Monday, March 23, 2015

Cookies that taste like an ocean breeze

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.

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. 

Sea moss sandies 
Táitiào suū  苔條酥
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

The crumbly dough
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, and 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°F. Cut the dough into ¼-inch slices. Place them about one inch apart on baking sheets lined with Silpat or parchment paper.

Pretty darned exciting, for a cookie
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. I used powder nori in shortbread in a similar recipe, but your used of sea moss is probably a much better choice due to the strength of its flavour. I'll have to try it!

    Incidentally, this seaweed (Ulva prolifera) is the type that bloomed off Qingdao 2 years back No better way to solve a problem if you can eat your way out of it.

    1. That's amazing information. I so like your comments and hope that this recipe is as delicious to you as it is to me!

  2. You have a fascinating blog. Thank you so much for sharing.