I found myself the other day just a few ingredients shy of a dish that has been on my “to cook” list for some time now. (Side note: said dish is supremely flavorful, and is now in the permanent file.) As I walked to the store, my mind was buzzing, but not with visions of the promised lightly caramelized butternut squash, pungently sweet red onion, or earthy chickpeas. No, my mind was focused on the tahini I was about to purchase, and on cookies.
You see, I had just made a batch of cookies to scratch a baking itch, and to provide a little midday relief for the sweet tooth that occasionally plagues me. They were nothing out of the ordinary, just little chocolate chip guys with a small handful of steel-cut oats added. Perfectly fine. But as respectable as those cookies had been, they just didn’t ring my bell. They were good, but not great. Me, I want cookies to be unquestionably worth every calorie. Good is not good enough; I want them to be friggin’ amazing.
And so, sub-par cookies tugging at my mind, I set out to buy tahini. Since my last jar of tahini lasted me approximately five years (before I threw it out), I wondered what to do with the remainder of this jar. Somewhere along the way to the store, the idea came to use it in cookies. But not just any cookies, shortbread cookies. And, ooh!, with chocolate! Sesame seed butter and chocolate? Yes, please.
I wasn’t sure where that idea had come from; but when I got home to search my saved recipes for shortbread, sure enough, there was a tahini shortbread recipe recently ripped from Food & Wine Magazine. Of course. How quickly I forget; luckily, my brain had filed that away for such a time as this. The idea of tahini in a shortbread cookie, with a generous amount of salt, sounded like exactly what I was looking for.
But in my search, another recipe caught my eye (original source forgotten, a copy is here), one for shortbread in the French-style, known as a sablé. This dough, however, used a hard-boiled egg yolk, of all unusual things to put in a cookie. Being a sucker for unusual ingredients, it was impossible to choose between the two recipes, especially since the latter included a chocolate variation.
There was nothing to do but incorporate elements from both recipes: the egg yolk and cocoa from the one, the tahini from the other. The dough tasted and smelled exquisite, redolent with the nutty aroma and flavor of sesame, rich with chocolate and a gluttony of butter. Rolled in coarse turbinado sugar, the edges glistened.
The fragile texture was textbook sablé, crumbling at the merest pressure into the most beautiful sandy crumbs, and the generous pinch of salt in the dough lends an intriguing and almost savory note. If I’m honest, I only wish the tahini flavor had held up in the oven a little more. So sesame-forward in the dough, it seemed to succumb readily to the chocolate flavor after baking. Rolling the dough in sesame seeds instead of sugar would accentuate it, of course; but I can’t imagine giving up that fantastic crunch of coarse sugar against melting sablé crumb.
As good as these cookies were straight from the oven, they’ve only improved after sitting for a day or two. They seem to take on new complexity of flavor with every hour that passes, and the incomparable texture remains just as good. With this recipe, the disappointment of sub-par cookies will never haunt you; these are absolutely worth every single calorie.
Chocolate Tahini Sablés
Makes about fifty 1 1/2 inch cookies
- 1 large egg
- 10 tablespoons unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 cup (5 ounces) tahini, stirred
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) granulated sugar
- 3 tablespoons (1 1/2 ounces) brown sugar
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 1/2 cups (6 7/8 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1/4 cup (1 ounce) unsweetened cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon instant coffee
- Coarse sugar (such as turbinado or demerara), for finishing
- 1. Hard-boil the egg by placing it in a small saucepan. Cover with cold water. Bring to a boil. When the water reaches a boil, remove it from the heat. Cover the pan, and let the egg stand in the water for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, fill a small bowl with ice water. When the egg is done, transfer it to the ice bath, and chill for 5 minutes. Peel, and discard (or eat) the white. Press the yolk through a fine mesh strainer into the bowl of a stand mixer.
- 2. Add the softened butter, tahini, sugars, and salt. Using the paddle attachment, cream the mixture together at medium speed until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes, scraping the bowl as needed.
- 3. Meanwhile, whisk together the flour, cocoa, and instant coffee. Add to the other ingredients, and mix on low until just incorporated, scraping the bowl once or twice.
- 4. Divide the dough in half, place each half on a piece of parchment or wax paper, and shape each piece into a log about 1 or 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap the paper around the dough, and twist the ends to seal. Refrigerate until firm, 1 to 2 hours.
- 5. Preheat the oven to 325º F, and position a rack in the center of the oven. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper, or grease it lightly. Sprinkle a generous handful of coarse sugar on a flat surface (such as a cutting board), unwrap one log of dough, and roll it in the sugar until completely coated, pressing to adhere the sugar. Slice the log crossways, and arrange the slices on the prepared baking sheet.
- 6. Bake at 325º F for about 25 minutes, or until the cookies are set and no longer feel very soft when touched lightly. Slide the parchment onto a cooling rack, and let cookies cool completely. Repeat coating, slicing, and baking with the remaining log of dough. Cookies will keep for up to a week in an airtight container at room temperature.
1. If you’d like to boost the sesame flavor, try rolling the cookies in sesame seeds instead of the sugar.