kinako shortbread cookies

I tend to justify a lot of my baking adventures as occasions to foist kitchen experiments on others, call them gifts, and win brownie points with friends, coworkers, and family. I think this is a brilliant strategy which allows me to both nurture my obsession and make others happy :) After my first baking attempt in my funny three-part appliance with the scones, I decided to move away from familiar baking territory and try something new, with a distinct Japanese flavor. I found the recipe in a wonderful little Japanese baking book all about tiny cakes and cookies. This book has to be the closest thing to a book-approximation of my personality that I have ever come across. It is a darling thing, with gorgeous photos of tiny rectangular cheesecakes, castella bars, crunchy matcha shortbread sticks, and even a sweet natto-bean sponge cake recipe. It’s taken me a full week to get through the whole thing, since it’s all in Japanese, but I have to say I am very proud of myself for reading a whole book in another language! Who’d have guessed the biggest source of my language immersion while living in Japan would be from my coworkers’ old cooking magazines and books on French baking?

So on Sunday of last weekend, I decided my excellent fellows at the Koriyama City Hall deserved another food gift, and on those grounds, I set out to make a kinako shortbread cookie. Kinako is a kind of sweet, delicate flour made from ground soybeans, often used to coat sticky warabimochi in Japanese cuisine. The finishing black and white sesame seeds add a beautiful contrast of color and add a satisfying crunch and salty bite to the nuttiness of the kinako. With a drizzle of milk-and-honey glaze, the cookies cooked to golden perfection and came out in a dazzle of crispy sticks.

I have to admit, though, I had a little trouble with the dough. Like any shortbread base, this recipe called for a sizable amount of butter, and in the recent heat and humidity here, I’m inclined to blame the weather for the sticky, melty mess that ended up in my mixing bowl. Truly, it was not a pretty thing. I added a bit more flour, divided the dough in two, wrapped it up in some plastic wrap, and let the dough sit in the refrigerator for a whole day. When I came back to the cookies on Sunday, the weather still warm and muggy as ever, I worked quickly on a very generously floured work surface. But I managed to cut the dough, glaze them, and drop a few pinches of sesame seeds in time to load them into a sweltering oven before the cookies melted right there on the pan.

There is something to satisfying about taking cookies out of the oven: the sense of accomplishment, the tantalizing waft of freshly-baked cookie smell, the deft oven mit-clad hand carrying the tray–the very picture of homeyness! Well, I had to make myself feel better somehow about baking by myself >_>
  With some plastic wrap, small sheets of parchment paper, and twine, I wrapped the cookies individually to take into work. The perfect afternoon snack with coffee! Not too sweet, not too salty, and a pleasant picture of contrast for the eye.

Kinako Cookie Sticks
1/3 Cup flour (70 grams)
1 3/4 TB Kinako flour (25 grams)
60 grams Butter, room temperature
2 1/2 TB powdered sugar (35 grams)
1 tsp milk
white and black sesame seeds
2 tsp milk
1/2 honey

In a small bowl, whisk together flour and Kinako flour. In another bowl, whisk butter with a spatula until light and fluffy. Add powdered sugar in two batches, stirring into butter between each addition. Gently stir in flour mixture until just incorporated; add milk and stir. Remove batter to a floured work surface, gently knead to mix dough, and separate into two balls. Wrap each in plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least one hour, or overnight.

With the chilled dough, roll each ball into an 8mm rectangular sheet, approximately 10cm x 12cm. Re-wrap in plastic and refrigerate for another hour. Preheat oven to 180 Degrees Celsius. In a small bowl, mix milk and honey. Cut dough into even matchstick pieces, and glaze each one with the milk and honey mixture. Sprinkle with sesame seeds and bake for 12 -15 minutes, or until golden. Cool on a wire rack.

Makes approximately 14 cookies.

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