MatchaPannaCottaI love matcha. I love the creamy personality that it acquires from being frothed to within an inch of its life. I love the ceremony and the equipment used to achieve that liquid feast in a cup. But I also like to use it in distinctly un-Japanese ways, such as combining it with dairy (rarely done in traditional Japan, although nowadays matcha lattes and smoothies abound on the coffee shop scene, both here and there. I also like to add just a hint of sugar to it (also never done). Capturing its grassy intensity and slightly astringent side in a simple, make-ahead dessert that owes its provenance to the world of Italian dolci is also something I enjoy.

With my twin loves of tea and mouth-filling but light desserts, I have been inspired to make a matcha-flavored panna cotta (“cooked cream” in Italian), an unorthodox version of the dessert from the boot with a decidedly Asian flavor profile. Borrowing yet another ingredient from the Japanese pantry, I incorporated sesame seeds (goma) into a paper-thin cookie and served it alongside the creamy confection, adding crunch, textural counterpoint, and a nuttiness that pairs beautifully with the tea in the panna cottas, underlining its almost roasted personality. Remember that shade-grown green tea is a far different thing from the standard run of other powdered green teas. Shielding the leaves from direct sunlight for several weeks before plucking causes the leaves to work hard to achieve photosynthesis, increasing the chlorophyll content and resulting in a highly flavored, vibrantly green powdered tea. Specially crafted granite wheels are traditionally used to grind the tea leaf into the fine dissolvable powder that winds up in the cup. Alissa White sources her matchas from the top growers in the Nishio region of Japan.

For an Asian-inflected dessert to end any meal, follow the recipes below for a perfect panna cotta and the accompanying sesame tuiles.

Matcha Panna Cotta

Yields: 4 servings
4 ounces whole milk
5 grams (2 t. or scant 1/6 ounce) matcha tea
2 sheets of gelatin (6 grams) or 2 t. unflavored powdered gelatin
1/3 cup granulated sugar
8 ounces heavy cream

If you are using sheet gelatin, bloom the gelatin as follows: Place the sheets into a bowl of ice water for about 5 minutes or so to soften. Once softened, remove from the water, gently squeeze out any excess water and set aside. If you are using powdered gelatin, add 2 T. cold water to the powder and heat in a microwave briefly, stirring a few times during the heating (remove the heatproof bowl from the microwave, stir, and then return it to the microwave, if needed) until the mixture looks clear. Set aside.  

In a small bowl, whisk the tea and sugar until well combined. In a small saucepan, heat the milk until hot. Whisk the hot milk into the tea and sugar mixture. Pour through a fine meshed sieve into a bowl and add the gelatin while the mixture is still hot, and stir until combined. If you are using powdered gelatin, make sure that it is fully dissolved and melted into the mixture. If not, reheat the mixture and stir to be sure that the gelatin has disappeared into the mixture and there are no granules of undissolved gelatin in the mixture. Now add the cream and pour carefully into molds. Chill the panna cottas on a flat surface in the refrigerator until set, about 2 hours.

If you are using silicone molds, it’s best to freeze the panna cottas for easy removal. About 30 minutes before serving, unmold onto a flat baking sheet and place the sheet into the refrigerator to thaw to serving temperature.

If you are using other kinds of molds (cups, plastic containers, ramekins), dip them briefly into very hot water to unmold onto serving plates. Serve with the sesame tuile, as desired.

Sesame Tuile Cookies

Yield: approximately 20 cookies, each 5 inches long by 1-1/2 inches measured at the widest point – see photo  (Shape and thickness determines the yield so it is almost impossible to be precise here)
½ ounce (generous 1/8 cup) sesame seeds (white or black, or a mixture, as desired), lightly roasted before adding to the cookie batter
2 ounces butter, at room temperature
2 ounces (approximately 1/3 cup) granulated sugar
2 ounces (from 2 large eggs) egg whites
1 t. vanilla extract
2 ounces (scant ½ cup) all-purpose flour

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Roast the sesame seeds until fragrant, but not burned. Watch carefully, stirring frequently until you start to smell the nutty aroma of the seeds. Remove immediately from the oven, allow to cool, and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer outfitted with a paddle attachment, blend the soft butter with the sugar until well combined. Now add the egg whites and vanilla, mixing until blended, scraping the bottom and sides of the bowl frequently during the mixing process. Finally, add the flour and mix slowly just until the flour disappears into the mixture. (This mixture can be made a day in advance, refrigerated, well covered, and then removed from the refrigerator about 30 minutes before spreading it out onto the silicone mat to bake).

Using a tuile template (a thin but sturdy plastic sheet with cutouts, available at specialty baking equipment stores in many designs and shapes) or simply a spatula, spread the cookie paste thinly into whatever shapes you wish onto the back of a baking sheet lined with a Silpat (a silicon mat). Bake for approximately 7-10 minutes, rotating the sheet pan to ensure even baking. For best results, bake only 6 or so at a time. To give the tuiles more visual interest, curve them immediately out of the oven over a cylinder, such as a rolling pin, or press them onto the back of a small heatproof bowl – but watch out! They will be hot. If the cookies have cooled too quickly to be shaped, return them briefly to the oven to soften them a bit and then shape them immediately upon removing them from the oven. Allow to cool and store in an airtight container at room temperature. These are best eaten the day you make them, but may be held a day, if necessary.

The photo accompanying this post is courtesy Lauren Wemischner.