The Quest: Chai Shortbread

Once upon a time I stopped at the Tea Source in St. Paul for an iced tea. I was kinda hungry and grabbed a Chai shortbread cookie that was wrapped up by the register. Unwittingly, I was embarking on a long quest by doing this. It was a quest to replicate what was one of the best cookies I’ve eaten in a long time. Unfortunately, it is still an ongoing quest.

I started with this recipe from Cooking Light. The first time I made it the texture was nice, but the flavor just wasn’t there (note: I order my chai from Starbucks with at least twice as much chai as normal. I like chai to have a spicy kick). So the second time, I changed all the spice amounts to 1/2 tsp instead of 1/8. Now my ingredient list looked like this:

  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (about 6 3/4 ounces)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 3/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 10 tablespoon butter, softened
  • 1 tablespoon ice water

Unfortunately, I also mistakenly used way too much butter and too much water as well. (Yeah, numbers aren’t my strong suit.) Butter flavor totally overwhelmed the cookie. For round three, I thought I’d try a completely new recipe. I pulled out my trusty King Arthur Flour Cookie Companion and turned to their recipe for the essential shortbread cookie. I added a tsp of each of the chai spices from my first recipe. Sounds good, right? Shouldn’t this fulfill the object of my quest?

To cut to the chase, it didn’t. I should have paid more attention to the fact that this recipe didn’t call for powdered sugar unlike all the other shortbread recipes in practically the entire world. This was the hardest, crunchiest, most rock-like cookie I’ve ever made. The texture was more like a ginger snap than shortbread. I’m not sure if the use of granulated sugar vs. powdered made the terrible texture difference. I also ended up chilling the dough overnight. Would this have made a difference?

I think I need to go back to the first recipe, make it correctly according to the instructions but put a full tsp of the spices. I’m also tempted to try one more recipe from King Arthur Flour, because there are usually so reliable and delicious. And this one has a guarantee! (Whatever that means.) Hopefully, my dreams of chai shortbread will be fulfilled soon!


  1. Jill, I hope our online shortbread recipe doesn’t prove too “punishing” – it uses confectioners’ sugar. Well, baking is learning, right? Guess I picked up on the difference in sugar sometime between the Companion and last year when we posted those guaranteed recipes. I’m tryng to think of how you might increase the apice flavor without simply adding more and more spice, and I’m thinking you might switch to cinnamon oil and clove oil, which are so much more potent than the ground spices themselves. Anyway – good luck, have fun, and happy baking- PJ Hamel, King Arthur Flour baker/blogger

  2. Thanks for the tips, PJH! I haven’t tried the online recipe, yet, but I have high hopes. I’ll also have to look for spice oils to try and punch up my flavor!

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