It's Baking Month: Switch your oven on and get warm, cozy and festive with us this December.
What is it about matcha, the powdered green tea, that has chefs buzzing? (No, it's not the caffeine.)
Turns out the antioxidant-packed green powder, which was first used by the Chinese in the 10th century, is a versatile ingredient that can be used in dishes both savory and sweet—and can even add a subtle kick to that old holiday standard, the gingerbread cookie (see the recipe).
Jessica Lloyd, cofounder of New York-based matcha brand PANATEA (which has an upcoming cookbook featuring chef collaborations, including a matcha mousse by Lafayette's Jen Yee) notes, "People are only now becoming acquainted with it, because it's being presented in a relatable way."
Cafés celebrating the tea seem to be popping up left and right, not only brewing it in lattes and the like, but serving it on their menus: New York's MatchaBar has experimented with everything from a matcha aioli to a matcha-miso glaze on roasted salmon. According to cofounder Graham Fortgang, the clear winners are the café's matcha doughnut holes, as well as a matcha ice cream they created with New York's OddFellows.
"The culinary scene loves to explore, invent and create," Alissa White, owner of L.A.'s Matcha Box and the online brand Matcha Source, says. "Matcha works hot, cold, sweet and savory." At Matcha Box, she makes toast with a piece of Lodge Bread Co. toast slathered with matcha butter. Yes, matcha butter.
White says, "Real salted butter, made from grass-fed cows. We bring the butter to room temperature and sift two tablespoons of ingredient-grade matcha into the butter a little bit at a time."
Matcha's also been popping up on dessert menus: Brooklyn's Four & Twenty Blackbirds revealed a matcha pie earlier this fall. The pie pros pour a dense and creamy Japanese-style matcha custard into their famous flaky crust and bake it into a stunning and not-too-sweet pie that's worth every last bite. In Philadelphia, Morimoto serves a matcha tres leches cake with burnt honey ice cream and sweet bean paste.
So when it came time for us to create the holiday cookie of the season, we took a few cues from these matcha mavens, infusing a not-too-sweet gingerbread with matcha for flavor and avocado for creaminess. The result is an edible gem that will win any cookie swap on both looks and its pillowy soft crumb.
Before you preheat the oven, it's worth noting that not all matcha is created equal: "Matcha is a lot like wine, in that there are different grades and qualities," Lloyd says. She explains that ceremonial grade is more delicate and meant to be sipped. Culinary grade (also called ingredient grade) is ideal for blending, baking or cooking. Culinary grade is not only less expensive, but the bitter notes are more profound with matcha flavor and hold up well to other ingredients.
So get creative. It's time to discover the matcha of invention.
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