matcha shortbread squares


I’ve long been itching to try a matcha-flavored confection, not only because I’m exceedingly fond of the tea itself, but also due to the fact that I currently live in the very heartland of green tea and tea-flavored sweets. Of all the various possibilities of matcha treats–cookies, tiramisu, puddings, trifles, to name a few–I settled on a more simple but classic method: shortbread. It had been far too long since I’d made a batch of the crisp, flaky, buttery cookies, and having prized upon Clotilde’s own especially tempting sugar-rolled recipe over at C&Z, the call of the tea leaves summoned me to my kitchen, irregardless of the fact that it was already past nine on a Monday night.
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april fools and flowers

Sunday afternoon: Earl Grey tea, rich with a splash of milk, a spoonful of sugar, and cream–my most luxurious cuppa yet! 

April Fool’s! 

Despite the honest resemblance, this deceptive cup is actually a creamy, tea-infused milk jelly. It might seem slightly off-putting, I know, to read “milk tea” and “jelly” in the same sentence, let alone envision them as cohorts in the company of dessert. But despite any reservations I may have had previously about adding gelatin to such a familiar thing as brewed tea, it was only for lack of acquaintance with such a confection, because the little cup I had for an afternoon pick-me-up completely exceeded my expectations and tickled my senses in a most pleasant, beguiling way. It certainly looked and smelled like a cup of sweet milk tea, yet when I dipped my spoon in, the surface broke with surprising resistance, like scooping sorbet. It was like having the most intensely flavorful tea pudding–I could taste the sweet bergamot, actually bite into the richness of the milk and cream. 

I first came across such a dessert in the repetoire of Japanese sweets, where jellies are often served with fresh fruit, sweet rice dumplings, or even scoops of ice cream. On its own, I don’t know that gelatin will ever have a fighting chance as a stand-alone treat for me, but in its incarnation as milk jelly, it allowed me the unique pleasure of enjoying a fragrant tea with the added feeling of indulgence any cold-cream treat usually invokes (and with hardly any pangs of conscience!).  Continue reading

honey-rum tea cake

This cake means so much more to me than just another successful translation from the Japanese baking book I bought–it means I finally have a real friend here to give it to! I came home from work Friday afternoon with the thoughts of a crazy person: wishing, praying to just skip over Saturday entirely and wake up to Sunday’s lunch, shopping, and dinner date with my new friend from school, Mina. We got along like two peas in a pod from day one at Koriyama West Junior High School, where she teaches English, and where I was visiting as the resident Assistant Language Teacher for four days last week. Somehow our discussions in the teacher’s room veered from the weather and Japanese studying to confessions of love for ice cream, Sex and the City, J-Pop, and a mutual commiseration over our long-distance boyfriends. When we realized we live just ten minutes away from each other on opposite sides of the Koriyama train tracks, it was like a match made in heaven!

So when Mina asked me out for lunch at a Thai restaurant in Nara, followed by photo-booth pictures, yogurt parfaits, window-shopping, and homemade dinner at her parent’s house, I nearly died of happiness. And it was a good thing after all that Saturday paid no heed to my hopes of expedition, because I was determined to bake my feelings of joy, relief, and bonhomie at making such a great friend into the perfect hostess gift: a lightly sweet, fragrant tea cake. Continue reading