05 March 2010

Green Tea Sweets


Falling in Love

For many years I resisted my husband’s suggestions that I travel to Japan. I thought there were other places I would rather invest my interest, rather spend my time, rather practice the language. I was wrong.

When I did finally set foot in Japan, what happened was, I fell in love! Everywhere I looked Japan radiated charm and mystery. Ignorant of the language, I was beyond the realm of words both spoken and written. That left me open to a new sense of acute observation. Though I was on the outside looking in, Japan offered this curious tourist a beautifully complex pageant of life to observe.

Wordless Observations

And what did I observe? To name a few...

  • The storybook perfection of Japanese architecture viewed through an arch of cherry blossoms against a clear blue sky.
  • The radiant warmth of soft, worn, sun drenched wood on a temple terrace as you sit at its edge admiring the surrounding gardens.
  • The beauty of a well planned garden from every viewpoint, no matter where you stop along the winding path.
  • The small smooth delight of a hot can of coffee from a vending machine. Being warmed to the bone as you hold it in your pocket for a few moments before you open it, then drink down the potent liquid enjoying the warmth from the inside out. As a bonus, the way it helps to clear the fog of jet lag from your mind.
  • The honest refreshment of a single cup of tea when you are truly tired and thirsty. The way a sweet poetically enhances that refreshment, especially when you are hungry and there is just one, beautifully and thoughtfully prepared, to complement the tea and reflect harmony with the season.



Tea on Mt. Shosha

On our spring trip to Japan there were two occasions when we intensely enjoyed the simple peaceful refreshment of a casual afternoon tea. The first was at a small inn on Mt. Shosha near Himeji. It was behind the temple complex where a number of scenes from “The Last Samurai” were shot.

I was tired, depleted and amazed at the quiet peacefulness of this cloistered space. We sat on cushions on tatami mats at a low table as we were served traditional Matcha accompanied by a beautiful seasonal sweet. The garden view was engaging as I gratefully drank the warm tea and let each bite of the sweet melt in my mouth. There were only a few other guests present to share the peaceful ambiance. The experience was immensely satisfying.


Warmed at Daisen-in

The second was at Daisen-in, a subtemple in the complex of Daitokuji in Kyoto. There we viewed the zen gardens in the late afternoon. When we came inside we lingered for a casual tea ceremony. We felt very comfortable and welcome as the tea was whisked in tea bowls and offered along with a small Japanese tea sweet. We were instructed to eat the sweet first, then drink the tea, but no more fuss was made to observe traditional tea ceremony practice.

As we sat down the weary chill of the late afternoon shadows became palpable. With wonder I discovered that beneath the worn carpet in the tea room there was a heating element that subtly radiated warmth to those sitting on it. The realization of this simple yet intense comfort beneath my feet as the cool air rested on my face and arms was bliss. It is the small blessings, the ones that the pace and demands of a journey leave you open to and ready to appreciate, that are the greatest and most memorable things about travel.

Japanese Green Tea

Tea was an integral part of our experience of Japan, from the formal tea ceremony we learned about in Kyoto to the simple ones we participated in along our way, from the warm tea we enjoyed daily in our guest rooms to the cold tea we often purchased from vending machines that could be found at almost every corner. As a souvenir of my journey I wanted to bring some Japanese tea to my home in the US. To that end we stopped at Ippo-do in Kyoto, a tea merchant that has been providing green tea to residents of Kyoto for nearly three centuries. There I purchased a small box of Matcha, some Sencha and a bag of Gokujo houjicha. When we got home they were a delightful reminder of the our journey and the things we had experienced.

Since then I have come to enjoy a new sense of refreshment in an ordinary afternoon cup of tea. Though my tea usually comes from more local sources it was in Japan that I was reminded of the simple joy of holding a beautiful cup filled with warm fragrant tea on an afternoon that is cool, damp and darkened by blankets of clouds, as is many an afternoon at my home in the Pacific Northwest.

Tea Sweets

In Japan I also learned that green tea is perfectly complemented by first eating a seasonal tea sweet. The lingering sweetness on the tongue blends with the bitterness of the tea creating a pleasing combination of taste sensations. In Japan these sweets are often made from ingredients, such as sweet bean paste or green tea, that seem unusual to American tastes. In my search to find an appropriate recipe for tea sweets I could make at home I found this recipe for a beautiful cookie that uses Matcha powder to flavor and color a sable dough.

These cookies, from Kelli at Lovescool, are award winners. They have a fine texture and a wonderfully interesting flavor. The dough rolls out and cuts beautifully. The cookies hardly spread at all during baking leaving a clearly defined shape to complement your tea tray. I sprinkled coarse clear decorator sugar on top to add a slightly sweeter edge to the lingering taste. I also found that these freeze well. That makes it easy to put them away after baking and then pull out just enough for a sweet taste with tea any afternoon.


Green Tea Sweets
from Lovescool.com

3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 Tablespoons Matcha tea powder
10 Tablespoons butter, cut into cubes
1 3/4 cup flour
3 egg yolks
granulated sugar or coarse decorator sugar (for finishing)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Prepare a baking sheet by lining it with parchment paper. Set aside.

In small bowl whisk together the Matcha and the powdered sugar until thoroughly combined.

Place butter in the bowl of an electric mixer. At medium speed beat the butter until smooth.

Add the powdered sugar mixture and continue beating until light and fluffy.

Add the flour and continue mixing until well combined.

Add the egg yolks mixing just until combined.

Remove the dough from the bowl. Flatten it into a disk and refrigerate until firm. (Approximately 30 minutes.)

Roll dough to 1/2 inch thickness on a floured surface. (I use a silpat silicone mat)

With a small to medium sized cookie cutter, cut seasonal shapes, such as flowers or leaves, from the dough.

Place the cut cookies on the prepared baking sheet. Sprinkle coarse decorator sugar evenly on top of each cookie. (Or, dredge each cookie in a small bowl of sugar, turning to coat evenly, before placing it on the prepared baking sheet.)

Bake at 350 degrees for 12 - 15 minutes or until very slightly browned at the edges.

Cool on a wire rack. When cool store in an airtight tin or freeze for later use.

Taste. Sip. Enjoy!

8 comments:

Ricki said...

What an amazing trip! You're so lucky to have gone to Japan--and everything looks just beautiful. I've been writing to a penpal there for years, and she keeps inviting me--I think I really must make an effort to get there, too. And those cookies! Matcha and anything is a perfect combination. :)

grace said...

i'll be honest--i've never had any desire to go to japan. that said, your eloquent descriptions have me rethinking that stance! it sounds lovely--i'm glad you were able to experience it!

Linda www.mykindofcooking.com said...

I love the photos on your blog. I have recipe blog and now have a new appreciation for pictures of food!

www.mykindofcooking.com

tasteofbeirut said...

I felt like you about Japan. thought it would be too foreign to me; my brother lives in Singapour and through him (he is totally enthralled with Asia, is learning Chinese etc) I have started to see the magic and allure of it all.
Your cookies epitomize the refinement that to me is Japan. Wonderful.

Ivy said...

The sugar on the leaf cookies look like dew, it's so pretty Lisa!

I guess we will be seeing a LOT of green here in blog-land this month. :)
I better get to work myself.

Debbie said...

I think its time do tea again! You bring the tea sweets, I"ll bring the tea.

Cathy said...

Loved your post, Lisa. You've brought back wonderful memories of my trip to Japan. The gardens were unforgettable.

Theresa said...

I cannot believe that it was a year ago that we were eating green tea cookies and drinking coffee at Starbucks. Time flies and I miss those brain storming sessions.....