Green Tea Shortbread

We do love green tea. Hot or iced, in cakes, ice cream, custard, cookies — it’s all good. We drink almost all teas — green or black — without sugar; more by habit than for health. With sweets, though, we both agree that the best part of the earthy, herbaceous flavor of green tea is that hint of bitterness that comes through just before the sweet awakens the taste buds. Lovely.

With the advent of medical studies touting the anti-oxidant benefits of green tea, it’s been wonderful to see the spread of green tea consumption and green tea flavored goodies on menus and supermarket shelves. I see that a wave of Matcha Cookies hit the blogosphere last year and went right around the world! I first came across an entry for a green tea flavored cookie in Obachan’s Kitchen, one which she had made a few years earlier, but had noted that she was not satisfied with the recipe. I went back to the standard shortbread recipe we usually use (confession: I last made these in 2001) and decided to substitute part of the flour with ground green tea powder and see what happened. Besides, I got to use one of my favorite kitchen gadgets, too.

For this recipe I did not use matcha, I used ground green tea leaves. Matcha is a specific grade of green tea that has been ground to powder for use in the traditional Japanese tea ceremony, and is prized for its astringent quality. I used home-grade green tea leaves and ground them at home in a ceramic grater. A local Japanese department store (Shirokiya) sells this grater for home tea brewing, especially for cold brewing. I received one as a present a couple of years ago, and I love it. It’s nice to be able to add green tea powder as a condiment and flavoring agent to many different foods, like these cookies. Otherwise, you can purchase “matcha powder for cooking” (which I suspect is the same grade of green tea we used here), and actual matcha in gourmet shops, tea shops and on-line.

In adapting our shortbread recipe, I heeded Obachan’s note that more than 2 teaspoons of matcha per 100g of flour would be too bitter, and so only used 2 teaspoons in this batch. The resulting shortbread had the wonderful color and pleasing flavor of green tea, but was a tad too sweet for my taste, even without the extra sugar topping. One of the reasons I make shortbread so rarely is that you really can’t cut down on the ratio of sugar to butter without sacrificing shortbread’s melt-in-your-mouth quality; whereas with other cookies, I often cut down the amount of sugar in the recipe by 1/4 to 1/3. I think most people would find the balance between green tea and sugar in the recipe below just right, especially if served with a pot of ocha (Japanese green tea). Since I’m using green tea powder instead of real matcha, next time I would risk replacing another teaspoon of flour with green tea. It’s not something I would advise other bakers to do unless they are looking for a bitter edge in their shortbread.

Makes about 24 cookies
**1/2 cup (or U.S. 1 stick) (110g) unsalted butter (no substitutes)
4-1/2 TBL. (55g) fine granulated sugar (aka caster, not powdered)
1/4 tsp. sea salt
1 cup (100g) all purpose flour
2 tsp. green tea powder
1/3 cup (55g) mochiko (glutinous rice four) or semolina

extra sugar for crunchy topping (optional)

**Update (01/06/09): With thanks to Nat for pointing out that the butter equivalencies originally were not correct — the metric was correct, but the U.S. equivalent was off by half. My apologies to anyone who followed the U.S. measure and whose shortbread was too dry.

Beat butter until softened. Add sugar and beat together on low until the sugar is just incorporated (will still feel grainy).
Combine flour, green tea powder, salt and mochiko together. Add to butter mixture and stir well by hand to make a smooth paste, do not overwork the dough or your shortbread will come out like a brick.

Either roll into a log 1.5 inches in diameter, wrap in plastic wrap and chill (to make button cookies, as shown here); or flatten into a disc between two sheets of plastic wrap to a thickness of 1/2 inch and chill (to cut our shapes). Chill for 20 minutes.

Pre-heat oven to 325F/170C.

To make buttons, slice log into 1/2-inch pieces.

Or use your favorite small cookie cutter to stamp out shapes. Gently re-roll, flatten and chill before stamping out more.

(Optional garnish) Place 2-3 TBL. of sugar on a small plate. Gently press one side of the cookie in sugar, and lay sugar side up on an ungreased baking sheet.

If cookies start to look shiny, place sheet in fridge for 5 minutes before baking. Bake in pre-heated oven for 10-12 minutes. To check for doneness, look for opaqueness and a sandy quality in the cookies (see photo, right, for raw and cooked cookie comparison), and you will smell butter and green tea. They will still feel a little soft when hot, but will harden a bit on cooling. Do not over-bake or they will transform into miniature papaerweights. Because of the high ratio of sugar to butterfat, these cookies will keep their tender crumb.

Cool completely on wire rack. Store in air-tight container at room temperature for up to one week.

More Cookies and Other Homemade Gift Ideas: Nut Horns, Cocoa Cherry Biscotti, Sweet & Spicy Nuts