. It will work. I imagine Paul Hollywood walking up to my workstation under the infamous white tent:
Paul: Alexandra, what are making for us today?
Me: Well, I've decided on a shortbread.
Paul: Shortbread?? You really think that was the best decision? I imagine you would want something a little sturdier.
Me: It will work. I'm certain of it.
Paul: Ok, I'm not going to tell you why that might not be wise, but I imagine you already know. We'll see how it goes.
Thanks, inner Paul. Thanks a lot. Well, let's do this.
I used this recipe from What She's Having noting that the recipe calls for "good quality tea." However, Southern sweet tea is made with the cheapest black tea on the shelf. I'm talking Lipton and Luzianne. I had to do better than that, but I was buying this stuff from Wal-Mart, so you know you can only get as fancy as...well, as fancy as Wal-Mart will get you. Tazo? No, Twinings for the win! Seems rather appropriate, too. It's still not the strongest flavor, so I guess 4 bags will do? How do you pronounce Twinings? Like "twinning" like that term white girls use when they are wearing an outfit mildly similar to their friend? Or like "twine," you know, the decorative string white girls use to wrap around mason jars to use as centerpieces for their "rustic chic" wedding? Does any of this matter? What am I doing?
Focus. Like a pie crust, you bring the ingredients together until they are crumbly and come together when you press in your hand. Since I am rolling this out into shapes, I formed this into 3 discs before resting in the fridge but if you are just planning on making cookies then, 2 logs will do. After a 1 hour rest in the fridge, I get one disc out to roll out, put a rolling pin down, aaaaaand it promptly breaks in half. Word to the wise: if you are cutting these into cookie shapes like a normal person then, everything is fine. But if you're trying to force shortbread into a acting like construction material then, you will need to bring the butter in the dough back to a pliable texture. Is the fact that this dough isn't even baked and it's already broke in half a bad omen? I sat my dough on the counter and watch an episode of Parks and Recreation before returning to this task again.
Let's return to the bakers and see how this ended. The winner of Star Baker was clearly between Luis and Richard, and Richard ended up edging out for the win. Jordan's flavors saved him, so it was ultimately Enwezor that had to go this week. Although he seemed a delight, the use of store bought fondant was ultimately his downfall. I'm fine with it, as I'm tired of double-checking the spelling of his name before typing it.
Back to us now. Did Leslie fill in the pit? No, not yet. I rolled out the dough as thin as my patience could take, cut around my hand-drawn templates, and stuck them in the oven. They came out perfect! Seriously, not a lot of spreading and they came out exactly as I cut them. I was so proud! I perused Pinterest for royal icing recipes to decorate the top and eventually gave up. It was late, and I was tired, so there's no need for any extra. But now was the difficult bit of putting it all together. I had slotted my biscuits in an attempt to eliminate the need for any kind of glue. However, my slots had closed up a little during baking. I cut the slots out more until I thought it would be ok and set my base up to put Vulcan down, and - drumroll please - the biscuits split right in half. My entire base gone in a second! Then I laid Vulcan back down and his hand and spear broke right off. *Scream!* Fine, fine, fine! I'll return to this tomorrow!
But then I didn't. The biscuits laid on the cutting board that I had placed them for 2 weeks. Seriously. I kept saying I would glue Vulcan's hand and base back and I just didn't do it.
I was over this challenge before I even started. In the back of my head, I knew shortbread wouldn't work, but stubbornness got the better of me. I though of how awesome it would be to write a post about how I successfully constructed Vulcan out of shortbread! But imaginary Paul was right. Ah well. But how did it all taste? This recipe did make a ton of dough, and I made rounds out of the leftovers. The flavor did not exactly hit the sweet tea flavor that I was hoping, as the lemon zest overwhelmed the flavor of the tea. This was, however, an excellent lemon shortbread that happened to contain some tea leaves, which oddly enough had the consistency of poppy seeds, so I really cannot complain. Make it yourself, but better to keep this in 2D form as intended.
I hope you enjoyed these few attempts at biscuits! Do yo have any tips and tricks to amp up my biscuit game? Send them to me and look out for the next challenge!
Sweet Tea Shortbread
Adapted from What She's Having
2 cups all purpose flour
4 bags Twinings Lady Grey tea
1/2 tsp salt
1 cup unsalted butter, softened
1/2 cup powdered sugar
- zest of 1 lemon
In a small bow, mix together flour, tea, and salt.
In a larger bowl, beat together butter, powdered sugar, and lemon zest with an electric mixer until the butter is light and fluffy. Add the flour mixture and mix until combined.
If cutting into shapes, shape the dough into 3 discs wrapped in plastic wrap. If cutting into individual cookies, form into 2 logs and wrap in plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 1 hour for logs and 15-20 minutes for discs.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheet with parchment. For individual cookies, cut 1/4 inch pieces out of the logs, placing about 1 inch apart, and bake for 13-16 minutes. For shapes, roll out into a thin sheet and cut out desired shapes, placing on baking sheet about 1 inch apart, and baking for 10-13 minutes. Only the bottoms should be slightly golden. Cool completely on a wire rack before enjoying.