It’s #totoroweek! What does this even mean? It means that a few bloggers have casually banded together to bring you tasty things inspired by the very cute and beautifully animated film, My Neighbor Totoro. It’s whimsical, emotional, weird, and cute. There’s also a Catbus involved, which is exactly what it sounds like. I have to admit I haven’t watched it in a few years–though Casper and Sean just watched it without me (rude)–so I’m fuzzy on the details. We’re big Totoro fans in this family (Sean loves all things Studio Ghibli). Casper is even going as Totoro for Halloween this year! He has a few Totoro plushies that he snuggles with and one of his first words was “Toto.” Thank you Stephanie and Lyndsay for the inspiration and be sure to check out everyone’s contributions (Totoro cronuts! handpies! ice cream cone cookies!! cake! pancakes! onigiri!) with the hashtag #totoroweek on instagram and posted on I am a Food Blog later this week!
I jumped in before remembering that I am dismal at cookie decoration. Not that I can’t do it, I’m just not great at it, and most importantly it STRESSES ME OUT. Like, major. I don’t know how people do it! I actually used to be a baker at an Austrian bakery and I decorated, literally, hundreds upon hundreds of sugar cookies every week with royal icing. And, I liked it! The thing was, I didn’t have to make the icing. I also had a huge table to decorate on and didn’t have a tiny child trying to climb my legs. It’s a totally different story of being a stressball when I try to do this at home. I didn’t use royal icing for these black sesame shortbread, I did a simple confectioners and milk situation for the white icing and melted chocolate for the dark. I think they turned out all right in the cuteness department and they definitely turned out tasty. The black sesame is nutty and slightly bitter–it’s really hard to describe–but works so well with the buttery shortbread. I also added a little vanilla to bring some extra aromatic sweetness to the game. I used a method to cut the Totoro shaped cookies out that I saw Kaitlin do (tear drop cutter and a rectangular measuring spoon!) and it worked perfectly! I’m glad I made these because they brought me out of my comfort zone and because I now have photographic evidence to show Casper when he’s older (b/c let’s be real, I’m going to leave this sort of thing to the more talented–I’m looking at you Stephanie, Kaitlin, Lyndsay, Vickie, Alana)!
- 2 sticks (8 ounces) unsalted butter, softened
- 1 cup confectioners sugar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon vanilla
- ⅓ cup black sesame seeds, coarsely ground
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- Using a mixer, beat the butter until creamy. Add the confectioners sugar and salt and beat until smooth and combined. Beat in the vanilla. On low speed, mix in the black sesame seeds and flour until combined well. Place the dough into a gallon zip-top bag and roll it out to fill the bag–the dough should be about ¼ inch thick in an even layer (or pat the dough into a flat round and wrap well in plastic, roll out after chilled on a floured surface). Place the dough into the refrigerator to chill for at least 30 minutes.
- Preheat the oven to 300°F and line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.
- If you roll out the dough in the gallon bag, just cut the bag away from the dough. To make Totoro shaped cookies, use an oval (tear drop or egg shaped) cookie cutter to cut out cookies. Gather the scraps, roll out again, and repeat. Using something rectangular and smaller than the top end (the smaller end of the tear drop or egg shape) cut out a shallow indentation in the top of the cookie to make the ears of Totoro (refer to Kaitlin’s Totoro postfor a visual idea of the process). Place the cookies an inch apart on the prepared baking sheets and bake for about 20 minutes, just until the cookies are firm to the touch but don’t take on any color. Remove from the oven and cool 5 minutes on the sheets before cooling on a rack.
- To ice, mix 1½ cups confectioners sugar with a few tablespoons of milk–the icing should flow enough to level out as you pipe it, but not so loose that it doesn’t hold it’s shape. Err on the side of more stiff and add tiny bits of milk until you get a consistency you like. Fill a piping bag fitted with a small round tip with the icing and set aside. Melt ¼ cup chocolate and place in a piping bag fitted with a fine, round tip. Pipe white bellies on the Totoro cookies and two white eyes. Pipe pupils onto the eyes, an oval nose, and little peaks on the bellies. Chill to set.
Adapted from these Smoked Salt and Almond Shortbread Stars.