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Chinese Tea Eggs

Everything about these eggs will surprise you, especially how good they taste. Plus, they look spectacular (and kids will be fascinated by their raku-crackled glaze). Dusted with a combination of toasted sesame seeds and coarse salt,the eggs make an excellent hors d'oeuvre.

In a pot large enough to hold the eggs without crowding, cover the eggs with the water. Over medium heat, bring the water to a gentle boil. Simmer the eggs for 12 minutes. With a strainer or slotted spoon, remove the eggs and place them in a cold-water bath until they can be easily handled. Reserve the cooking water. With the back of a spoon, lightly tap each shell all over until it is covered with a cobweb of cracks.

Bring the water used to cook the eggs back to a boil. Add the tea leaves, five-spice powder, and salt. With a slotted spoon, add the eggs. Cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer for 1 hour. Remove the pot from the heat. Keep the eggs in the covered pot to steep for 30 minutes. Remove the eggs from the water, and allow to cool.

To serve, shell the eggs. Eat whole, halved lengthwise, or quartered. Their flavor is best enjoyed within 24 hours.

Jasmine tea eggs: For a fragrant, citrus-scented variation, simply follow the recipe for Chinese Tea Eggs substituting Jasmine tea for the black tea and substituting the peel of an orange for the five-spice powder. (Use a vegetable peeler to peel the orange just as you would peel an apple. Try not to take any of the white pith.) Proceed as directed.