They Catch the Eye and Delight Your Tastebuds: Tahini-Black Sesame Spiral Shortbreads

Whenever I get a new cookbook, I page through the entire thing and fold down the corners of pages with recipes I want to try. The first time I flipped through Pastry Love by Joanne Chang, I folded down the corner of her recipe for "Tahini-Black Sesame Spiral Shortbreads" because the cookies' striking appearance immediately caught my eye. The cookies have a tahini shortbread dough and a black sesame shortbread dough that are rolled together to form a dramatic contrasting spiral. I scanned through the ingredient list and saw that the cookies call for both tahini and black sesame paste. I keep tahini on hand but had never used black sesame paste before. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for it at the Asian grocery store.

The Asian supermarket where I shop isn't exactly big on customer service, so asking someone for help to find something is generally a lost cause. I had made multiple visits without finding black sesame paste and one day I just stumbled upon it in an aisle where I could have sworn I looked before. But with my black sesame paste in hand, I was finally able to make the cookies.

The doughs are identical except that one uses tahini and the other uses an identical weight of black sesame paste. To make the doughs, you cream room temperature butter and sugar until light and fluffy; add the tahini or black sesame paste; mix in an egg and vanilla; and incorporate flour and kosher salt. When I was making the cookies I was struck by the difference between the black sesame paste (which is made only from black sesame seeds) and the tahini (which is made only from white sesame seeds). To me, tahini is somewhat bland and just smells like sesame; it's not an ingredient that I find particularly appealing on its own. But when I opened the jar of black sesame paste, it was very fragrant. The toasted, inviting aroma seemed markedly Asian in character and reminded me of the sesame candies I ate as a kid.

I rolled out each piece of dough into a 10-inch by 15-inch rectangle. To ensure that my slabs of dough ended up the same size, I traced the outline of a 10-inch by 15-inch pan in pencil on a piece of parchment paper, turned it over so that the pencil was on the underside, and rolled out the dough on top of it, using the pencil outline as a guide and using pastry rulers to nudge the edges as needed to keep the sides straight. I chilled the rolled out sheets of dough for a few hours and then stacked the black dough on top of the blond dough, offset by about a half inch. I rolled up the doughs together and was a little shocked at the enormous size of the resulting cylinder of dough -- it was ten inches long and almost four inches in diameter. Usually when I make slice-and-bake cookies that are formed into a roll that needs to be chilled, I slip a bunch of small cake rings over the roll to prevent bottom from flattening out while the dough is in the fridge. I have dozens and dozens of cake rings, but none were large enough to surround my mammoth spiral shortbreads. So instead, I rotated the roll of dough periodically to ensure that it stayed round until it became firm.
After a few hours in the fridge, the dough was firm and I rolled it in a mixture of white sesame seeds, black sesame seeds, and sanding sugar. I sliced the dough (getting 33 cookies from the log) and the dough was surprisingly easy to cut through. With slice-and-bake cookies, sometimes chilled dough can be so stiff that it's difficult to cut thin, uniform slices. But even though the sesame cookie dough was nice and firm, it was almost creamy and didn't take much effort to cut through with a chef's knife.

I adore these cookies. They were gorgeous, but more importantly, they were delicious. Not too sweet, crisp, delicate and buttery, with a beautiful sesame flavor. They were light and despite their generous size, it wasn't difficult to devour one and still want another. It's worth the effort to seek out some black sesame paste to make these delectable shortbread cookies -- they will be sure to delight and impress.

Recipe: "Tahini-Black Sesame Spiral Shortbreads" from Pastry Love by Joanne Chang.


Levi said…
Great reading your bblog post
Deb Garner said…
I am so glad to have happened upon your blog!

A question: Did I somehow miss the link to the Tahini Black Sesame Shortbread? It does sound like a good cookbook though, but I’ve shot my budget for cookbooks lately.