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Our airplane bound for Israel this past September landed in the beautiful capital of Tel Aviv. I had never really spent much time in this cosmopolitan city so we quickly checked into our little hotel near Dizengoff Square and started on foot to explore the area. Around the corner was Amelia, a wonderful cafe serving delicious, traditional Israeli fare. We walked along the beach to Jaffa, an ancient port city and the place where “Jonah and the Whale” purportedly transpired – although we didn’t see whales. The sun was blistering and hot, and for the two weeks we vacationed in Israel I lived in tank tops, sun dresses and sandals.
The food in Israel? Let’s just say (and I am whispering this) … it is my favorite food of all time and of all places. Yes, I love it even more than Italian food. I mean, oranges being squeezed and sold as juice to passersby, vegetables of every shape and size – prepared in countless ways, fresh chopped salads and cheese for breakfast. Oh yeah, I loved it. And, to my delight, we found sesame seeds everywhere and in many dishes – sesame sauce, humus or just sesame seeds sprinkled about. I love sesame in all its forms: sesame oil, sesame seeds plain or roasted and sprinkled on top of olive oil coated vegetables, Halvah , Tahina (a traditional paste made from sesame seeds – commonly called “Tahini” in the United States )… you name it.
In the upper Galilee (that you will read about in next week’s post), we saw Tahina being made up close and personal – watching toasted sesame seeds transformed before our eyes into the most decadent paste – we even tasted it as it dripped off the machine. All I can say is: wow. Intense. Tahina by itself is a little bitter tasting so it needs added sweet or savory items so that it can be the star.
I happen to also love peanut butter cookies, so I resurrected this recipe that originally came from Gourmet Magazine before it’s premature demise. As usual I have rewritten the directions and tweaked the quantities. I find that these tahina and sesame seed-laden little gems add some interest and beauty to a traditional cookie platter. As I have written before I am not one to make a fuss or take a long time to make or bake a thing. And these happily fit into my parameters: they are easy, different and fun to make. Who says? I says!
Yield: almost 2 ½ dozen. OK, I ate some of the raw dough … forgive me. After all, it doesn’t contain raw egg.
- 1 stick (1/2 cup) salted butter, room temperature
- 1/2 cup granulated sugar
- 1/2 cup well-stirred Tahina – room temperature (I use Joyva brand roasted Tahina)
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 1 1/4 cups all-purpose unbleached flour
- 1/2 teaspoon baking powder (aluminum free double acting)
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- ½ cup or a little more sesame seeds to roll the cookies
In a small bowl, whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt.
With an electric mixer, beat the butter until light and fluffy, about one minute. Add the sugar and keep mixing for another two minutes until pale yellow. Add vanilla and Tahina and continue beating for another 30 seconds.
Reduce speed to low and add flour mixture in two batches, mixing until combined. Transfer dough to a sheet of plastic wrap and press into a disk–cover with plastic wrap. The dough should come together well and feel like soft playdough. Chill the mixture for 15 minutes in the refrigerator.
Remove the saran wrapped packet from the refrigerator and form smooth, 1-inch balls of the dough and roll each ball in sesame seeds – ensuring each cookie is coated all over. Place the formed, rolled balls onto a waxed paper lined small tray, cover well with foil and refrigerate another hour.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Place dough balls (they will now be firm) onto the cookie sheets, leaving three inches between the balls. I fit 12-15 on each cookie sheet.
Bake, with racks in the middle of the oven and switch the position of the two sheets halfway through baking. The cookies should be puffed and starting to crack, 12 to 15 minutes total.
Remove from the oven and cool on cookie sheets 10 minutes (cookies break easily), then transfer from parchment to a rack to cool completely. Eat and enjoy.
These taste like halvah so if you are a halvah lover MAKE THEM!!
If you have a convection mode on your oven, bake the cookies at 330 convection for 14 minutes. You won’t need to switch the position of the cookie sheets with this feature.
The cookies keep for up to five days in a sealed container at room temperature or can be frozen for up to two months.
If the Tahina has separated when you open the jar or can, try to whisk it to emulsify. If you are impatient (like me) you can also dump the contents of the can into the food processor to combine. Scoop back into the can or jar and measure away.
For added depth of flavor, toast the sesame seeds before rolling the cookies.