Cook on a Whim: Sugar Cookie Bars with Matcha Almond Buttercream

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Sugar cookie bars with matcha almond buttercream. Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Cook on a Whim.

With St. Patty’s Day just around the corner, I thought I’d offer up something sweet, festive and appropriately green. But before you reach for the food coloring, read on.

In my recipes, I always opt for the most natural ingredients I can. If I’m using extracts or coloring, I really try to find a natural alternative. One of my favorite ways to add color to my baked goods — especially to glazes — is with freeze-dried fruit. But green is not a color that’s easy to find in that department. So when I was brainstorming an idea for a green dessert, my thoughts quickly turned to matcha powder. It doesn’t get much greener or more natural than that.

Matcha powder is just very finely ground green tea leaves. It has a pleasant, grassy, slightly bitter flavor and is traditionally whisked with hot water and served as a hot, frothy beverage. While (I must confess) I’m not a big fan of it in its traditional form, I love baking with it. It lends a beautiful, soft green color to baked goods, ice cream recipes, puddings, glazes and frostings.

Make sure you are sourcing a good-quality, culinary-grade matcha to bake with. No need to spend your money on the top-shelf, ceremonial-grade matcha.

As for these cookie bars, they are so simple and have just the perfect chewy texture. Feel free to add sprinkles or chips to the dough. I kept the flavoring in the cookie bars and the frosting the same: a combo of vanilla and almond extracts. I especially like the almond extract with the matcha. The two flavors play nicely off one another and the almond tones down the bitterness of the matcha without completely masking it.

This is an American buttercream, which is the simplest of all buttercreams. It starts with room-temperature butter and powdered sugar and a splash of milk. From there, you can flavor it and color it any way you like. The most important thing is to have nice, soft, room-temperature butter. Don’t be tempted to microwave your butter to speed up the process or you’ll end up with a greasy mess in your mixing bowl — trust me. Plan ahead for this and leave your butter out on the counter for several hours, or even overnight if your house isn’t too hot.

Also, I usually don’t bother with sifting ingredients and find it to be a totally unnecessary step in cake and cookie recipes. Frosting recipes, however, are another story, especially when they involve cocoa powder, powdered sugar and/or matcha. These ingredients make my sift list. Now, I’m not going to make you sift, but let this be your warning: If you don’t sift the powdered sugar and matcha you will have lumps in your buttercream.

I hope you enjoy this recipe! Leave some of these bars out and maybe the leprechaun will be too busy eating them to make too much mischief.

Happy St. Patty’s Day!

Sugar Cookie Bars with Matcha Almond Buttercream 

Ingredients 

For the bars:

1/2 cup (1 stick) butter, softened to room temperature

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg and 1 egg yolk

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

½ teaspoon pure almond extract

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch

For the buttercream:

13 tablespoons butter, softened to room temperature

1 1/2 cups  powdered sugar

2 tablespoons matcha powder

1 teaspoon  vanilla extract

1 teaspoon almond extract

1 to 2 tablespoons  milk

Instructions 

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Line an 8-inch or 9-inch square baking pan with parchment paper, making sure to leave enough overhang on the sides. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using a handheld mixer or a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, cream the softened butter for about 1 minute on medium speed. Get it nice and smooth, then add the sugar on medium speed until fluffy and light in color. Beat in egg, egg yolk and vanilla. Scrape down the sides as needed.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda and cornstarch. Add to mixing bowl and mix on low speed until combined. (The dough is quite thick.)

Press the cookie dough evenly into the prepared baking pan. Wet hands make this much easier.

Bake for 25 minutes or until very lightly browned on top and edges. Don’t overbake. You want them soft and chewy.

Now for the buttercream. While they cool, in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix butter on medium-high speed until light and fluffy.

Next, sift in powdered sugar and matcha. (It helps to remove the bowl from the mixer base and just sift it straight in. No need to dirty an extra dish.) Then add extracts and milk, return mixing bowl to mixer base. Mix on lowest setting until combined.

Increase speed to medium-high and mix until buttercream is light and fluffy. Stop to scrape down the sides a couple of times.

Spread generously onto completely cooled cookie bars.

Cookie bar recipe adapted from “Sally’s Baking Addiction.”

Photo by Anita Parris Soule. Courtesy Cook on a Whim.
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