I am extremely lucky this summer because I get to do a lot of bakery recipe testing in the kitchen. When the chefs leave at 2pm after the lunch rush is over, the kitchen is entirely mine for the rest of the afternoon.
Of course, there are challenges baking Western recipes in a Chinese-style kitchen in a rural Chinese town at an altitude of 6,300 feet. So far I have been identifying most ingredients by smelling and tiny taste-testing; the sugar and salt are the same coarse texture here, and they are in identical, unlabeled metal tins.
I have been trying to incorporate local ingredients and flavors into some of my favorite recipes, which has been really fun. Xizhou is particularly famous for rose jam, brown sugar (different from the kind in the US), pu’er tea, so I have been brainstorming different ways to incorporate those flavors, plus staple Chinese ingredients like sesame seeds and anise. More recipes to come!!
This recipe is one of my top favorites so far. The five spice powder has some really complex flavors that pair well with the plain sugary-buttery beauty of the shortbread, and the sesame seeds add a wonderful crunch and exotic look. I have been testing so many things that I normally just try a bite or two, but oh man – I “tried” a lot of these. These are dangerously addicting.
5-Spice Sesame Shortbread
1 c soft butter
3/4 c powdered sugar
1 3/4 c flour
2 tsp five-spice powder*
1/3 c black sesame seeds
1 tsp vanilla extract
1. Cream the butter and sugar together
2. Mix in flour, spices, and black sesame seeds, and vanilla
3. Press dough into a 9×9 inch pan and bake at 325 degrees F for 30-35 minutes until golden brown. It may take longer than 35 min.
5. Remove from pan and cut into squares while warm with a sharp knife.
*Five Spice Powder
Despite the name “Chinese Five-Spice,” you can’t actually find it in China so I made my own!
Just mix 1 tsp ground cinnamon, 1 crushed star anise, 1/4 tsp crushed fennel seed, 1/4 tsp ground Szechuan pepper, and 1/8 tsp ground cloves.