Cookies of various kinds have long been available in China. A friend of "Beyond the Great Wall" authors Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid came across a poppy seed shortbread in Yunnan; she later created this version of the recipe, flavored with ingredients local to southern Yunnan: poppy seeds and green tea.
The recipe calls for butter, but in Yunnan lard is the more available and local shortening; substitute it for the butter if you wish. Use any green tea you like, and grind it to a powder in a food processor or spice grinder, or with a mortar and pestle. The tea gives the rich, sweet shortbread an enticing bitter edge.
Servings: 81 small squares
- 16 tablespoons (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into small chunks and well softened
- 1/2 cup sugar, plus 2 tablespoons for topping
- Generous 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1 3/4 cups flour
- 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon rice flour
- 2 tablespoons finely ground green tea (see headnote)
- 1/4 cup poppy seeds
Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 325 degrees. Line a 9-inch square pan with parchment paper, letting it overhang the pan by a couple of inches on two opposite sides.
Beat the butter, 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer or hand-held electric mixer on medium speed until pale and fluffy, 2 to 3 minutes. Reduce the speed to low and gradually add the flours, tea and poppy seeds. The dough should start to come together, forming clumps. (Alternatively use a wooden spoon to beat the butter, 1/2 cup of sugar and the salt in a bowl until pale and fluffy. Gradually add the flours, tea and poppy seeds, beating well after each addition, until the dough is well blended and forms clumps.)
Press the dough into the prepared pan, pushing out any air pockets. Use a fork to prick the dough right through to the pan, making rows of marks spaced 1/2 inch apart. Then use a sharp knife to cut the dough into 1-inch squares.
Bake until the edges of the shortbread pull away from the sides of the pan and the top is touched with brown, 30 to 35 minutes.
Cut the shortbread again while still in the pan. Sprinkle on the 2 tablespoons of sugar, then use the overhanging parchment paper to carefully lift the shortbread from the pan and transfer to a wire rack to cool.
Adapted from "Beyond the Great Wall," by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (Artisan, 2008).
Tested by Randy Richter.
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