Recipe: Tahini Shortbread Cookies
The pale, nutty paste is a staple in Middle Eastern cuisine, but tahini’s smooth, creamy consistency also makes for a dreamy cookie full of good stuff
By Louise Crosby
Here on this side of the Atlantic, we know tahini best as an ingredient in hummus and baba ghanoush, or as a sauce for falafel and shawarma sandwiches. But in countries of the Middle East, the Mediterranean and beyond, this lovely stuff has been a staple for thousands of years, an indispensable ingredient in countless dishes savoury and sweet. They even put it on ice cream.
Just to refresh, tahini is pure sesame paste made from white sesame seeds that are soaked, then hulled, gently roasted, and ground to a silky smooth, creamy consistency. The paste, blended with garlic, lemon juice, salt and cumin, and thinned with a bit of water, becomes tahini sauce, also used in countless ways. The best sesame seeds come from the Humera region of Ethiopia, and the best tahini is emulsified in the jar, not separated with oil on the top and rock-hard sesame paste on the bottom.
This is all explained in Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook, owners of Zahav restaurant in Philadelphia. Like most other Israelis, they are tehina (it’s spelled this way in Israel) maniacs, turning it into dips, drizzling it over fish and meat and vegetables, adding it to salad dressings, and spreading it on toast. They also use it to make these light and airy, melt-in-your-mouth tahini shortbread cookies.
I’ve searched for the perfect tahini cookie recipe for some time now and believe this is it, although with minor changes. The recipe instructs us to drop heaping tablespoons onto the baking sheet, but when I did that my cookies kept that raggedy shape in the oven, possibly because the dough was so stiff from the refrigerator. So I let the dough warm up for about 30 minutes, then rolled it between my hands to make the cookies round and uniform. I also found the cookies needed a good 20 minutes (the recipe calls for 15) in the oven to turn nicely golden.
Whatever method works best for you, this is a keeper recipe, a way of making shortbread just a little more interesting and nutritious. You didn’t know these cookies were a health food? Lucky for us, tahini is high in calcium, copper, magnesium, iron and the B vitamins. It’s also full of protein, and a healthy source of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids.
Tahini Shortbread Cookies
1¾ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 cup sugar
1 cup tahini
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
Pinch kosher salt (optional, the tahini is already quite salty)
Combine the butter and sugar in a stand mixer on medium speed or in a large bowl with a hand mixer, and mix until light and fluffy, about 2 minutes. Add the tahini and continue mixing until well incorporated.
Combine the flour, baking powder, and salt if using in a mixing bowl and whisk together.
Add to the tahini mixture and beat until just incorporated. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. (The dough keeps well in the freezer for a few months.) Remove from the refrigerator about a half-hour before shaping and baking the cookies.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Roll heaping tablespoons of the batter between your hands to form round, slightly flattened cookies, and place on the prepared baking sheets. Bake until the cookies are light brown around the edges and set, about 15 to 20 minutes. Let cool on the baking sheets for 10 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. The cookies can be stored at room temperature in an airtight container for 1 week, or frozen.
Makes about 30 cookies.
Photos by Louise Crosby
THE EX-PRESS, August 30, 2016