My mother’s best friend, Haruko (who, like my mother, married an Australian), was a great biscuit baker and made exceptional tins of Christmas cookies. One day she asked my mother and me if we could make the cookies she bakes every Christmas to give to friends and family, as she was feeling too weak to do it – she was battling cancer.

She gave us some batches of cookie dough that she had already prepared, along with her recipes for others that still needed making, with plenty of instructions and drawings describing the right shape and icing for each. We spent days, working late into the night, baking chocolate-almond biscuits, pecan sandies, gingerbread, banana and lemon cookies, and soft, buttery matcha ones – all of them rolled out and cut into delicate little shapes like cherry blossoms and miniature Christmas trees, then popped into old-fashioned cookie tins to give to her friends and family. It was a complete labour of love for me and my mother. And it was also Haruko’s last Christmas.

These melt-in-the-mouth cookies are just the kind of thing Obaachan [Grandma] would have served with a proper cup of tea in one of the beautiful Wedgwood teacups from her precious collection. I like these with quite a lot of matcha, but you can use a little less for paler cookies with a more delicate flavour.

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Emiko Davies’s matcha-almond cookies
Makes about 36 small cookies
Preparation time: 15 minutes
Cooking time: 12–13 minutes

125g unsalted butter, softened

45g (⅓ cup) icing sugar
150g (1 cup) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
50g (½ cup) finely ground almond meal

4 tsp matcha (green tea powder, see note below), plus extra for dusting
½ tsp natural vanilla extract

2 tsp egg white or water
4 tbsp icing sugar

Beat the butter until creamy and smooth, then add the other ingredients and combine to make a smooth, soft dough. Wrap in cling film and chill in the fridge for 30 minutes if it is a bit too soft.

Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface to about 8mm thick. Cut out shapes with a cookie cutter and place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. If you are making these on a warm day, it is a good idea to put them in the fridge to chill for at least 20 minutes before baking.
Preheat the oven to 160°C.

Bake for 12–13 minutes, or until the cookies are still pale but dry to the touch. Remove from the oven and leave to cool for 5 minutes on the baking tray before moving to a wire rack.

In the meantime, make the icing by mixing the egg white or water, little by little, into the icing sugar until you have a thick but smooth paste.

Ice the cookies as you wish and dust over some matcha powder. Let them set, then store in an airtight container. I love these the next day, as they soften more and almost melt in the mouth.

Matcha powder has different grades corresponding to different colours and prices. Matcha powder is separated into ceremonial-grade tea, the highest you can find, which makes a very special thick, intense, vibrant green tea. Then you have culinary-grade matcha with a bright matcha colour, and ingredient-grade, which is the lowest grade and has a slightly yellow or olive-green colour. If you want a very nice bright-green colour, you could go for the culinary-grade matcha (but be aware it’s not suitable for making tea with) – or just splurge on a ceremonial-grade one that you can also use to make tea.

This is a lightly edited extract from Gohan by Emiko Davies, published by Smith Street Books and distributed by Thames & Hudson Australia, $49.99.