It is the start of the most majestic time of the year, Hanami season. Hanami is the viewing of the cherry blossoms (sakura) in Japan.
In order to celebrate this magical time of the year to its fullest, I have made a delicious assortment of these little rich, tender and buttery sakura shortbread cookies. There is something so special about shortbread cookies as when you bite into them you first hear the crunch and then they just seem to melt in your mouth. You can’t stop at just one or maybe even two or three. Don’t tell me I did not warn you up front as they are very addicting. Well they are quite dainty small cookies after all so you do not have to feel that guilty.
This shortbread cookie recipe is pretty close to the one my mom used to make but I of course had to make some changes. Shortbread is so named because of its crumbly texture and it is usually made with 1 part sugar, 2 parts real butter and 3 parts flour. This is not a gluten-free recipe as no matter how many different times I tried to get the texture and consistency like my moms with gluten-free types of flours, it did not work.
However, I did add one part cornstarch as this really makes this cookie crunchy and delicious. This recipe is of course egg free. I made one really big batch and then to one half of the batch I added some high quality vanilla and a pinch of salt and to the other half of the batch I added some delicious matcha green tea.
It is sakura season so I decided to make my shortbread cookies into little flowers cut outs and ornately decorate them.I have to admit I had way too much fun for my own good making these very girly cookies. I sprinkled some of the sakura shortbread cookies with sakura flavored pink sesame seeds from Japan that are a little salty. You have the delicately sweet and buttery cookies with the slightly salty sakura sesame seeds and it is everything you always dreamed about for getting you fix on the sweet and salty craze.
I stuffed some with a little Bammer’s Jammers and this was a delicious way to celebrate high tea. You can use any type of jam you have available but strawberry and matcha flavors together are like a match in heaven.
I also decorated some with some delicious wafer daisies from Dr. Oetker. Yes these are daisies and not Sakura, thanks for noticing, but I am in Hong Kong and it was the closest thing I could find to a sakura flower here. They are quite adorable, edible and gluten-free. After all, Sakura season is also the celebration of the arrival of spring and everyone around the world celebrates with the flowers blooming.
Spring arrival and the sakura flowers open up at different times in Japan. However, in the southern areas like Okinawa Sakura can start to open as early as January and in the Northern parts of Japan like Hokkaido they can open up as late as May. However for the middle portion of Japan, depending on the weather usually is between March and early April.
I used to live in Japan and it was one of the most amazing experiences ever. The sakura flowers only last for about two weeks and in many parks or shrines or near temples people can be seen walking along the flowers or putting down a picnic blanket and enjoying a little bit to eat or a sweet treats. Sometimes when the sakura flowers start to fall from the tree it looks like it is snowing. Even my eldest teenager went on a walk with mom to take in this very enriching cultural experience. It is an experience that is not to be missed.
A few years ago, my husband and I were walking along Negeishi Shirin Koen, a park near our apartment in Yokohama, during the sakura season. There were many families having picnics in the park on blankets enjoying Hanami. I watched a man holding up part of his sandwich whilst he was gesturing up to the sakura in the trees and a huge hawk came down and grabbed his sandwich right out of his hand. Amazing site to see and the wing span on this little guy was huge. Everyone in the park squealed and then became very quiet as they watch this magnificent bird fly away with his prize. Even the wildlife in Japan are celebrating Hanami season.
Even if you are not in Japan, you can celebrate this lovely cultural tradition with a tea cup full of hot matcha tea and some delightful and delicatley sweet sakura shortbread cookies. Matcha is the only tea variety that is ground into fine powder for and is a vibrant green colour. When drinking matcha you consume the entire tea leaf. Matcha drinkers consume a higher concentration of antioxidants, vitamins and fibers that other teas.
Just some hints while you are working with shortbread cookie dough. You must use real butter and you cannot under any circumstances substitute with margarine or some of those other fake butters out there as your results will not be optimal. You have to refrigerate your dough for at least a few hours or even overnight. I know it seems pointless as you first make the dough and it is nice and soft and supple so why would you want to refrigerate it and get it hard and then have to get it back out of the refrigerator and let it sit for a few minutes before working the dough. It is all to do with the glutens in the dough and you can miss this very important step as if you do your cookies will not stay in the orginal shape you formed but will end up like a big blob on the cookie sheet. Shortbread cookies unlike regular sugar cookies will remain beautiful straw color and will not brown so this is an excellent medium for matcha cookies so you can show off the gorgeous green color without browning.
When working with your shortbread cookie dough, it is best to use a scale for weighing your measurements but you can also use cups and teaspoons but your effects may vary. I have included both for your convenience. If your dough is really crumbly, you can salvage it by adding just a couple of drops of cold water and work into the dough. If your dough is too wet, then add flour as needed just until the dough starts to pull together.
Sometimes, depending on your climate and humidity levels you will have to adjust. You can choose to just form your dough into logs, wrap tightly and put in the refrigerator for a few hours and them cut them and bake. However, if you choose to roll out your dough and use cut outs you need to work quickly. Sometimes you may need to refrigerate your dough in between batches so the dough is easier to work. In addition, I found putting the cut out cookies back into the refrigerator for just 15 minutes before baking ensures that the dough stays uniform in size.
Some other helpful hints include…
If you want to add colorful sprinkles to your cut out sakura cookies, use a little beaten egg white brushed on your cookie before you bake and then dip into sprinkles and then bake.
If you want to add sesame seeds to your dough your can either mix 1 -2 tablespoons of black or white directly into the dough and mix or you can put sesame seeds on top of your cookies right before you bake them but just use a little pressure so they stick on the cookie.
Matcha (green Tea) should be used according to the directions as in high concentrations it can be bitter. A little goes a long way. However, with just enough there is a subtle matcha taste that balances nicely with the powdered sugar. You can obtain matcha from your Asian or Japanese market. In some places it may be difficult to come by and that is why the vanilla shortbread cookies are a nice option instead.
If you want to use Dr. Oetker daisy flower wafers then you add these after the cookies are baked and cool and use a little royal icing as glue. Here is my link to royal icing if you choose to drizzle your cookies with a little color or glaze.
Wilton’s cake decorating supplies now has all the beautiful pastel colors out such as light yellow, green and pink to make all of your cookies look festive for the spring season. Beautiful cookie cutters, sprinkles and anything you need to make your sakura shortbread cookies beautiful.
Wishing everyone a glorious spring and a delightful hanami season.
- cornstarch - 1/2 cup (65 grams)
- powdered (icing) sugar - 1/2 cup (80 grams)
- flour - 1 cup (140 grams) all purpose and a little extra for rolling out the dough
- butter - 3/4 cup (1 and 1/2 sticks)- (170 grams) softened and unsalted (use unsalted so you can control the taste to your liking)
- salt - 1/8 teaspoon (pinch- as there is no eggs in recipe you can go ahead and taste the dough)
- vanilla - 1 teaspoon (add only if making vanilla shortbread cookies do not add to match shortbread cookies)
- matcha (green tea) - 2.5 tablespoons (15 grams) (Do not add if making vanilla shortbread cookies)
- sesame seeds - optional (Can use black or white and they can either be mixed into the vanilla dough or used on top as a cookie garnish)
Step 1: Sift cornstarch, icing sugar, flour and salt into a bowl.
a) Matcha cookies: Add the 2.5 tablespoons matcha green tea now and sift into the mixture. Do not add matcha if you want to make vanilla shortbread cookies.
b) Vanilla shortbread cookies: Add the 1 teaspoon of vanilla after you have completed the sifting. Do not add if you want to make matcha shortbread cookies.
Step 2: Place either your matcha green tea or vanilla flour mixture into a food processor and add the softened butter. You do not want you butter melted but just at room temperature, if you forget to soften your butter you can put it in the microwave at 50 percent power for 10 second intervals until softened and you can put a dent easily with your finger). Optional: If you want to add sesame seeds directly to vanilla shortbread cookie dough, you can add one tablespoon of either black or white sesame seeds at this time. Pulse together gently until a dough ball forms. Alternatively you can process your dough with your hands or a spoon.
Step 3: Shape your dough into a round disk if planning on making cut out cookies and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Do not overwork the dough or it will make your cookies tough. The less touching the dough the better. If you want to just cut slices out of your dough form your dough into a log about 6 inches long and 2 inches wide and wrap tightly and place in the refrigerator for at least 2 hours or up to overnight. (Refrigeration is a very important step)
Step 4: Preheat your oven to 300 degrees F or 150 degrees C. Take your dough out of the refrigerator and remove plastic wrap.
a) If you are planning on just slicing the cookies from the log then cut into about 1/4 inch thick slices and place on a greased baking sheet or one lined with waxed/parchment paper about a couple of inches apart. Your cookies should not expand. Really you can shape the dough in any form you like. My mom used to press the dough into a plastic lined baking dish and refrigerate and then cut them into rectangles and then decorate with fork holes before baking.
b) If you are planning on making cutout shortbread cookies with sakura flower cookie cutters, remove the plastic wrap from the circle dough and allow to soften slightly before trying to roll out the dough.
Step 5: Generously flour your work service. Roll out your dough so that dough is about 1/4 inch thick. The little bit thicker dough results in a lovely cookie. Flour your cookie cutters and firmly press into dough and repeat the process for the rest of the dough. I used a spatula to move the cookies from my counter to the parchment line or greased pan. Repeat the process for the rest of the dough. Sometimes the dough will be soft so just wrap it back up into a ball and cover with plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator for a few minutes until it firms up again, roll flat and repeat the process.
Step 6: Decorate the cookies with sesame seeds or sugar confetti as desired. Press the sesame seeds down into the dough so they stick. If you want to ornately decorate the side of the cookies with sprinkles then first brush on a little egg white and then dip into sprinkles. (For an extra layer of security to make sure that my cookies did not expand I put the cookies on the cookies tray in the refrigerator for just a few minutes before baking. You probably can skip this step.)
Step 7: Bake sakura shortbread cookies for 15-20 minutes or until the edges are slightly tan.
Step 8: Cool on a wire rack.
Step 9: Decorate cookies with royal icing, sprinkles, and decorations as desired.
Step 10: Enjoy Sakura Shortbread cookies with a nice hot cup of matcha, tea or coffee. Store your cookies in a plastic sealed container and if for some reason your family does not eat them within 3 days put them in the freezer and they can be stored up to 3 months.