Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Sea moss cookies

One of my favorite local cookies when I lived in Taiwan was  flavored with sea moss. I know, that doesn't sound like the most tantalizing flavor in the world, but the sea moss brought with it a faint echo of the sea, a salty edge that cut what would have otherwise been the one-note sweetness of a run-of-the-mill packaged cookie. But I'm a confirmed sucker for anything that contrasts two or more tastes, and this cookie fit my nascent foodie predilections to a T.

These cookies can still occasionally be found on this side of the Pacific, but they were never as good as I remembered. Maybe it was just being in Taipei that seasoned these thin wafers, or maybe my palate was changing. Whatever it was, I knew I had to find another way to satisfy my cravings. 

What I ended up with is this, a buttery cookie that really is an unabashed moss green. And in addition to its gorgeous color, the saltiness and delectable aroma of the main ingredient are highlighted with no hesitation here. This is basically a shortbread cookie (there I go showing my Scot roots again), with butter providing the crumbly texture and subtle richness instead of the vegetable shortening in the crispy original, so I call my creation Sea Moss Sandies.

Sea moss
Sea moss, or taitiao (literally, moss strands), is becoming more and more common in Chinese groceries nowadays, so look for it next time you check out an Asian grocery; it will probably be near the dried seaweeds. One 5-ounce package will be the perfect amount for this recipe, but I encourage you to get at least two packs, since we're going to be enjoying it in a Ningbo style fish creation in the very near future.

When you open the package, it will look for all the world like you have a couple hanks of green hair. I've found that the best way to deal with this is to toss the whole bunch into a food processor and then pulse away until the sea moss is broken down into little shards. You then can proceed to make the rest of the cookie dough in the processor, so this ends up taking no more than a few minutes to put together and a minimum of fuss.

Serve the cookies with hot green tea, maybe with a side of fruit and an ocean breeze. 

Crumbly dough
Sea moss sandies 
Taitiao su  苔條酥 
Nouvelle Taiwanese
Makes 7 to 8 dozen cookies

1 (5 ounce) package sea moss (taitiao
2 cups Chinese flour, or 1½ cups all-purpose flour plus ½ cup pastry flour
½ cup powdered sugar, plus more, if desired
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter
1. Start this recipe at least an hour before you wish to serve the cookies. 

2. Pull the sea moss apart into manageable strands and place them in a food processor equipped with a metal blade. Pulse the sea moss until it has been coarsely chopped. Add the flour and powdered sugar, then turn the food processor on so that the sea moss becomes finely ground. Add the butter and pulse the mixture until the dough forms a crumbly mass.

3. Divide the dough in two and place each one on a sheet of plastic wrap. Then, form each half into a smooth log a little over an inch in diameter. Wrap the logs in the plastic wrap and either roll them up in Silpat baking sheets or place them in paper towel tubes, as this will help keep the dough's shape. (If you have neither, roll the dough again on a flat board just before cutting it to make it as round as possible.) Freeze the dough for about an hour to make it easier to slice.

4. Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Cut the dough into ¼-inch slices. Place them about one inch apart on baking sheets lined with Silpat or parchment paper.

5. Bake the cookies for about 12 to 15 minutes until the edges are golden; rotate the sheets halfway through the baking time. Cool the cookies on the Silpat or parchment paper before removing them. If you wish, dust the cookies with a little more powdered sugar before serving.

6. Store the cookies in an airtight container; freeze for longer storage. They taste best after they have cooled off, as they will be crispier and the sea moss flavor will start to bloom.


  1. Hi, been enjoying exploring the new book. I usually cook Sichuan at home, so it's fun to explore other regions. I wanted to try this recipe, because I saw it in the book. I'm in NYC. The only stuff I could find in Chinatown was "black moss" sea moss. It' looks like short black hairs (sounds bad when I phrase it like that). It's $4 for a 1oz bag. Is this the same as the green sea moss you mention.

    1. Black moss is "hair vegetable," which is a terrestrial plant. It's been over-harvested out in China's far west provinces, so lots of people are avoiding it, sort of like bluefin tuna. Sea moss grows on rocks and piers, and is a pale olive color. Go to Chinese dry goods stores or herbal medicine shops, which might have it, and ask for taicai 苔菜.

      Like we discussed in our email exchange, the quality and packaging of the sea moss may vary. Use less rather than more, so if your package is less than 5 ounces in size, that's completely fine - the sea moss is acting as a seasoning here, not really the cookie itself. If the dough doesn't stick together, pulse in some water just until it forms a ball. And as always, be sure to use unsalted butter, since there's plenty of salt in the sea moss. (I made the mistake of using salted once - never again!)