Make Ahead

Vanilla Rooibos Tea Cookies

November  6, 2012
6 Ratings
Photo by James Ransom
  • Makes 36
Author Notes

I really, really love Earl Grey tea cookies. There's nothing better on a cold afternoon. So when I saw the vanilla contest pop up, I figured I'd try to make a recipe for vanilla tea cookies. I cobbled together a recipe with inspiration from my favorite Earl Grey tea cookie recipe (vintage The Kitchn) and from Heidi Swanson's tip to use the whole bean in cookies. Since rooibos tea goes so well with vanilla, I swapped that in for the Earl Grey. The result is a crisp, buttery cookie with a seriously sultry flavor. My officemates gobbled them up in no time. As you can see from the photo, the first time, I tried to use whole rooibos leaves both in the cookies and mixed with the turbinado crust. Texture? Not so lovely. Much better ground up, which is what I recommend here. This also makes for a beautiful, toast-colored cookie: perfect for fall and winter. —Rivka

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Rivka is a cookie-addicted Food52er who is health consultant by day, food blogger by night.
WHAT: A cookie that captures tea time all in one bite.
HOW: Whip up a shortbread-style dough, roll in sugar, and wait impatiently by the oven door.
WHY WE LOVE IT: For the tea time twist, Rivka has you toast Rooibos leaves until they're beautifully fragrant -- this perfumes your kitchen (and your cookies) from the very first step of this recipe. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons rooibos tea leaves (about 5 tea bags)
  • 1 vanilla bean, whole, ends trimmed, cut into segments
  • 1 1/4 cups flour
  • 1/4 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 2 teaspoons milk
  • 1/2 cup unsalted butter
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons turbinado sugar
  1. Heat a small stainless steel pan over medium heat. When pan is hot, add rooibos leaves, and shake pan to distribute tea into a single layer. Toast for about 2 minutes, until tea is fragrant but not darkened. Depending on your leaves, this may happen much more quickly; watch it carefully. When leaves are fragrant, transfer them to a bowl and let cool for a couple minutes.
  2. Combine the sugar, vanilla bean, and rooibos in the bowl of a food processor and pulse for about 2 minutes, until there are no chunks of bean left in the bowl. Add the powdered sugar, flour, and salt to the bowl and pulse a few times to combine. Then add the milk, vanilla, and butter and pulse several times, until a dough forms.
  3. Turn dough onto a very lightly floured surface, gather it together, and roll it gently into a log 1.5-inches in diameter.
  4. Sprinkle turbinado sugar on a plate or work surface, and roll cookie dough log in the sugar, making sure to cover the entire surface of the log with sugar. Wrap log in plastic or wax paper and transfer to the fridge or freezer for at least 30 minutes to chill. (You can leave the log in the freezer and slice off cookies one by one, whenever the urge strikes.)
  5. When ready to bake, turn on the oven to 375°F and line a baking sheet with parchment or silpat.
  6. Remove log from fridge or freezer, and cut 1/3-inch slices off the log, rotating the log as you go to ensure that cookie slices stay round. Transfer cookies to the prepared baking sheet, leaving 1/2 inch between each (they don't really spread, but they need breathing room to crisp up). Bake for 12 minutes, until cookies are just starting to brown. Leave on the cookie sheet to cool for 5 minutes, then transfer to racks.
  7. Cookies will keep in an airtight container for several days.

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I'm a healthcare consultant by day, food blogger by night, and I make a mean veggie chili. I'm eat a mostly-vegetarian diet, but have a soft spot for meat, especially braised short ribs. And this profile wouldn't be complete without an admission that I absolutely am addicted to cookies and chocolate. Finally, I love the idea of food52 and can't wait to share and read my and others' favorite recipes!

68 Reviews

Trav45 October 26, 2021
These were fine, though not spectacular. And there's no way this recipe makes 36, unless they're dime-sized. I got 24 1" cookies, on the small side.
Ted D. May 1, 2018
I've made this a regular part of my holiday cookie set. You can easily switch the tea flavors and store extra rolls in the freezer.
Martin December 12, 2017
These are so good, but not in an obvious way. The first bite is like, Ok, nothing special, but as it stays just a bit longer in the mouth you get, just as others mentioned, a very unique and unexpected taste. They are earthy, just the right amount of sweet, just the right balance. They are delicious and not fussy at all. Mine looked like grey mud or something, so they won't win any beauty contests. But they are dark horses. Wonderful!
jenny December 6, 2015
made these today following your recipe exactly, they were yum! A unique and delicious flavour, thanks for the recipe :-)
Rivka December 7, 2015
So glad to hear it!
Kimberlie R. December 3, 2015
These cookies have become one of my favourites. I loved them. I happen to have an Ice Wine Black Tea on hand and I thought it would compliment the vanilla perfectly. They turned out so well, that I added this recipe to my blog (and linked back to you fully). Thanks for such a wonderful recipe. If you have a moment to see my post, here's the link
Rivka December 7, 2015
Glad to hear you're enjoying them!
Kristin March 1, 2015
Wow, this recipe completely did not work for me. I followed the instructions very carefully and made no substitutions. And I've made shortbread before. I know the dough should be a little on the crumbly side. But "dough" was an extremely generous term for what was in my food processor at the end of the recipe.... "sand" would be a better descriptor. I couldn't even form it into a log. I'm thinking of adding some leavening and milk and turning them into scones, because I don't want to waste the expensive ingredients.

I have no idea how other people are getting this to work out, but please share your secrets.
Rivka March 2, 2015
hmm, that's strange - I make these all the time and never have an issue. For what it's worth, the butter is 1/2 cup, a whole stick - maybe you used half a stick? And my cup of flour measures 4.5 ounces, if that helps.
Kristin March 2, 2015
The weight of the flour is helpful, I'll try that next time to see. I used the right amount of butter and measured everything very carefully... I wonder if the humidity of the air or the temperature of the butter could be playing a role here? I see that a couple of other people also had dryness issues.
Kristin March 2, 2015
However, the dough did come together after I added another couple teaspoons of milk, and it still tasted delicious. I managed to wrap it and get it into the freezer, where it's been waiting for teatime today. We'll see if it works! I do at least love your idea of grinding up the whole vanilla bean, that's something I will use again for sure.
Rivka March 2, 2015
Definitely. It's also worth noting that as with other short-ish doughs, the dough looks like sand just a few seconds before it comes together into a blob. When dough is really crumbly, a few extra pulses (and a few after that) can make a big difference.
Kristin March 2, 2015
Oooh that could be it. This was my first time using the food processor for shortbread, I normally use my pastry blender and hands. I was afraid of over-blending it in the processor and building up too much gluten, so I may have erred too much on the other side.
mv January 1, 2015
The taste is great but the dough did not remotely come together for me. Against my better judgement I shaped a powdery log, froze it, and was then left with crumbly cookies pieces rather than slices to bake. In the future I will use more than 2 tsp milk to form an actual dough. Taste is worth trying again though. Beware if your dough seems too dry, it probably is.
Sam December 14, 2014
These are absolutely fantastic! I made this recipe almost exactly as written (subbed in 6 bags of earl grey, added a little more butter and a tiny splash more milk). They froze up beautifully in 30 minutes, and the 12 minute bake time was spot on (I have a finicky old oven). I may just quadruple the recipe next time to keep a whole stash frozen for whenever I feel like it - they are just that good. Thank you!
Claudia August 15, 2014
Made these following the recipe -- I love them! Never ground a whole vanilla bean like that, but it must have really added to the flavor intensity. I think you could play with these endlessly.
CurioCook December 28, 2013
I've made these cookies so many times, and they never fail to disappoint. Such a lovely butter cookie. So delightful!! Recently I used this recipe, made one batch as written, made another minus vanilla bean (I ran out), and used some lavender earl grey tea instead of rooibos, and they were also amazing. Thank you!!
Vira December 15, 2013
I made my first batch today! I have several days of gatherings with four sets of family and tomorrow is the first. I will start by saying they do indeed freeze well. They were firm but easy to cut which was wonderful. I made a few changes, however. I added 1 tbsp of lemon zest, used 1 tsp powdered vanilla instead of the bean, Rooibos Chai tea from Teavana, 2 tsp Almond extract instead of vanilla, 4 tbsp lightly sweetened almond milk instead of milk (my dough was a bit dry) and I didn't toast the leaves. Instead I melted 3/4 cup of butter and then steeped the leaves in the butter for 10 minutes; 5 on low heat, 5 on no heat. I did extra butter because some of it sticks in the pan and doesn't make it to the processor. I think for the next batch I'll make them a bit more moist and probably grind the tea leaves up in my coffee grinder prior to adding them. Otherwise these are FANTASTIC! The flavor shines both on its own and in milk (almond milk for me) or in tea and the color is a very lovely golden brown at 12 minutes. I will definitely be making more varieties. Now just to hope my bread turns out just as awesome...Thanks for sharing!
xmascarol December 11, 2013
Because I make my loose leaf rooibos tea with a bit of lemon zest and grated ginger, I'm going to make it that way for my infusion and see how it turns out. I think it will be quite good.!
Suzanne O. October 8, 2013
Suzanne of Simply Suzannes at Home

Tea infused cookies are quite delicious!
Looking forward to trying this recipe.
Thanks for sharing,
msgruvn May 7, 2013
oh-the taste is beautiful!
msgruvn May 7, 2013
Woe is me...I just made these for my friend's bday gift tomorrow, using his fav Earl Grey tea. Unfortunately, all my pretty little perfectly round cookies turned into one giant sheet. I used the 1 1/4 c of unbleached flour-(wheat), cold butter, then chilled the roll. So, I'm off to the flower shop in the morning.
this recipe does not work at all, there must be an ingredient at a wrong amount or missing. Dough? what dough? you mean that powder that comes out of the processor? I was to wrap this is saran wrap and freeze it for an hour before I could shape it.
Shalala February 6, 2013
These are literally the best tea cookies I have ever encountered. Hands down.
Rivka February 7, 2013
Well thanks! Glad you enjoyed.
April V. January 6, 2013
These were incredible. I couldn't find any rooibus at the grocery store, and didn't much feel like driving to the tea and coffee shop, so I substituted in chai instead, and they were incredible! Like a chai tea latte in cookie form---in other words, perfection.
Rivka January 6, 2013
April, so glad you enjoyed them! Chai is a natural sub-in here.
Sarah S. December 26, 2012
Not a complete failure, but close. Cookie dough melted and ran together on the sheet. We cut them into strips & called them lace cookies--after draining them on paper towels to get rid of excess butter. Two of us worked together on these--one reading the recipe, the other measuring-- so I don't think we made any mistakes. Our advice: Cut the butter in half.
Courtney P. December 26, 2012
Wow! I wonder what went wrong. I've made these cookies five times now (and even doubled it twice) and never had a problem with the consistency. I hope you give it a try again. They are delicious!
Rivka December 26, 2012
I also wonder what went wrong. I've made these cookies probably 7 times at this point, and I've never had a problem with butter leakage. Is it possible you inadvertently reduced the sugar or flour?
Craiger1ny January 14, 2013
I made these as part of a huge Christmas Eve meal and had the same thing happen. But, I woke up the next morning and tried again. Realized that after a long day of cooking, I used 1/4 cup of flour instead of the 1 1/4. They turned out great the second time around. I used a pomegranate rooibos. Also, my vanilla beans were a bit old. The first time around the food processor turned the sugar into a billowy powder before the bean was sufficiently pulverized. Used a spice grinder for the tea and vanilla the second time, then added it into the sugar in the food processor. Worked like a charm. Will definitely make these again!
Paulaob December 16, 2012
These sound delicious. I was wondering if the butter should be cold or room temperature?
Rivka December 25, 2012
soft but still cold.