Recipe: Candy Cane Tea Icebox Cookies

December 08, 2020

by Jessica Maciuch

Out of all of Adagio’s festive-flavored teas, Candy Cane has always been my favorite. I liked it so much that when I was still in college, I made sure to always have a bag of it available in my dorm room. I went to college in the northeast, where winter seemed to have its own personality. In early December, when finals week was in full swing, it seemed like I was going through 4 mugs of candy cane tea a day. I would make myself a cup to warm up after making the brave trek back from the library, or as a reward for writing another page of an essay, or to keep myself awake while I crammed for a test scheduled for the next morning. (I was at that age where I could chug an espresso at 10 pm and still manage to get to sleep that night. Those were the days.)

Still, I was not immune to procrastination. Neither were my friends, despite our attempts to force productivity by holing up together in a corner of one of the common areas. Usually, a few hours would pass, and someone would declare that we deserve a quick break. Sometimes we would order some pizza and, true to our word, get right back to studying. Other times our “study breaks” became a little more chaotic. More than once, we ended up at the 24-hour IHOP off some dimly lit road 15 minutes away from campus, mostly empty except for a few truck drivers grabbing a cup of coffee. We would make jokes about the diner existing in a liminal space, where time behaved weirdly and every waiter inexplicably had the same name. When Toto’s “Africa” started playing on the speakers exactly at midnight, we all burst out laughing and proceeded to have a quiet singalong, doing our best (and probably failing) to avoid disturbing the other restaurant patrons.

The story for this recipe comes from one such chaotic study break. That particular year, we had gotten into the habit of putting on the Great British Baking Show in the background while we studied. Naturally, when it came time to take a break from working, someone suggested that we should bake cookies together. Getting some basic cookie ingredients was easy enough. Just as some more snow began to fall, we bundled up and made the journey into town to raid whatever meager supplies were in the convenience store’s baking section. The refrigerated section of the store was quite lacking, so one of our friends high tailed it to the dining hall before it closed, hoping to get some butter and an egg from a sympathetic dining hall worker.

We didn’t have much in the way of equipment for baking or decorating—just whatever was on hand in the dorm’s bare-bones student kitchen. We were also at a bit of a loss for flavor, since the convenience store didn’t have any vanilla extract or chocolate chips. Eventually someone remembered the stock of candy cane tea back in my dorm room. A few months back I had managed to find a cute tea set at a local second-hand store, and I had frequently broken it out to serve some tea to my friends during previous study breaks. It had a strong, sweet peppermint-y flavor that could bring some life to our plain cookies.

This recipe has changed a bit since that first time we tried it. I now make full use of my kitchen mixer, which we definitely didn’t have in that tiny dorm kitchen. We tried creaming the butter and sugar together by hand, which was a lot of work even if two of us were college athletes. We also had to crush the tea leaves with the back of a wooden spoon, which left more than a few big pieces of loose leaf tea in our cookies. I don’t mind it much, but if texture is an issue for you, feel free to use a coffee grinder to blitz the tea leaves down before incorporating them into your dough. Since we didn’t have much in the way of icing or sprinkles, we decided to leave the cookies plain. I still prefer to leave these cookies undecorated to stay true to that last minute baking endeavor all those years ago, though sometimes I like to coat the outside of the dough log with more crushed tea if I’m feeling fancy. And all these years later, the recipe still holds up. However you choose to make these cookies, decorated or undecorated, I hope they bring you the same joy and fun I experienced making them with my friends.

Candy Cane Tea Icebox Cookies

1 cup butter (2 sticks), softened
1 cup sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp milk
3 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking soda
¼ tsp salt
4 tsp loose leaf Candy Cane
Additional loose leaf tea for coating (optional)
½ tsp mint extract (optional)

In a small cup, microwave 2 tbsp milk for 30 seconds. Add 2 tsp tea leaves, set aside to steep.

Crush remaining tea leaves with a coffee grinder, mortar and pestle, or rolling pin.

In a medium bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth.

Add egg and steeped milk, tea leaves included. In a separate bowl, combine flour, baking soda, and salt.

Mix to distribute evenly.

Slowly sift dry ingredients into butter mixture.

Split the dough in half, forming each half into a log shape, roughly 2” in diameter.

Chill in the refrigerator for at least two hours.

If you want more candy cane flavor, sprinkle a handful of loose leaf tea on a cutting board and roll the dough logs over it, coating all sides as evenly as possible. Cut the dough into ¼-½ inch slices with a sharp knife. Alternatively, wrap a piece of dental floss around the log and pull the ends in opposite directions to make a cleaner slice. Arrange batches on a cookie sheet lined with a baking mat or parchment, approximately 1-2 inches apart. Place the cookie sheet in the freezer as you preheat the oven to 375 F. Bake for 9-10 minutes until golden brown around the edges. Cool to room temperature and serve.

Candy Cane is this month's TeaChef recipe competition! Head over there to submit your own creations to potentially win a $50 gift card to Adagio!