My Japanese grandmother had an excellent, even precious, collection of beautiful teacups and would bring them out to have tea, properly. With the tea, she'd always serve a little cookie—delicate, buttery, melt in the mouth—or another Japanese sweet like a slice of yokan (a sweet, dark treat made from red bean paste).
It wasn't until a couple of Christmases ago that I actually made something similar to the buttery, soft cookies I had in Japan. My mother's best friend, Haruko—who (like my mother) had an Australian husband and therefore celebrated Christmas traditions—was a great cookie baker and made batches of wonderful cookies for the holidays. This particular Christmas, she was also battling lung cancer.
One day, Haruko asked my mother and I if we could make the cookies she bakes every Christmas to give to friends and family—she was feeling too weak to do them. She gave us some batches of cookie dough that she had already prepared, along with her recipes for others that still needed making, with plenty of instructions and drawings as to the right shape and icing for each.
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We spent days, working late into the night, baking chocolate-almond cookies, pecan sandies, gingerbread, banana and lemon cookies, and soft, buttery matcha polvoróns, rolled out and cut out into delicate little shapes like cherry blossoms and miniature Christmas trees, then popped into old-fashioned cookie tins to give to her friends and family.
It was a labor of love for my mother and me. And it was also Haruko's last Christmas.
The Japanese love flavoring desserts with the distinct, bitter flavor of matcha tea, and these cookies are no exception. I like them quite dark and flavorful, but you can use a little less matcha for paler cookies and a more delicate flavor. Haruko's are inspired by Spanish polvorón cookies, which can also be simply dusted with powdered sugar rather than decorated with icing.
And of course, these are perfect with a cup of tea.
The Australian-Japanese cookbook author has lived in Florence (where a visit to a cheese farm once inspired her to start a food blog) for over 10 years with her Tuscan sommelier husband and two kids. Her third cookbook, Tortellini at Midnight, is out now.