The flavor of the South: Sweet tea cookies

These adaptable cookies use tea, mint, lemon, and a powdered sugar glaze recall lazy Southern summer afternoons. 

The Runaway Spoon
These Southern tea cake-inspired cookies are worth the trouble. Grind the mint and sugar together in the food processor before mixing the batter.

The flavor of sweet tea is the flavor of the South. With the wafting aroma of mint and the tang of lemon, with that tooth-achingly sweet depth. I love to transform those flavors into many forms, from punches to sorbet to these cookies. They are redolent with those iconic flavors.

The texture of these cookies is really that of a classic Southern tea cake, but I just couldn’t bring myself to call them Sweet Tea Tea Cakes. I can imagine nibbling these with a glass of sweet tea punch in my best flowery dress on a country veranda, surrounded by azaleas and magnolias, though I’ll admit it has been awhile since I’ve done anything like that. 

These cookies also share that amazing Southern trait of adaptability. These fit in anywhere. Serve these cookies on your best silver tray lined with a linen doily or pack them in a brown bag for a tailgate. Perfect for a ladies luncheon or a backyard barbecue. Just like that string of your grandmother’s pearls.

I am not generally a fan of the two-appliance recipe, but these are a very special cookie and worth the dirty dishes. After lots of experimenting, I have found that grinding the sugar with the mint in a food processor really does produce the best mint flavor and prevents the mint from turning a muddy brown.

Sweet Tea Cookies
Make about 3 dozen cookies 

For the Cookies:
1/2 cup milk
1 black tea bag (such as orange pekoe or any blend for ice tea)
1/2 cup loosely packed mint leaves
1-3/4 cups granulated sugar
1 cup (2 sticks) butter, room temperature
2 eggs
1 tablespoon lemon zest
3 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

Heat the milk in the microwave for 45 seconds. Drop in the tea bag and leave to steep until completely cool. Remove the tea bag. The milk will turn a pale beige, not dark like regular tea.

Place the mint leaves in sugar in the bowl of a food processor (a small one works fine here). Process until the mint is finely chopped and combined with the sugar.

Cream the butter and mint sugar together in the bowl of an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl. Add the tea milk and beat until combined, then add the lemon zest and beat. Beat in the flour, baking powder and salt slowly until everything is combined, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed.

Scoop mounds of dough onto the prepared baking sheets. I use a two-tablespoon cookie scoop. Bake the cookies until puffed up and golden around the edges, about 10-12 minutes. Leave to cool on the baking sheets for two minutes, then carefully remove to a cooling rack to cool completely. When one baking sheet has cooled, use the last of the dough to make more cookies.

Cool completely and glaze.

For the Glaze:
1 black tea bag (as above)
6 mint leaves
1 cup water
2-1/2 cups powdered sugar

Put the tea bag and mint leaves in a measuring jug and pour over 3/4 cup of boiling water. Leave to steep for five minutes, then remove the tea bag and leave to cool completely.

Sift the powdered sugar into a bowl and add about five tablespoons of the tea, a bit at a time, whisking until you have a glaze the consistency of heavy cream. Place some foil (or the parchment from the baking sheets) under the cooling racks to catch drips and spoon the glaze over the cookies. I have another trick though – I prefer to dip the top of the cookies in the glaze, swirl them around a bit, very gently, lift them out and let the excess drip off, then return to the cooling rack. I find this gives you a nice even coat of glaze. Leave the cookies until the glaze sets. The cookies can be kept in an airtight container for one day.

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