Sable shortbread cookies made with preserved cherry blossoms - Diversivore.com

Sakura Sabure

In Recipes by Sean17 Comments

Sakura Sabure - Cherry blossom shortbread cookies on a sand-coloured plate with a tea cup
Sakura Sabure - Cherry blossom shortbread cookies on a sand-coloured plate with a tea cup

SAKURA SABURE

Shortbread with Preserved Cherry Blossoms

Share this Recipe

Light, buttery, airy sakura shortbread cookies made with a beautiful Japanese twist. This recipes uses preserved sakura (cherry blossoms) for both decoration and flavour – they’ve got a delicate, tangy, salty almond flavour that’s emphasized in the cookies with a bit of added almond extract. Instructions for preserving your own sakura are included, but storebought cherry blossoms can be used as well.

I’m continuing a little tradition here on Diversivore – and departing from it at the same time.

I adore shortbread.  It’s sort of the perfect cookie in my mind – simple to make, buttery and soft, yet light.  It’s not overly sweet, and it lends itself to enormous variation.  Variations like this one. Or this one. Or this one. As you can see, the ‘tradition’ I’m speaking of is sharing my shortbread recipes with you all.  The departure, however, has to do with timing.  All of my other cookie recipes have been published around Christmas, and I fully intend to keep right on rolling with that trend later this year.  But I was struck by inspiration when the ornamental cherry trees in front of my home started blooming, and I wanted to do something decidedly more spring-oriented.  I hope you enjoy it.

While this is recipe is my own invention, I’m not exactly breaking new ground by making a shortbread cookie with Japanese leanings.  Shortbread and similar butter-based cookies are already very popular in Japan – so much so that there are specific-to-Japan varieties like dove-shaped hato sabure. Sabure, pronounced sah-bu-ray, is the Japanese transliteration of the French word sablé (sah-blay). Japan’s history with sugar and Western baking is a surprisingly rich and fascinating one.  Despite the very limited contact that the nation had with Western traders during the 214 year period of isolation known as sakoku, a handful of of foreign recipes and cuisines managed to pique the curiosity of the Japanese people.  Japanese castella cake, whose roots lie in a simple Portuguese bread, is one particularly prominent example.  This period also happened to coincide with a boom in the sugar industry (also connected to the geographically isolated trading posts open to Western traders), which led to a boom in Japanese sweets and dessert culture.  But it was after Japan was opened to the West in 1854 that European-influenced desserts really rose to prominence.  Crepes, mont-blancs, langue-de-chat cookies, and baumkuchen were all greeted with enthusiasm during the 19th and 20th centuries, and each has since risen to a position of prominence in Japanese food culture.  But shortbread? Well, that’s a bit of a tricky one.  The aforementioned hato sabure has a fairly long history in Japan, but butter was an expensive luxury item in the country for a very long time, and even a simple shortbread would have been quite a treat.  That being said, similar cookies have existed in nearby Okinawa and China1 for a long time, and it may simply be that shortbread cookies were easy to understand, easy to adapt to Japanese tastes, and easy to love.  In fact, the simplicity and relative familiarity of shortbread and other butter cookies may be part of the reason that individual variations like hato sabure and matcha shortbread2  have become popular additions to the Japanese culinary world instead of shortbread as a whole. It is worth noting that famous Scottish shortbread maker Walkers is very popular in Japan, and boxed sets of the cookies are popular, easy-to-find gifts.

1. Chinsuko (金楚糕) and Taosu (桃酥) respectively.
2. While matcha shortbread certainly is made by bakers and home cooks in Japan, I suspect it may actually be more popular outside of Japan.

Sakura Sabure - rows of Cherry blossom shortbread cookies on a baking sheet

Cherry blossoms have an enormous culinary significance in Japan – both as an ingredient and an inspiration.  Every spring, millions of people in Japan – and now, around the world – head out to enjoy the blooming of cherry trees in the early spring.  This activity of cherry blossom viewing, known as hanami, is generally accompanied by friends, family, and plenty of good food and drink.  A number of traditional Japanese desserts (known as wagashi) are made with cherry blossoms or pickled cherry leaves, while others are delicately crafted to resemble the blossoms themselves.  These cherry blossom shortbread cookies are by no means a traditional hanami treat, but they are one that I think would go over quite nicely with any flower aficionados.  But there’s no need to limit your baking to cherry blossom season – thanks to the preserved cherry blossoms you can make them at any time of the year.

I want to give credit where it’s due, so I should say that I’m certainly not the first person to make shortbread with cherry blossoms in it.  Two excellent recipes from wonderful bloggers can be found at Just One Cookbook and Chopstick Chronicles.  But I wanted to share my recipe because it takes a somewhat different approach, and because it gives you the opportunity to make your own preserved cherry blossoms.  The beautiful blossoms are used in the cookie dough itself, and to decorate the surface, while a touch of sakura vinegar (more on this below) and a bit of almond extract add a lovely almond flavour to the recipe.  This recipe also favours a flakier Scottish style of shortbread (with a little more flour) over the crumblier French sablé version (which tends to use less flour and more butter).  If you can’t make your own preserved sakura, no worries – I’ve given some instructions below in the Recipe Notes on finding and using storebought ones.

Sakura Sabure - Cherry blossom shortbread cookies on a sand-coloured plate with a fresh cherry blossom garnishes

Recipe Notes

While I generally try to keep my recipes self-contained, I’m going to refer you this post all about making preserved sakura to avoid redundancy (and an over-long Recipe Notes section).  The basic cookie recipe below gives you a basic-but-functional overview of the process, but I do recommend checking out the main article if you’re going to make preserved sakura for the first time.

Can’t make your own preserved sakura? No worries – I’ve got some tips for finding them and using them, both in this recipe and in general.

The cookies themselves are quite easy to make, and I’ve included a couple of tips that should help make the process pretty foolproof.

Preserving Cherry Blossoms

The recipe below contains brief but detailed instructions for preserving your own cherry blossoms, and this post goes into considerably more detail.  Sakura (ornamental cherry) blooms in early spring in temperate parts of the world, generally between March and May in the Northern Hemisphere, though the actual timing can vary depending on weather, climate, and even the variety of cherry tree.  If you do choose to make your own preserved cherry blossoms, make sure you’re certain about your identification skills, and that you’re confident that you’re picking from clean, unsprayed trees.

The actual preserving process is very simple, though it does take several days.  The final drying steps are made easier if you have a dehydrator, but instructions for other methods (including air-drying and oven drying) are included below and in the more detailed guide as well.

If cherry blossoms aren’t in season, or you’re not looking to get into a combined urban foraging/preserving project, you can buy preserved cherry blossoms as well.  These are addressed in the next section.

Preserved sakura (cherry blossoms) pouring out of a glass mason jar

Purchasing & Using Preserved Cherry Blossoms

Preserved cherry blossoms are something of a niche ingredient and are most likely going to be difficult to find even at Asian and Japanese grocery stores.  That being said, they’re very popular with bakers and wagashi makers in and outside of Japan, and they can be found with relative ease online.  These cherry blossoms from Anything From Japan seem to be a popular choice, and they’re priced quite reasonably (note: I haven’t tried these specific cherry blossoms myself and I can’t comment on their quality specifically!).

It is worth noting that you may need to make a few adjustments to this recipe if you’re going to use storebought cherry blossoms.  The method I used to make my cherry blossoms involves quite a bit less salt than the typical traditional methods, which rely on the use of umezu (plum vinegar, which is heavily salted), and extra added salt.  As such, I would recommend tasting a flower on its own to judge the salt level.  If they’re terribly salty, try rinsing the flowers you intend to use, or (for very salty blossoms), soaking them in fresh, cold water 20 minutes.  The blossoms can then be laid out to dry, or baked in a very low oven for 10-15 minutes (be sure to keep a close eye on them).  Keep in mind that you still want the finished flowers to have a salty flavour – you just don’t want a big punch of salt hitting you when you take a bite of your shortbread.

A tea pot pouring green tea into an ornate Japanese tea cup

Sakura Vinegar & Substitutes

The beautiful, bright pink, almond-scented vinegar that you get as a by-product of making your own preserved sakura is a wonderful treat, and something that I’ve incorporated into my recipe here.  Vinegar in shortbread might sound a bit odd, but you’re using just a little of it, and it serves an important purpose.  Vinegar (an acid) will react with the baking soda (a base) to produce carbon dioxide, which adds volume to the cookies, creating a soft, airy texture that you don’t often get from a comparatively dense and buttery cookie.

If you’re not making your own preserved sakura, however, you won’t have sakura vinegar. No problem – the substitute is a simple one.  Replace the sakura vinegar with an equal volume of rice vinegar, a pinch of salt, and a few extra drops of almond extract.  The vinegar won’t be pink, but this doesn’t make a difference in the finished recipe anyway, so don’t worry about it.

If you don’t have rice vinegar, I suspect you could use white vinegar instead, though I haven’t personally tested this yet.  The chemistry will be the same, but white vinegar can taste a bit harsher.  Still, given the volume you’re using, I don’t suspect you’d impact the finished cookies negatively.  I’d love to hear from you if you do give it a try!

Butter Temperature

Ideally, you want your butter to be a little warm, but not too warm (i.e. warmer than the fridge, cooler than room temperature).  This makes it easy to work and combine with the other ingredients, but firm enough to hold its shape and keep the dough together.  Overly cold butter is tricky to combine thoroughly, while overly warm butter makes for sticky dough and cookies that ‘ooze’ butter out too much in the oven.  I like to take cold butter out of the fridge for about an hour, or put warm (room temperature) butter into the fridge for about an hour.

Sakura Sabure - Cherry blossom shortbread cookies on a sand-coloured plate

Note: Nutritional Information is given for a X (1/X portion of the total recipe).

Nutrition Facts
Sakura Sabure - Cherry Blossom Shortbread Cookies
Amount Per Serving
Calories 92 Calories from Fat 54
% Daily Value*
Fat 6g9%
Saturated Fat 4g25%
Cholesterol 15mg5%
Sodium 7mg0%
Potassium 26mg1%
Carbohydrates 9g3%
Fiber 1g4%
Sugar 3g3%
Protein 1g2%
Vitamin A 177IU4%
Calcium 10mg1%
Iron 1mg6%
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2000 calorie diet.

Nutritional Summary

GOOD NEWS:
Bearing in mind that these are cookies and not, say, a salad, they’re pretty light and innocuous. Like most shortbread, they’re not too sugary.

BAD NEWS:
As with any shortbread recipe, there’s a lot of butter, which means a fairly high proportion of saturated fat.

Ingredient Pages

No ingredient pages have been written yet for any of the ingredients in this recipe.  Like to see one?  Let me know in the comments below or by email.

Pantry Pages

  • Vegetarian
  • Inexpensive
Sable shortbread cookies made with preserved cherry blossoms - Diversivore.com
Print Recipe Pin Recipe
5 from 19 votes

Sakura Sabure - Cherry Blossom Shortbread Cookies

Delicious, airy, lightly almond-flavoured sable shortbread (or サブレー, 'sabure' in Japanese), made with homemade, cured Japanese cherry blossoms. The cookies themselves are very easy to make, while the cherry blossoms are a fairly simple multi-day project. Don't have access to an ornamental cherry tree? No worries - you can purchase preserved sakura easily too (see the notes below).
For more detailed instructions on making your own preserved cherry blossoms, visit diversivore.com/preserved-cherry-blossoms/
Prep Time30 mins
Cook Time15 mins
Curing Time (Flowers)6 d
Course: Dessert
Cuisine: Asian, European, Japanese, Scottish
Keyword: cherry blossom recipes, hanami cookies, shortbread variation
Servings: 32 cookies
Calories: 92kcal

Ingredients

Preserved Cherry Blossoms

  • 25 g cherry blossoms (sakura) (about 2.5 cups, loosely packed)
  • 5 g sea salt (about 1 tsp)
  • 1/2 cup rice vinegar

Shortbread

  • 2 tsp preserved cherry blossoms divided (see note)
  • 2 cups all purpose flour
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup unsalted butter (see note on temperature)
  • 1/2 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 tbsp sakura vinegar (leftover from preserving cherry blossoms - see substitution note)

Instructions

Preserved Cherry Blossoms (see note below)

  • Pick unsprayed cherry blossoms from an ornamental cherry tree. The best flowers to use are the ones that are just starting to open, so try to time your picking with the early blossoming stages.
  • Very gently wash the flowers by soaking them in clean water and stirring lightly with your hands. Lay the flowers out to dry, or give them a quick and gentle spin with a salad spinner.
  • Gently sprinkle layers of flowers with sea salt in a small jar. Refrigerate for 3 days.
  • Cover the flowers with vinegar and refrigerate for an additional 3 days.
  • Drain and reserve vinegar. Spread the flowers out to dry. They can be air-dried, or dried in a very low oven or dehydrator (see note).

Cookies

  • Preheat and over to 350° F (175° C).
  • Crumble approximately 1.5 teaspoons of the flowers between your fingers or with a mortar and pestle (reserve the rest, and preferably the nicest looking ones for decorating the cookie tops). You can remove the thin stems if you have trouble crumbling them up, but they're perfectly edible.
  • Combine the flour, crushed flowers, and baking powder. Stir/sift together and set aside.
  • Using a hand or stand mixer, combine the butter and sugar until they're well mixed.
  • Add the vinegar and almond extract to the butter and sugar, and mix well.
  • Add the flour mixture a little at a time, and continue to mix until well-combined.
  • Form the dough into small circles and flatten into patties by hand or, for a more uniform appearance, by pressing them into circular cookie cutters.
  • Gently press a preserved cherry blossom into the center of each cookie. try to make sure that they're completely pressed into the dough and not sticking out at the edges, or they may burn.
  • Space the cookies out by about 5-7 cm (2-3 inches) on a cookie-sheet. Bake for 10-15 minutes, or until the bottoms are a very light brown. Baking time can vary depending on your oven and the colour/material of your baking sheet, so keep a close eye on the cookies.
  • Set the finished cookies aside to cool on the tray. They'll be fairly soft right out of the oven, so make sure not to disturb them until they've cooled off completely.

Notes

Cherry Blossoms
This portion of the recipe is a condensed version of a more detailed one for preserved cherry blossoms.
Finding - Ornamental cherry trees are very popular in many temperate parts of the world.  Make sure that you're picking flowers from a tree that a) you're confident is a cherry tree, and b) you're absolutely certain is clean and free from any pesticides or major sources of pollution.
Drying - Once you've finished brining and curing the cherry blossoms, the only step left is to dry them.  They can be air-dried, though the amount of time this takes will vary depending on the temperature and relative humidity in your home.  You can also use a low oven, but you want to ensure that the temperature is VERY low, as the flowers can easily become brown and overly brittle if baked at too high of a temperature.  The best option is a dehydrator at a relatively low temperature. Note that very dry flowers crumble and keep the best, but flowers with a little bit of moisture left look nicer on the tops of the cookies.
Using - About 1.5 teaspoons of finished cherry blossoms will go into the cookie dough itself, with the remainder being used to decorate the tops of the cookies.  Reserve nicer looking cherry blossoms to press into the surface of the cookies.  It's difficult to accurately measure dried flowers, so feel free to use a bit more or less if it looks right to you.  The flowers don't have a particularly powerful flavour, so you're not likely to overwhelm the taste of the cookies if you use more.
Quantity - The recipe, as given, makes about 3x more dried cherry blossoms than you need for a single batch of cookies.  Extra flowers will keep for a year in a sealed container.
Storebought Sakura and Other Substitutions - Preserved cherry blossoms can be purchased from online Japanese food retailers.  You may also find them in Japanese grocery stores, especially in the early spring when they're popular.  Try tasting one of the flowers before using them, as they're often much saltier than my homemade version.  If you find them overly salty, you can rinse them in cold water immediately before using.  Other mild, dried, edible flowers can also be substituted, but avoid very strongly flavoured flowers like rose or lavender.  Note that if you do use storebought cherry (or other) flowers, you'll need to use the vinegar substitute mentioned below.
Butter Temperature - the butter is easiest to work with when warm, but not too warm.  I take it out of the fridge and leave it on the counter for about an hour.  If your butter is at room temperature, you might want to chill it in the fridge for about an hour.
Vinegar Substitute - if you don't make your own preserved cherry blossoms, you can substitute an equal volume of rice vinegar, along with about 1/8 tsp of salt and an extra few drops of almond extract.  The pink colouring doesn't really make its way into the finished cookies, so don't worry about replicating it.

Nutrition

Calories: 92kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 1g | Fat: 6g | Saturated Fat: 4g | Cholesterol: 15mg | Sodium: 7mg | Potassium: 26mg | Fiber: 1g | Sugar: 3g | Vitamin A: 177IU | Calcium: 10mg | Iron: 1mg

More About Hanami & Cherry Blossoms

More Shortbread Recipes

Chocolate Hazelnut
Shortbread

Chocolate Hazelnut Shortbread cookie resting on hazelnuts on a wood backdrop

Pepper Shortbread
With Tayberries

Pepper Shortbread with Tayberries and Sweet Cream Cheese on a white plate

Cranberry Shortbread
with White Chocolate

Cranberry shortbread cookies with pistachios and white chocolate, shown with a small mason jar filled with milk and tied with a red ribbon

Share this Recipe

Comments

  1. 5 stars
    Well you can NEVER go wrong with shortbread any time of year. How pretty these look with those dainty cherry blossoms. What a nice treat for summer party of any kind.

  2. 5 stars
    These shortbread cookies are beautiful – both in presentation and your description of flavors. What a lovely way to use preserved Sakura. I can just imagine myself relaxing with a few of these alongside a cup of tea. Can’t wait to make them!

  3. 5 stars
    I love these cookies! I love the Japanese twist and I can’t wait to bake these in my own kitchen.

  4. 5 stars
    Sean, I’ve so been enjoying these beautiful cookies pop up on my socials — and I had to stop by to comment! As always, I come away from Diversivore more inspired than when I first logged on and really appreciate the thoughtful education and culinary delights you bring us. Beautiful work as always — and I hope you and your family are safe and well!

  5. 5 stars
    Cherry blossoms are out in our neighbourhood right now. Since there’s no school, I’m VERY tempted to grab a few branches from the school yard across the street.

  6. 5 stars
    Maybe you could start selling preserved Sakura blossoms! I don’t think we can get it in Edmonton – though I could try calling the Japanese/Korean grocery stores. These cookies look so lovely. The addition of almond extract is a lovely touch.

  7. 5 stars
    What a beautiful and exotic treat! I’m not sure if I’ll be able to find sakura but I’m definitely going to look around. This is one cookie I would love to make <3

  8. 5 stars
    They are beautiful shortbread, to begin with! You can see the wonderful texture they have, then, you add your own little touches here and there, homemade sakura blossoms, sakura vinegar, almond extract, and that elegant clean look that takes a normal shortbread cookie over the top 🙂 .

  9. I LOVE shortbread cookies! Your Japanese take on these really has me intrigued! I bet they are as delicious as they look!

  10. 5 stars
    Shortbread is one of my favourite things. I *THOUGHT* I had tried just about every variety out there….and then you come out with this. And now, I cannot wait to try it!

  11. 5 stars
    These are a delicious classic cookie but I love the addition of cherry blossom… So beautiful!

  12. 5 stars
    The shortbread cookies are absolutely beautiful. What a lovely presentation. Sean, you always give such great details about the process and the ingredients. I’ve never worked with cherry blossoms before but with your instructions I’m confident I’ll be able to not only make these delicious cookies but present them at least half as beautifully as yours. I can’t wait.

  13. 5 stars
    I love the use of the Sakura blossoms and their vinegar in these cookies. What a beautiful and delicious way to celebrate spring 🌸
    Thanks!

  14. 5 stars
    I love the twist on such a basic cookie recipe, and I love how you teach us about using ingredients we wouldn’t normally consider.

  15. 5 stars
    This is truly an refreshing and pretty looking cookie. Love how cute it looks and i’m sure it tastes as good as it looks.

Leave a Comment

Recipe Rating




This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.