I recently had the honor of making desserts for the release party of an extraordinary new line of teas. I was asked to create four different bite-sized desserts, incorporating a different tea into each batch. When I was given samples, my excitement grew; I knew I had my hands on something truly special. Each tea was beautiful, high quality, and delicious. The possibilities for inventive new sweets felt endless and inspired.
With the toasty oolong tea, I created amaretto hazelnut cookies that were a lovely harmony of softness and warmth. Then I infused raspberry jam with an herbal floral blend and piped it into the centers of little chocolate lavender cakes. The scrumptious, spicy hibiscus-flecked brew would become mini whoopie pies. Finally, the lychee-laced black tea duo led me to develop this recipe for creamy lychee butter — and to swirl it high into tiny, tea-imbued cornmeal crusts speckled with Meyer lemon.
The lychee butter proved addictive immediately, and I knew I’d want to adopt it as a habitual component for many desserts. It’s wondrous spread in a tart shell and covered with fruit, slathered between white cake layers, or simply dunked into with ladyfingers, graham crackers, or a spoon. I’ve made luscious batches with canned lychee, fresh lychee, and my favorite version: half of each kind.**
Creamy Lychee Butter (makes about 1.5 cup)
- 10 ounces lychee fruit (about 20-30 lychees) — weighed peeled and pitted; and drained if canned**.
- finely grated zest of 1 small lemon, preferably Meyer
- 1/2 cup unsalted butter
- 3 tablespoons corn starch
- 1/4 cup granulated sugar
- 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Place lychee and lemon zest in the bowl of a food processor and whirl for about a minute, until evenly pureed. Set aside. In a small to medium saucepan, melt butter just until liquid, then add corn starch and whisk heartily over medium-low heat until incorporated.
Add sugar and keep whisking just until sugar granules are dissolved. Add pureed lychee and the vanilla, increase heat to medium, and whisk constantly, letting mixture bubble for 2 – 3 minutes as it thickens well.
Remove from heat and pour into a cool, heatproof dish. The concoction will look quite unpromising at this point — sort of like a blob of thick oatmeal drizzled with oil. Let the mixture cool to room temperature, then scrape it into the bowl of the food processor again. Blend for about a minute, stopping to scrape down sides halfway through, ultimately blending until smooth and opaque.
Transfer to a pastry bag (use a large piping tip to avoid clogging), or place in a container with a lid. While the lychee butter can sit out for a few hours, be sure to store it covered in the fridge, and eat within 3 or 4 days.
With its thick, spreadable texture, creamy lychee butter is a marvelous condiment that adds a welcome decadence to a number of desserts — or even your morning toast. The fragrant, floral lychee is balanced perfectly with the rich softness of the butter within, while the mild sweetness offers opulence without being overpowering. Flecked with tiny bits of lychee and lemon zest, lychee butter presents delightful complexity in a number of ways — not unlike the magnificent tea that inspired it.
**Maybe next time… While my favorite way to make this is with half canned and half fresh, feel free to use all of one type of lychee — with the following pros and cons in mind. Canned lychee is a safe bet for its consistency in flavor and sweetness, but the floral fragrance of the fruit is a bit subdued. Fresh lychee — with its vibrant peels and beautifully smooth pits — is more authentic but harder to find; its flavor can be very floral, and its sweetness can sometimes be inconsistent. (Note that one 15 ounce can yields 15-25 lychee, with a lot of the weight coming from the liquid, so it’s safest to have two cans ready if you’re only using canned lychees.)
Whichever way you make it, feel free to get creative! Orange or lime zest could be great substitutes for the lemon; a little sprinkle of ground cloves or cardamom could be lovely stirred in or sprinkled on top. Use it in all sorts of ways: folded into oatmeal, layered in a trifle, sandwiched between cookies — the list goes on…