Usually found in little sachets within packages of kabayaki eel, served sprinkled on top of yakitori for an extra kick or as a seasoning for sushi, sanshō is Japan’s answer to the now world-famous Szechuan peppercorn from south western China. Whilst not related to peppercorns in any way, they’re both berries from prickly ash trees and share the pepper monicker due to the spicy, fiery slow-building heat that they impart to food. The flavour of sanshō starts with a peppery grapefruit scented awakening of the saliva glands and passes through fizzy, cooling, electric sensations before calming into an almost anaesthetic numbness, a long lasting souvenir of the food you’ve eaten. Not an immediate heat like you would get from a chilli pepper, but a more subtle experience, delivering its nuanced qualities in waves.
This complex spice doesn’t often get to make an appearance in sweet dishes, being mostly recognised as a savoury flavour, but while experimenting with making some gingersnap cookies we stumbled across sanshō’s affinity for buttery, crisp biscuits, and haven’t been able to stop making them since. Imagine German pfeffernüsse, kruidnoten of the Netherlands, or the gingerbread men from England, but with a zesty lemony aroma and a bit more punch and you’re getting close to these spicy little treats. They have a firm, crisp snap, and a wonderfully crackled surface, perfect for wrapping up as a homemade gift for loved ones or for serving with a cup of tea.
- 110g plain flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon bicarbonate of soda
- 1 teaspoon ground sanshō pepper
- 40g caster sugar
- 50g salted butter (at room temperature)
- 50g golden syrup
- zest of half a lemon
- Preheat your oven to 190°C, and line two large baking sheets with silicone mats or greaseproof paper.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda and ground sanshō into a bowl, then add the sugar and lemon zest, and stir to make sure it is all evenly combined. Rub the softened butter into the dry ingredients lightly with your fingertips, until the mixture is crumbly with no large lumps, then pour in the syrup and mix with your hands until a firm dough forms.
- Divide the dough into quarters, and each quarter into fifths to make twenty even pieces, then roll these into small balls, placing them on the baking sheet about six to eight centimeters apart to allow them room to spread as they cook; flatten the balls slightly with your hands to encourage even baking then place them into the preheated oven to bake for ten minutes, until the cookies are a crackled golden-brown.
- When the cookies have finished baking, leave them on the baking sheet to firm up for ten to fifteen minutes, then transfer them to a wire rack to finish cooling fully. Store the sanshōsnaps in an airtight container to help them keep their crisp crunchiness, although they are best eaten on the day they are cooked.
Makes 20 cookies.