Recipe // Pu’er Tea Muffins

This was the first recipe I successfully developed, so it is a bit funny that I only photographed them in my last week here.

Before this summer, I didn’t like tea at all. Why would I drink grass-flavored water when I could just drink regular water? However, I love milk tea and I love thinking of other flavors way to add a subtle flavor to plain muffins. My siblings are averse to fruit or “weird” flavors in their breakfast foods, so I have a really good plain muffin recipe on hand. Fluffy and moist, trust me – this is the best plain muffin recipe around. Tea sounded like the perfect delicate way to spice up this already great recipe.

Pu’er tea is everywhere here. Each of my coworkers has an endless personal pot of pu’er tea on their desk. I started drinking pu’er tea (because why not) in the beginning of the summer, and now I am hooked. We’ll see if I keep up this habit in the US!

Pu’er tea is the famous fermented tea that comes from Pu’er, Yunnan, a village about 8 hours southeast of Xizhou. When freshly picked, pu’er is just regular green tea. However, after being fermented for at least 3 months (like wine, pu’er gets better with age), the pu’er tea gets a strong, deep earthy flavor.  I visited a local tea plantation to see them make pu’er tea. Of course, it is dried outside on the ground, and scooped up with a rusty shovel by a man smoking a pipe.

If you don’t have pu’er tea on hand, any ground tea will work. Once while testing, I used Earl Grey because it came in a convenient tea bag and was already finely ground (shhh!).

Pu’er Tea Muffins
Makes 18 muffins


3 c all-purpose flour
4 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp ground pu’er tea, divided
2 eggs, room temperature preferred
1 c granulated sugar
1¼ c milk *
1/2 c vegetable oil
2 tsp vanilla extract
coarse sugar and ground pu’er tea, for sprinkling


  1. Preheat oven to 425F. Spray your muffin tins with non-stick spray.
  2. In a large bowl, mix flour, baking powder, salt, and 1 tablespoon ground pu’er tea until combined.
  3. In a medium bowl, whisk together eggs and sugar until combined.
  4. Boil milk with remaining 1 tablespoon of pu’er tea. When cooled, mix in milk, oil, and vanilla to egg and sugar mixture.
  5. Fold wet ingredients into dry ingredients and mix everything together by hand. Avoid overmixing. The batter will be very thick and somewhat lumpy.
  6. Pour batter into muffin tins, filling all the way to the top. Sprinkle with coarse sugar and ground pu’er tea.
  7. Bake at 425F degrees for 5 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 375 and continue to bake for 20 more minutes until tops are lightly golden and centers appear set. Allow to cool for 10 minutes in the pan.

*For a less intense pu’er tea flavor, replace the 1¼  cup of milk tea with 1 cup of plain milk. This will result in a paler muffin, which contrasts beautifully with the ground pu’er tea sprinkled on top!

As an extra side note, the Bai people are famous for their indigo tie-dye. I used two handmade tie-dye vests as the backdrop for these photos!

Recipe // Rose Coffee Cake

The first time I tested this coffee cake in the office, everyone was confused. “Where is the coffee flavor?” “You used coffee?”

Add this to the list of baked good names that don’t translate well.

Immediately after trying this cake, my coworker exclaimed that she would have to grab her cup of pu’er tea. Call it coffee cake, pu’er tea cake, milk cake… grab your drink of choice and enjoy a thick slice. This cake is perfect with anything. A tender buttery cake, with plenty of brown sugar crumbs.

I added rose petals on top and throughout to add a pop of color and an interesting, subtle flavor. I’ve always hated those recipes that call for some really obscure ingredient – like rose petals – so feel free to omit or replace the petals. You can try adding jam to the inside layer, or sprinkling ground pu’er tea on instead.

Coffee Cake

Makes one 9×9 inch cake


½ c butter, softened
¾ c sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1 egg
2 c flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
¾ c milk

½ c butter, softened
2 tbsp cinnamon
¾ c flour
1 c packed brown sugar
¼ c rose petals


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and grease a 9×9 inch baking pan.
  2. With a mixer, cream together the butter and sugar, scraping down the sides occasionally. Add the vanilla and egg, mix in.
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt. Add one half of it to the mixer, and when mostly combined, add the milk. Once the milk is mostly incorporated, add the rest of the flour.
  4. To make filling: in a small bowl, pinch together the softened butter, flour, sugar and cinnamon until soft crumbs form. Add about 1/2 of the rose petals.
  5. Pour in ½ of cake batter into prepared baking pan. Sprinkle ½ the filling over top, then pour in remaining cake batter, and spread carefully across the top, disturbing the filling layer as little as possible. Sprinkle the filling over the top.
  6. Bake in preheated oven for 45-50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. Sprinkle the remaining rose petals over the top. Enjoy!

Recipe // Pepper Peanut Butter Cookies

Texture matters a lot to me in baked goods. I love dense, sticky oatmeal cookies (sans raisins, obviously), flaky scones, creamy frosting. These peanut butter cookies, adopted from America’s Test Kitchen, are just perfect. Chewy and soft in the middle, a little crisp on the outside, and full of peanut-y goodness. The pepper adds an interesting, spicy kick to the smooth richness of the cookie.

Side note: I was looking up synonyms for “chewy” because that was the only thing that came to mind for describing these cookies. The top choices were “leathery” and “stringy.” I can assure you these cookies are the good kind of chewy.

Pepper Peanut Butter Cookies

Yield: 24 cookies

2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp. baking soda
1/2 tsp. baking powder
1 tbsp pepper
1 cup butter, softened
1 cup packed light brown sugar
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup creamy peanut butter (crunchy is okay too!)
2 tsp. vanilla extract
2 large eggs

  1. Pre-heat oven to 350˚F. Whisk together flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder, and pepper in a large bowl and set aside.
  2. In a mixer, beat together softened butter and both sugars until light and fluffy (3-5 minutes). Mix in peanut butter until incorporated, about 30 seconds on medium. Add vanilla and eggs, one at a time, scraping after each addition. Reduce mixer to low and slowly add dry ingredients, just until incorporated.
  3. Take 3 tablespoons of the dough and roll into a ball and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Using a fork dipped in cold water, make a cross in the dough. Repeat with the rest of the dough, keeping 2 inches apart on the baking sheet.
  4. Bake for 10-12 minutes, rotating halfway between cooking time, and just until the edges are golden brown and the centers are puffy. Cool on a wire rack and then enjoy!