By Emily Paster
Whenever my mom comes to visit, we make a point to visit Todd & Holland, an adorable tea shop and boutique in Forest Park. Todd & Holland carries an impressive selection of loose-leaf teas and tea accessories to help you brew the perfect cuppa. For a serious tea drinker, this store must be heaven. We are not serious tea drinkers – unless you count my addiction to Starbucks Chai Tea Latte — but we do love the cute serving pieces, tea towels and other carefully curated housewares that Todd & Holland carries.
The last time that Mom and I visited Todd & Holland we bought some cute and versatile silicone trivets and I finally bought some tea. However, it was not tea for drinking. Rather, I bought a small packet of Chef's Matcha, a finely milled Japanese green tea powder suitable for use in cooking and baking. If you are not familiar with the taste of matcha, it is hard to describe. It has a slightly grassy, slightly vegetal taste that is not at all unpleasant. Matcha is also extremely good for you as it is high in antioxidants, vitamins, minerals and fiber.
With all the buzz about the health benefits of green teas like matcha, it is no surprise that we have been seeing a lot of green tea flavored drinks, desserts and baked goods lately — including the less-than-successful green tea sourdough bread prepared by contestant Sheldon on Episode 14 of Top Chef. So when I saw this Chef's Matcha at Todd & Holland, I was intrigued. I love nothing more than a new ingredient to experiment with, as my readers surely know by now. So I bought a small packet for $6.
I bought the Chef's Matcha without a specific recipe in mind, but after turning it over in my mind, I decided that a green tea-flavored shortbread would be a delicious and fun project. I consulted several shortbread recipes and whipped up my first batch of dough. I was not sure how much of the matcha to use, so I started with a teaspoon. The dough did not seem to have quite have enough matcha flavor, so I added another 1/2 teaspoon. That was enough to give the dough a pleasant sage green color and a distinctive matcha taste, so I stopped there.
Alas, for whatever reason, when I baked the first batch of green tea shortbread dough, the matcha flavor all but disappeared. My tasters — that is to say, my mom, my husband and Zuzu — agreed that while it was good shortbread, it wasn't a green tea-flavored shortbread. Why did the matcha flavor, noticeable in the raw dough, disappear when baked? It will take a more knowledgeable baker than me to answer that question. I just knew that I had to try again.
The second time around, I not only doubled the amount of matcha in my dough, from 1.5 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon, I also played around with the ratio of flour to corn starch. Bakers use cornstarch (or sometimes rice flour) in their shortbread dough because those ingredients don't develop gluten. The development of long gluten strands is what makes baked goods chewy. So by replacing some of the wheat flour in shortbread dough with a gluten-free ingredient you get more of the tender, crumbly texture that we associate with shortbread.
Although shortbread should be tender and crumbly, the first batch that I made, which had 1/2 cup of cornstarch in it, was almost too tender. It didn't have enough bite to it and kind of melted away in your mouth. For the second batch, I started with a softer flour but then used only 1/4 cup cornstarch. The result of my two tweaks was a crumbly yet substantial shortbread with a distinctive matcha flavor. Here, the slightly earthy taste of the matcha serves as a welcome counterweight to the richness of the shortbread.
This recipe is definitely a keeper and I would not be surprised if I decide to make some of my soon-to-be famous Green Tea Shortbread for the next Chicago Food Swap.
Green Tea Shortbread
One of the advantages of this dough is that you can make it several days in advance and leave it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake. Makes approximately 2 or 2 1/2 dozen cookies.
1 3/4 cups plus 3 1/2 TB White Lily flour*
1/4 cup cornstarch
1/2 tsp. salt
1 TB Chef's Matcha
8 oz. unsalted butter at room temperature
1 egg yolk at room temperature
3/4 cup sugar
In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cornstarch, salt and matcha. Set aside. In the bowl of a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 2-3 minutes. Add the egg yolk and mix to combine. Gradually add the dry ingredients, scraping the bowl as necessary to incorporate all the flour. Mix until the dough comes together. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured countertop or board. Form dough in a rectangular log approximately 14 inches long. Wrap log in waxed paper and chill for at least 30 minutes and up to three days. To bake, preheat oven to 275 degrees. Cut dough into 1/4 inch thick cookies. Place cookies on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper or a Silpat baking pat. Bake for 30 minutes until firm and golden but not browned. Cool on a rack.
*White Lily flour is an all-purpose flour made from soft winter wheat, which gives a tender texture to your baked goods. It is highly prized in the South for making biscuits. If you can't find White Lily where you live, you can use regular all-purpose flour but then only use 1 3/4 cups. You can also try using some combination of cake flour and all-purpose flour to achieve the desired texture.
Have you ever tried green tea-flavored desserts? What was your impression?