Seven years ago last week, I talked about whole wheat pastry flour like it was an exotic animal at the zoo. I know this because a WordPress app emails me almost every day with a list of previously published posts, created on that same day on the calendar but in different years, and, on December 29, my first foray into non-white flour is what came up.
(That app is also how I know, three years ago today, we were talking about ricotta pear stacks, and, eight years ago yesterday, Julia Child. Have you been reading here long enough to remember end-of-the-year roundups like this one? I think they’re still some of my favorite posts to reread.)
In 2009, the subtext of the post about whole wheat pastry flour was that Tim had entered my life, and, along with him, a new understanding of food. My diet was transforming, as shockingly as, years later, our immobile newborn would become the child who smiles, laughs and runs around the room. And while everyone’s journey towards dietary changes is different, for me, dominoes of change began with the one simple step of looking at labels, swapping out refined ingredients. I didn’t want to eat health food, but I could replace a flour in cake. I wasn’t ready to overhaul my diet, but I could buy chips with five ingredients instead of 28.
Describing these transitions to a friend last fall, I used the phrase “no big deal,” on my way out the door of her living room, which probably sounded strange coming from someone who was willing to write an entire cookbook about einkorn flour so more people could approach it sans fear. Strange, but accurate. While I care about food and enjoy using einkorn flour and have seen wild, wonderful changes to my health like being able to go off medication for Crohn’s disease, now more than six years without symptoms, it’s still just food. I like it fine. I’m happy to talk about it. I don’t mind at all if it’s not for you and/or if your body functions well on another dietary plan. Eating a specific diet doesn’t make you more valuable or special, but, you know, it might make life work better for you, and, if it does, why not? If your stomach could stop hurting and your immunity could improve, maybe try it? Anyway, these were the kinds of questions hitting me seven years ago, when a stranger from Nashville emailed me about the beauty of whole foods and I thought, oh, sure, I can try that.
Between late 2009 and today, whole wheat pastry flour has become spelt flour has become einkorn flour in our everyday baking routines. We like einkorn flour because it’s what’s known as original wheat, as in, the form of wheat that existed hundreds of generations ago. It’s never been hybridized, it’s high in minerals and rich in nutrients and, thanks to its particular chromosome structure, usually easier to digest.
As mentioned above, we wrote a cookbook about it, published in 2014, that is, unlike this site with its long stories, strictly recipes and short headnotes; but, non-flashy as that sort of cookbook may be, it’s served us well in the years since. We regularly make the king-sized chocolate chip einkorn cookies, adapted from a recipe in Kim Boyce’s Good to the Grain, another great resource for incorporating whole grains into your diet. The thin and crispy pizza crust remains an all-time favorite, and, anytime Tim makes his einkorn sourdough bread, my heart still skips a beat.
Lots of recipes work just as beautifully and taste just as good with unrefined ingredients, from killer cream puffs made with einkorn flour to 15-minute banana pudding made with coconut sugar and kefir. Other recipes are trickier when you swap in wholesome components, especially if they rely on light textures or colors, as is the case with French macarons. Years ago, my Nashville roommates and I made macarons by grinding coconut sugar into our own powdered sugar, and it worked, sometimes; other times, it didn’t. I’ve been hit-or-miss, mostly miss, with pavlovas and other meringues, too.
But the one recipe that’s been on my backburner for years, galling me with failures, is the Earl Grey tea cookie.
Have you had Earl Grey tea cookies? Sandy, buttery, kissed with bergamot, these cookie coins are firm enough to dip in tea, melting in your mouth as first bite. I love them. Years ago, I liked to make Martha Stewart’s version, heavy on the butter (two sticks), heavy on the tea leaves (four bags). But when I tried remaking a similar recipe with the same proportions of unrefined ingredients, here is what I got:
This is not my first attempt at making cookies that yielded flat, fatty, lacy pancakes—but, at least in the case of Earl Grey tea cookies, it may be my last. Just in time for the new year and new diets and any nutritional changes you may be making in 2017, we’ve discovered, at last, a way to have the cookies I’ve always loved, using reworked ingredient proportions of more flour (einkorn absorbs liquids less than other flours might, so you often need to increase it or decrease liquids to make something work), less butter and less sweetener.
So if you’re looking for something sweet and simple to ring in the new year (maybe alongside a book and tea?), I submit these addictive little sables. You make the dough in the food processor, so there’s just one item to clean. There are only seven ingredients, and two of them are just water and salt. Plus, these are cookies you can feel good about making, comprised completely of whole foods, free of refined ingredients and a testament to the pure power of a few basic ingredients blended together just right.
Earl Grey Tea Cookies Made with Coconut Sugar and Einkorn Flour
Makes 15 to 20 cookies
While we’re on the topic of tea, if you haven’t made yourself a cup of hot Earl Grey and added milk and honey, give yourself some hygge this January and try it.
1 1/2 cups (187g) all-purpose einkorn flour
1/3 cup (56g) coconut sugar
1 tablespoon (3 bags) Earl Grey tea leaves
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon water
7 tablespoons (99g) butter, cold and cubed
Combine flour, sugar, tea and salt in a food processor and pulse a few times to combine.
Add vanilla, water and butter to the food processor and pulse until the mixture comes together into a dough. (At first it will look like it’s never going to come together, but be patient, give it a few minutes, it will surprise you.)
Turn the dough out onto the counter and form it into a solid log that’s about 6.5 inches long and 2 inches wide. Wrap this log in plastic and stick it in the freezer for 30 minutes or until firm.
Preheat oven to 375F and line two baking sheets with parchment.
Slice the log of dough into 1/3” thick discs, gently reshaping the discs into rounds if they flatten as you cut them. Place on prepared baking sheets about two inches apart (I had 8 on each sheet) and bake 12 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through the baking time.