Japanese cuisine can almost be likened to Italian cuisine in the way of its simplicity and use of few high quality ingredients. They do have cinnamon and clove-infused curries that pack a punch, and then there's all different kinds of miso that tackle your taste buds at every angle of salty and sour. But, the art of sushi is defined by the texture and perfectly balanced subtle flavours of the rice almost more than the freshness of the fish.
Eating soba noodles is best done cold in order to prolong the enjoyment of the soft and slightly chewy texture of the noodles and mild tang of buckwheat. It is traditional to eat plain cold soba with nothing more than some dashi or light soy mixed with green onions and a touch of wasabi. You dip the noodles in - do not pour it on top - that way you control how much you need.
Probably my most favourite Japanese ingredient is Matcha. Matcha is a special grade of green tea of which the leaves are ground to a very fine powder so that in can be blended into a whole heap of things. You can find Matcha anything here in Kyoto and I am in heaven!
Like with most things, Matcha is appreciated in its pure form as a hot or cold beverage, but also can be used to make lattes, ice cream, sponge cakes, jellies and more.
One suprising combination that I am totally fond of is Matcha and dark chocolate. You would think that the intensity of chocolate would overpower the green tea flavour, but the bitter qualities of each really complement each other.
These tender crumbly sable cookies are a French classic.
The filling is based on white chocolate ganache which provides milky sweetness to carry the bitter tea flavours - sort of like the Matcha latte I mentioned.
A lot of people think adding milk to green tea is weird, but if you drink Matcha then it is totally right! Because this special tea leaf is ground so fine, it lends a creamy frothy mouthfeel to tea that marries well with milk or cream.
Traditionally these sable cookies are piped into shapes directly onto the baking tray which means that the dough needs to be the right consistency - that is not too stiff and a bit soft. In order to achieve this it is imperative that your ingredients are at room temperature. The butter must be perfectly soft and the egg whites must not be cold. Egg whites are mainly water, and fat and water do not mix. So, having the ingredients at room temperature will help you get there.
You also need to cream the heck out of the butter until it is nearly white. This aerates it so that you get a fine-textured cookie. Make sure to also bake them all the way through to get that crunch.
To get your hands on Matcha powder you will likely need to pay a visit to an Asian supermarket. The good stuff isn't cheap and the not-so-good stuff is loaded with filler like maltodextrin. Look for a deep green colour and a texture like fine rice flour. The good stuff will likely be packaged very carefully too.
I hope you go green tea crazy like me. It's one of the best kinds of crazies!
Chocolate Viennese Sable Cookies
Makes 18-20 cookies
1 cup minus 1 tbsp (130g) all-purpose flour
¼ cup (25g) cocoa powder (Dutch processed)
25g corn starch
2/3 cup (150g) unsalted butter, softened
½ cup (80g) icing sugar
1/8 pinch of salt
½ tsp vanilla extract
2 large egg whites
150g pure white chocolate
1/3 cup (80ml) 35% whipping cream
1 tbsp matcha powder
*MAKE SURE ALL INGREDIENTS ARE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE for easy incorporation of egg whites to butter, and for a soft dough that pipes easily.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees (180 degrees C) and line 2-3 baking sheets with baking paper.
In a bowl, sift the flour with corn starch and cocoa powder; set aside.
In a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat soft butter until very light and creamy, at least 4 minutes. Add sifted icing sugar and salt and beat until very light and nearly white in colour, another 4-5 minutes. Beat in vanilla.
Whisk egg whites in a small bowl just until foamy. Gradually add to creamed mixture with the mixer on medium-low speed and beat until well incorporated and fluffy. The mixture will loosen and then come together after beaten sufficiently. Sift flour mixture over the bowl and fold the dry ingredients in until the mixture is combined and a thick chocolate batter forms.
Spoon the batter into a durable pastry bag fitted with a large star nozzle and pipe 2 or 3 stars next to each other (or any shape you prefer).
Bake for 12-14 minutes until dry and crisp. Let cool on the tray completely.
To make ganache, heat cream to a simmer and pour over chopped chocolate in a metal bowl. Stir until smooth. Stir through matcha powder. Refrigerate until very thick and spreadable, about 2 hours. Spread about 1 teaspoon of ganache between two cookies and dig in!