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Swift: Dainty lemon cookies fit my inner Brit to the 'tea'

Fancy a cuppa? There's no reason all we Anglophiles out there can't occasionally take time out for the civil British custom of teatime with a little Earl Grey and these tangy Lemon Meltaways.

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These aptly named Lemon Meltaways are tangy-sweet and will melt in your mouth. / By Tammy Swift

FARGO — It's no secret that I'm a bit of an Anglophile.

Perhaps because my surname has roots back to jolly old England, I've always felt drawn to Old Blighty. I feverishly watched "Broadchurch" — scarcely stopping for a chinwag over a spot o' tea — until I'd devoured all episodes. I did the same with "Downton Abbey," and any other Ealing Studios ' or 1960s' "kitchen sink" movie I could find.

Of course, I realize my devotion is based on highly romanticized images from Merchant-Ivory films and the glorious grounds featured on "The Great British Bake-off."

But even so, I dig many things about the Brits, from their gift for understatement to their contributions to music.

Most of all, I love the fact that they have tea.


I am always amazed, when watching any British movie, about how important tea is. Lets say Viscount Chadwick R. Brandwithe III of Bitter's Glendingham on the Bay happens to be walking by Bridget Jones' flat when he is accidentally conked on the head by a huge steak-and-kidney pudding that Bridget had cooling on the window ledge of her third-story flat.

As if by magic, Hugh Grant or Helena Bonham Carter will appear out of nowhere, brandishing a tray laden with a teapot, tiny cakes and little triangular sandwiches with the crusts cut off. Even in working-class dramas, mums are forever sweeping into the sitting room with mugs of tea and big, handy slabs of cake. And before you know it, even the most loutish and Albert Finney-est of cads will be sipping tea as if he's a regular at Windsor Castle — all while everyone enjoys a good larf.

In America, if you are bludgeoned with a pound cake or otherwise thrown for a loop, someone brings you a glass of water — or maybe a belt of Scotch. But it seems much more comforting to be surrounded by properly brewed tea (with milk and lemon, natch) and a nice slice of lemon sponge.

It's an unexpected oasis of civility amid all insanity. I honestly feel like any world where people take time out to drink out of good china and eat tiny scones cannot possibly be a bad one, unless, of course, the scones are made out of black pudding.

With that in mind, I recently baked up a mess of teatime-worthy Lemon Meltaway Cookies. They have a luscious melt-in-your-mouth texture, courtesy of the cornstarch. Like shortbread, they don't contain leavening.

The recipe below is adapted slightly from a New York Times recipe. I also added a tasty lemon icing vs the powdered sugar (or, as the Brits call it, icing sugar) recommended in the Times recipe.

Icing tip: If, like me, you are too busy sewing a tea cozy to fuss with frosting cookies, try this proper good tip: Make icing thin enough so you can dunk the top of the cookie in a bowl of icing to frost it, vs. painstakingly using a knife to swirl frosting on each one.

I mean, you'll never make it to cricket practice that way.


Lemon Meltaways

  • 1 cup butter, softened
  • 1 1/4 cups powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup cornstarch
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups powdered sugar (for icing)
  • 2 tablespoons butter, melted
  • 1 teaspoon grated lemon peel
  • 1 to 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (you may need more or less to get right icing consistency)
  • 1/2 teaspoon almond extract

With electric or stand mixer, mix together butter, powdered sugar and lemon zest on low speed until the sugar is moistened, then turn the mixer to medium-high and beat until light and fluffy, about 3 minutes. Add lemon juice and egg yolk. Mix to combine.
Reduce speed to low, then add flour, cornstarch and salt. Mix just till combined.

Divide the dough into two pieces and set each piece on a length of parchment or waxed paper. Fold the paper over the sticky dough, then use your hands to form it into a cylinder about 1 1/2 inches wide. Roll the cylinder a few times to help shape it, but don't worry if it isn't perfect. Chill dough at least 2 hours or until completely firm.

When ready to bake, preheat oven to 350 degrees; line two baking sheets with parchment.

Slice the dough into rounds just under 1/4-inch thick and arrange at least 1 inch apart on baking sheets. Bake 12-17 minutes, rotating the pans from top to bottom and front to back halfway through. The cookies should be golden on the edges, but not brown all the way through.

Set pans on cooling racks to cool for a few minutes, then dust with powdered sugar. If you prefer to ice them, mix powdered sugar, zest, lemon juice and melted butter in medium bowl and blend until it's thin enough to frost cookies.

Contact Tammy Swift at

Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.


Tammy Swift online column sig revised 3-16-21.jpg
Tammy Swift, Forum columnist.

Related Topics: FOOD
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