Monday, March 15, 2010

Can I Halvah Cookie Please?

I’ll Halvah cookie please.

The girl scouts are about town this time of year, peddling their cookies and smiles. Those cookies are good, but I have never really been one to buy up a bunch of boxes. I have maybe bought a box once in my life. I have, of course, tasted most of the varieties: favorites include thin mints and samoas. I used to like the shortbread ones too with a tall glass of milk when I was little. I guess that is what came to mind when I saw this recipe in Food and Wine Magazine a wile back. Tahini shortbread cookies not only involved the nostalgic shortbread but also tahini (which is simply sesame paste), something I have grown up eating for a long time.

The fact that I grew up eating this means I may have developed a taste for it because I am tentative to say everyone will love these cookies. The taste reminds me of halvah (in which tahini is also a major ingredient). It has a very distinct sweet, nutty and rich flavor. It comes in a block and almost has the texture of cement before it dries. I know that does not make it sound appetizing, but it makes for a great spread for pita bread. I would compare spreading halvah on a pita as the exotic equivalent to spreading Nutella on a slice of white bread. Tahini itself is not sweet; in fact it is borderline bitter. We used to mix tahini with dibis (date syrup); I imagine this would not be appetizing to most people, but who knows?

Anyway, these cookies taste like the cookie version of halvah. They are pretty rich (as halvah is meant to be a spread not just eaten on its own) so I imagine you would eat just one or two at a time. Like I said, this is not for everyone so if you are not familiar with these flavors you might not like these little cookies. They have a dry, delicate consistency. They almost just seem to dissolve with a gulp of milk; you must have milk! I think they would also be great if you substituted finely ground pistachios or almonds for the sesame seeds around the edges.

Halvah Cookie (Tahini Shortbread Cookies)
(a recipe by Maura Kilpatrick featured in Food and Wine Magazine)

1 stick plus 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
1 cup tahini, stirred
3/4 cup confectioners' sugar
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse sea salt, crushed
1 3/4 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup sesame seeds

In a medium bowl, using an electric mixer, beat the butter with the tahini, confectioners' sugar and salt at medium speed until smooth, about 3 minutes.
Add the flour and beat until incorporated.
Turn the dough out onto a work surface and knead just until it comes together. Divide the dough in half and roll each piece into a 15-inch log, about 1 inch thick.
Scatter the sesame seeds on a sheet of parchment paper and roll the logs until completely coated. Roll each log in parchment and refrigerate until chilled, at least 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325° and line 2 large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Unroll one log and slice it 1/4 inch thick (I sliced them more like 3/4 inches...way too thick!).
Arrange the slices on the baking sheets. Bake the cookies in the center and lower-thirds of the oven for about 25 minutes, or until golden, shifting the pans from front to back and top to bottom halfway through baking. Slide the parchment onto a rack and let the cookies cool completely. Repeat with the second log of dough.

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