I hate January. There, I said it. I really do. New Year’s passes and everything goes back to the way it was in the beginning of November, except for the food. It’s worse. Grocer’s shelves lay bare. The abundant selections and the reliability of our markets go right out the window, too. I often wonder if that’s why so many people who make food-, eating-, health-, or weight-related resolutions often fail. It’s hard enough to navigate a grocery store anymore, let alone search in vain for a product that used to be on the shelves but has been discontinued after the holidays. You’ll see me cruising my grocer’s aisles, mumbling under my breath with a frown big enough to please Mr. Grinch. But if you follow me a bit longer you’ll see me stop, smell, and study all the teas. And by all, I do mean all. There are rows and rows, if not aisles and aisles, of teas where you shop. So, at least for now, you could say I’m turning over my new leaf, tea leaf that is!
The history of tea is as ancient as civilization. Using tea for culinary purposes is probably equally as long. Today, however, we have more distinctive kinds and types of teas available and that invites all sorts of experimentation. You’ve seen me use teas to infuse confections, ice cream, and baked goods, I’ve learned to smoke fish and shrimp using tea leaves, and use tea as the base for some delicious sangrias. But now I’m onto to green tea, matcha to be specific. This premium green tea powder, grown only in Japan, is rich and distinctive in flavor. Chlorophyll and amino acids give matcha its grassy and vegetal-like taste. Like most green teas, matcha has that astringent bite, but it is followed by mellowed sweetness, which makes this tea compelling and complex and wanting another taste.
Different from green tea powder, matcha is a fine ground, powdered, high quality green tea made from shade-grown tea leaves. Several weeks before the leaves are harvested the tea bushes are covered to prevent direct sunlight on the leaves. The absence of light slows down growth, turns the leaves a darker shade of green and causes the plant to produce amino acids, which in turn make the resulting tea sweeter. After harvest, the leaves are laid out flat to dry and become known as tencha. Tencha is then de-veined, de-stemmed, and slowly stone ground to the fine, bright green, talc-like powder that becomes matcha.
Beyond the unique harvest and production, matcha lays claim to being nutritional and beneficial to our health. Better still, in the past 10 years, researches have started to prove those claims. Because matcha is powdered in form (stoneground tea leaves), and dissolved into water unlike traditional green tea leaves that are steeped, drinking matcha is the same thing as consuming the entire leaf, which delivers the vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids in a way no other green tea can. A study conducted in 2003 by University of Colorado researchers concluded that the potency found in a single serving of matcha is equivalent to drinking at least ten cups of brewed green tea. Beyond that (as if that wasn’t enough), matcha is said to promote calm (it contains a rare amino acid L-Theanine), it may help memory and the capacity to learn while minimizing or even inhibiting the effects of its natural caffeine. Some studies also claim that matcha is a natural metabolism booster and fat burner; it balances the body’s pH levels and helps the body eliminate harmful elements.
For me though, it is the taste. That very unique taste. Like a good red wine or a quality dark chocolate, matcha is complex, which makes it a joy to cook with. And recipes abound. A simple internet search yields more recipes than you could cook your way through using the powder to flavor everything from chocolate and baked goods to salts and even savory dishes. Because its taste is so perfectly suited for dairy and eggs, most matcha powder recipes are for baked goods, though mixed into savory stews and braises, I find the vegetal quality to bring up the umami elements, blending taste and flavor into a unified deliciousness.
There are a number of reliable sources of matcha, mostly on the internet where you will pay more but can be assured of the highest quality. For drinking, MatchaSource.com, and RishiTea.com are reliable sources to start. For culinary use, I prefer the Sweet Matcha blend from SpiceandTea.com. Sweet Matcha is pre-blended with sugar, which makes it an all-purpose ingredient in your kitchen. You can drink it, prepared as hot or cold as you prefer, or substitute for sugar in recipes. In my own testing, however, I’ve found that my preference is to use 1 tablespoon Sweet Matcha for each 1 cup of milk, cream or liquid in the recipe. After the matcha is added, simply taste and adjust to your taste preference for sweetness. I’ve found in most cases I need little more than 1 tablespoon of sugar to balance out the astringency of the tea. For savory uses I whisk in the Sweet Matcha at the end of cooking, one teaspoon at a time until flavors are unified and balanced.
This Matcha Tart recipe is where my love for matcha began. The flavor of the matcha is balanced beautifully by the light tang of the cream cheese in the dough. Best of all, the tart (or the mini-tarts, shown here) are a perfect vehicle for fresh fruits such as pears, which are in season now, or stone fruits such as peaches, when in season.
Recipe: Matcha Custard Tart
Makes 4 4 1/2-inch tarts or 18 mini-tartlettes
For the cream cheese dough
1 stick (1/2 cup) butter, at room temperature
3 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature
1 cup flour
For the matcha custard
2 cups heavy cream
2 tablespoons Sweet Matcha powder
3 egg yolks
1 ½ tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
Prepare the dough. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with paddle attachment cream the butter and cream cheese on medium-low speed. Reduce speed and add flour until combined. Turn out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead 2 or 3 times until dough comes together. Flatten into a disc, wrap in cling film (plastic wrap), and refrigerate until firm at least 2 hours or overnight. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 1/8-inch thickness. Cut into four pieces and fit into tart rings. Refrigerate until ready to use. For mini-muffin tin tartlettes roll dough to 1/8-inch thickness. Using a large biscuit cutter cut rounds from the dough and fit into the mini-muffin tin. Combine scraps, re-roll and cut until all dough is used. Refrigerate until ready to use.
Prepare the custard. Prepare an ice water bath. Place the cream in a medium saucepan and whisk in the Sweet Matcha. Bring to simmer over medium-low heat. Simmer for about 1 – 2 minutes whisking to dissolve the matcha powder. Remove from heat.
Whisk egg yolks, egg, and sugar until pale yellow and thick. Temper the egg yolk mixture by adding a bit of the matcha mixture while whisking constantly. Pour the remaining matcha cream into the egg mixture, stirring constantly. Cool over the ice water bath stirring occasionally. When cool pour through a fine mesh sieve into a clean bowl. Reserve.
Prepare the tarts. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Divide the cooled custard between the dough-lined tart rings, no more than 3/4-full. Bake the tarts until golden brown and filling is just firm but still a bit wobbly in center, about 30 to 35 minutes for tarts, about 25 minutes for mini-tartlettes. Cool in pan. Remove from tart form (or remove from mini-muffin tin). Garnish with fruit slices or fruit compote. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Store tarts covered in a cool place, or refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before serving.
Recipe and Photo Copyright © 2012 by Donna Marie Desfor and There’s a Chef in My Kitchen, LLC. All Rights Reserved.
Copyright © 2012 by WITF, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Published in In witfs Kitchen with Chef Donna Desforback to top