As using my friends as guinea pigs is my favorite hobby these days, I took this birthday party as an excuse to tackle a few things I’ve long itched to work out: a core, classic shortbread recipe that could be tweaked into any format that pleased me, green tea powder and resisting the impulse to heighten the color with food dye, a fine flavor pairing for the aforementioned matcha as well as a place where white chocolate is actually better suited than it’s more tasteful and widely-loved counterpart. I studied more shortbread recipes, techniques and variations than could ever be considered healthy in the latter part of this week, and though I am eager to share with you all the juicy things I have learned (reminiscent of the sun’s rays! dates back to the 16th century!), I suspect you didn’t come here to fall into a deep slumber. Suffice it to say, almond and green tea are a match made in heaven, white chocolate is an infernal pain in the ass to work with but in the end, potentially rewarding, and anyone who claims to have their own shortbread recipe is lying. I’ve read them all, and within two degrees, they are identical.
This cookie, however, is delicious and should I ever open a bakery — something cozy and unpretentious that will magically allow me to both serve the people and sleep until 8 a.m. — I will assemble these by the hundreds, and serve them alongside miniature grapefruit loaves, marbled brownies, small Guinness-chocolate bundts, icebox cupcakes, cubes of mom’s sour cream coffee cake and a zillion fantastic breads. I’ve given this a lot of thought, you see; all that’s left is the bank robbery, a couple years on the lam in Mexico, oh, and learning to love repetitive work. Hey, at least I’ve got the menu sorted.
Green Tea Shortbread Sandwiches
These cookies are crisp and delicate, good with or without filling. The recipe below will make a mildly sweet cookie, but you can increase the sugar by one to two tablespoons, if desired. If you have any fancy butter in the fridge, this is a great time to use it as the flavor will really come through.
It took some hunting around to find matcha — green tea powder. Several tea shops carried it, but required a quarter-pound purchase. We finally lucked out at Whole Foods, which carries the Rishi brand in small quantities.
2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup powdered sugar
1 1/2 to 3 tablespoons unsweetened green tea powder (matcha) (updated amount: reviews seem to prefer the lower amount)
2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter, softened
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
Superfine sugar, for sprinkling (optional)
Whisk dry ingredients in a small bowl. In a larger one, beat the softened butter with an electric mixer until just smooth. Add the almond extract, then all of the dry ingredients. Divide the dough in half and shape into two discs, wrapped in plastic. Chill the discs for an hour or two in the refrigerator, or until completely firm.
Roll the dough to your desired thickness (for the small leaves, I went for about 1/8″) on a floured board. You will probably want to lightly flour the top of the dough, too, before rolling. Cut with cookie cutters into your desired shape (if you are making sandwich cookies, consider a shape that will match when mirrored, something I wasn’t bright enough to see coming), arranging them on parchment paper-lined baking sheets. They barely expand, so there is no need to leave an abundance of space between cookies. Sprinkle a thin coat of superfine sugar over the cookies (optional).
Bake them in a preheated 325°F oven until lightly golden at the edges. For thin, small cookies this took 15 minutes. The darker the edges, the more intense the flavor and, some say, the longer the cookies will keep.
White Chocolate Ganache Filling
The reason why I said white chocolate is an “infernal pain in the ass to work with” is that most white chocolate sold is falsely labeled as such. A couple white “chocolates” to outright avoid: Ghiradelli White Chips (note the absence of the word chocolate; oddly enough, their White Chocolate Baking Bar, which I used, is the real deal), and Nestle Premier White Morsels (for the same reason). While these may be okay for a brownie or chocolate chip cookie, they do not melt smoothly into a ganache or coating. Even the better-quality stuff easily separates from the warmth of your hand in a piping bag (it’s not pretty) so try to work quickly.
4 ounces white chocolate, chopping into very small pieces
3 to 4 tablespoons heavy cream
Heat the chocolate in the microwave for 30 seconds, stir it completely, then repeat this process, if necessary, in 15-second increments. Don’t let the chocolate burn.
Add heavy cream, one tablespoon at a time, stirring until smooth. Cool ganache in the refrigerator, stirring every few minutes, until firm enough to spread or pipe between cookies.
Once you have filled and assembled your cookies, I find that shocking them in the freezer for 5 minutes get the chocolate to firm up quickly without sogging the cookie, so they can be stored at room temperature until needed.