I have a weak spot for shortbread cookies. And that spot gets even weaker if the shortbread flirts with a savory side, like a touch of sesame, in this case, black tahini. The darker, grayish color of the dough makes it perfect for Halloween times. If you stop by my cookie blog tomorrow, I will be sharing particularly spooky versions using this exact same dough. Heads up: a little tutorial I used for one of the spooky cookies is available in the Facebook group “Painting with Sugarprism.” If that interests you, check it out and ask to join. It is a super fun and interesting group, hosted by Michelle Ingalls. And now, without further ado… the Black Tahini Shortbread Cookies…
BLACK TAHINI SHORTBREAD COOKIES (from the Bewitching Kitchen)
1 cup (226g) unsalted butter, very cold, cut in pieces 280g all-purpose flour 2 tablespoons cornstarch 1/4 teaspoon salt 50g brown sugar 50g granulated sugar 2 tablespoons black sesame paste (I used Kevala) luster powder + vodka to paint (optional)
Heat oven to 350F.
Place the butter, flour, cornstarch and salt in the bowl of a food processor and process pulsing on and off until the butter is in small little pieces. Stop the processor, add the sugars and the black sesame paste. Keep processing until the mixture forms a ball that starts to glue together. You might need to clean the bowl and spread things around once or twice.
Stop the processing, transfer the dough to a countertop, cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for about 20 minutes. Roll the dough and use any type of stamp of cookie cutter of your choice. Place the cut cookies on a parchment covered baking sheet and freeze for about 15 minutes.
Bake for 12 to 15 minutes. Times will vary depending on the size of your cookie and your oven.
Comments: I’ve been using the food processor method for shortbread as described by Helen Fletcher in her new book, which I recently reviewed. For my personal taste, these are total winners. Shortbread is a very simple cookie, that needs pretty much nothing in terms of adornment. No icing, no dusting with powdered sugar, although those things can still happen if you like to gild the lily. The tahini gives the cookie an adult feel, less sweet, very intriguing. And the color of the cookie screams Halloween. I invite you to stop by my cookie blog tomorrow to get spooked. But in the meantime, consider adding this recipe to your list of things to bake. You won’t regret it.
Last month my dear friend Louise sent me a wonderful gift: a box with many (and by many I mean more than 50!) little tartlet tins in several different shapes and sizes. I was speechless, and so touched by her generosity! It is now time to share my first adventure with this special gift. A single dual-purpose dough was used to make little tarts and a modernized version of Linzer cookies. The recipe for the dough comes from Haniela’s blog. She is one of the cookie artists I follow and try to learn from. I suspect it will become my default dough for sweet tarts. The texture is perfect, and I loved the way it is intensely flavored with vanilla.
CHOCOLATE GANACHE MINI-TARTLETS (dough recipe from Haniela’s)
for the dough: 430g all-purpose-flour 1/8 tsp salt 160g powdered sugar 3 egg yolks 2 tsp vanilla bean paste or vanilla extract 226 g unsalted butter, at room temperature
for the filling: 6oz dark chocolate, cut in small pieces 1/2 cup heavy cream 1/8 tsp orange oil sprinkles to decorate (optional)
Sift flour and salt. Set aside. In a mixer fitted with a paddle beater, mix butter and powdered sugar until smooth. In a small dish whisk together egg yolks and vanilla. Gradually beat egg yolk mixture into the creamed butter. Scrape the bowl a few times as needed.
On low-speed, gradually add flour mixture to butter mixture. Mix until it starts to come together. If the dough is too crumbly, add 1tsp milk. Do not overwork the dough. Invert the dough onto a clean work surface or into a large bowl and gather dough together with your hands into a ball. Then form the dough into a disk, wrap it in the foil and chill for 1 to 2 hours.
Heat oven to 350F. Place mini tart shell molds onto a baking sheet. Spray with a non-stick spray, set aside. Take out the chilled dough, cut it in half. Let if soften for 5 minutes. Roll it to 1/8 inch rolling. Cut out as many rounds as you can. Gather scraps and re-roll. Shape the tarts and use a fork to prick the bottom of the shells. Bake at 350F for 12-14 minutes until golden around the edges.
Let cool for 10-15 minutes before removing tarts from the molds. Turn the mold upside down and tap it firmly onto your work surface to release the shell. Let the tarts cool before adding a filling.
Make the filling: place the chocolate in a bowl, heat the heavy cream to almost boiling, and pour over the chocolate. Wait a few minutes, add the orange oil, and gently stir until fully smooth. Let the ganache cool for about 5 minutes, then place in a piping bag and fill the tartlets, smoothing the top. Decorate with sprinkles, if desired. Place in the fridge to set the ganache for about 30 minutes. Serve at room temperature.
Comments: Check Hani’s site for detailed step-by-step instructions. As she shows, the best way to shape the dough is using an empty tin of the same format to press it in, with a Saran wrap type plastic over the dough to protect it. Works like a charm (check top right picture in composite above). You can make many tartlets and store them in the freezer for a mini-tartlet emergency…
The same exact dough can be rolled and cut into any shape you like to make a Linzer version. I went with a teardrop and cut-out small flower shapes for the top layer.
Simply bake the cookies, let them cool, and spread a thin layer of the jam of your choice. I used seedless raspberry jam for this batch.
A little shower with powdered sugar is optional, but in my opinion, a nice finishing touch.
The dough is wonderful to work with, and as a cutout cookie, it held the shape well. The tartlets puffed up a bit, but midway through baking I pressed them down gently. Perfect texture.
If you’ve been around my blog for a while, you might know that I have my Baking Gurus, and by far the baker I respect the most is Helen Fletcher. I’ve faithfully followed her blog since 2014 (check this old blog post) and have made many of her recipes. Never a single disappointment. One of my favorites of a recent past is Sarah Bernhardt Cookies. She has decades of professional experience and was actually responsible for developing baking recipes using a food processor, back when that gadget was not very common in the home kitchen. Before the pandemics hit, she told me she was working on a new cookbook, all about cookies, and asked me if I would write a foreword for it. It was the greatest honor, the greatest gift online blogging provided me with. Her book, just released, is called CRAVING COOKIES: The Quintessential American Cookie Book. I adore it, and having witnessed all the love and effort she put into it, I am thrilled to share with you one amazing recipe from it, and a little review of the book.
ALMOND RASPBERRY TRIANGLES (reprinted with permission from Craving Cookies)
for the cookie base and filling: 210 g all-purpose flour 140 g unsalted butter, very cold 65 g granulated sugar 1/2 cup seedless red raspberry jam
for the topping: 170 g almonds, toasted lightly in a 350F oven, then cooled 150 g granulated sugar 2 large eggs 1 large egg white 1/4 tsp salt 2 tablespoons Amaretto 1 tsp vanilla extract 1 tsp almond extract 60 g butter, melted powdered sugar for dusting (optional)
Heat the oven to 350F. Line a 9 x 13 x 2 pan with foil, being sure to also cover the sides of the pan. Spray well with non-stick baking release and set aside.
Butter should be cold and cut into small pieces. Place the flour in the food processor, add the cold butter and process until indistinguishable. Add the sugar and process again. It will be very powdery. Turn the dough into the prepared pan, and spread it out evenly. Press in firmly to compact and completely cover the bottom of the pan. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes until medium brown and completely baked.
As soon as it comes out of the oven, use the back of a spoon to press the base firmly against the sides of the pan to fill any gaps. This will make sure no jam leaks under the baked base. Spread the jam over the base and set aside.
Make the topping: process the toasted almonds and sugar in a food processor until finely ground. Add the rest of the ingredients and process until completely combined. Pour the mixture over the raspberry jam. Place back in the oven and bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown and set. Cool completely.
To facilitate removal of the foil, chill or freeze the pan until very cold. Turn upside down, remove the foil, being careful around the edges. Turn right side up. Cut 4 across and 5 down to make 20 squares, then each square diagonally to make 40 triangles. Dust with powdered sugar if you so desire, just before serving.
Comments: I have to tell you these were one of the most delicious cookies ever! The combination of raspberry with almond is a winner, and the triangles look every elegant. They would brighten up any cookie table. I left some as squares, some as triangles, some I dusted with powdered sugar, some I left plain. They were a huge hit. One of the things I love about Helen’s recipes is precision. You know they will work, the amounts will be right for the dimension of the pan, and all her little tips for success are spot on.
CHOCOLATE SHORTBREAD HEARTS
And now let me walk you through CRAVING COOKIES: THE QUINTESSENTIAL AMERICAN COOKIE BOOK (available to order here)
The book starts with an introduction to equipment and ingredients, which will be helpful particularly for those in their beginning stages of cookie baking obsession. Then she offers a full chapter on Techniques and I urge you to read it very carefully because she shares every single little tip that she’s learned in her professional career and most will have a huge impact in your baking.
Cut-Out and Sliced Cookies. The first cookie in this chapter is Cardamon Black Pepper Snaps. I will definitely make them because to me nothing beats a cookie that goes into the spicy territory. Chocolate-Dipped Cappuccino Rounds look amazing with a quick-tempered chocolate coating, so they make my list of favorites to bake soon. Limeaways are a classic, and I must mention Chocolate-Dipped Sweet and Salted Butter Cookies (picture is amazing).
Drop Cookies. Nineteen choices for you. Baileys Chocolate Crinkles make my list for sure. Chocolate Snowballs coated with Swedish pearl sugar are a must. A version of Gluten-Free Chocolate Chip Cookies is calling my name because Helen said it is one of the recipes she is most proud of. I can imagine it will be perfection, so keep that one in mind. She also has two other choc chip cookies, including a big Levain Bakery Style. Chocolate Awesomes are a one bowl-concoction that her grandson made himself… In this chapter you will find the Oatmeal Cookies I’ve blogged about in the past, as she had them in her blog. They were to die for. Harlequins is a cute concoction, three color, which I made in the past also.
Meringues. Three recipes in this chapter, with a very nice introduction to pull these tricky cookies perfectly, no cracks, no problems. Anise Meringues flavored with LorAnn oil is a very intriguing twist. If you’ve always been instructed to avoid oils in meringue cookies, you will learn something new. I always do when I am around Helen. Cafe au Lait Meringues and Peppermint Meringues, they all seem great to me.
Shortbread Cookies. Well, those speak straight to my heart, I simply LOVE shortbread. I fell in love with all of them, and the Chocolate Hearts made it here as the teaser recipe. It is spectacular and so very simple to make, particularly using the food processor. Double Ginger Shortbread, Nutmeg Baton Shortbreads, and Black and White Filled Shortbreads are all in my list of favorites in this great chapter.
Stuffed and Filled Cookies. Can I say outstanding? The first cookie blew my mind away: Peppermint Ravioli. OMG. I am making it for the holiday season, but you can conceivably use a different square of chocolate and bake it anytime. Well, who cares, actually? Why would we reserve Peppermint and Chocolate for the holiday season only? Caramel-Filled Chocolate Gems are thumbprint style cookies that made my heart miss a beat. Creme de Menthe Patties are another masterpiece in cookie shape. Inside-Out Oreos, Almost Oreos, Neapolitan Cookies, my list is big.
Bar Cookies. Twenty amazing choices, each one of them very tempting. The featured recipe – Almond Raspberry Triangles – is part of it. With a great deal of struggle, I offer you just five top favorites: Banana Split Bars, Chocolate Raspberry Squares, Hermit Bars (so so cute), Lemon-Steeped Gingerbread Squares (OMG), and Creamy Lime Bars.
Brownies. Nine different brownies, including one I’ve made in the past and might very well be one of the best ever: Santa Fe Brownies. But next on my list might be her Macadamia White Chocolate Lightening-Fast Brownies. Or maybe her Frosted Brownies. We shall see…
Helen, I cannot wait to bake more and more recipes from your beautiful book, and I hope my readers will get a copy and join the fun. You did an outstanding job, but I knew you would. I am so lucky to have “met” you in the virtual world!
Some adventures in the kitchen can be catastrophic. My lowest of the low was a certain Vegan Soufflee made in 2019 that was by far the worst thing I’ve ever made and maybe the worst I’ve ever tasted. Then there are things that ended up quite tasty but the process was so convoluted that… all I could think was “never, never again.” I share two examples today. You can actually use your own recipes to come up with them, they are both very simple. A brownie cake and sugar cookie dough, in two colors.
LADY BUG BROWNIE BITES
This one took me by surprise, after all I like to think I’m quite comfortable around Royal icing. And after baking the brownie bites in your favorite silicone half-dome mold, you are half way there. But, not so fast, my dear… not so fast. Getting the red icing to smoothly coat the surface, all the way down, is VERY messy and requires colorful language. Then you need to add the details in black while the red is still wet. Finally the white eyes are added later, when the base is set and any Zen you had is far gone.
They did look awfully cute, but I tell you, NEVER AGAIN!
JIGSAW BLACK AND WHITE COOKIES
For these cute looking cookies, all you need is the right cutter, and I recommend this one. I actually saw someone on IG making a pastry shell using this technique and immediately adapted it for cookies. It seemed so straightforward.
Roll out both doughs less than 1/4 inch thick (I was going to do sandwich cookies because I like to maximize suffering, so I wanted them thin). Cut with the mold, separate the pieces and assemble them together. Cut them in square shapes to bake.
I know they look pretty nice and appealing, but it was time-consuming, a lot of work to come up with just a few cookies. Also, you are left with some trimmings that to use you must mash together for a marble effect, no way to re-roll and get more jigsaw patterns going.
To be honest, I really like the Jigsaw Cookies and might do them again, maybe a Red Velvet and White when Valentine’s comes up. But I need some time to forget the hassle and tell myself “I don’t remember it being that bad.”
Please, please, please, don’t run away. I promise you these are all absolutely delicious and worthy serving to any omnivore out there. A creamy dip that will leave you in disbelief that it lacks dairy or cheese. And two cookies, the classic chocolate chip (described by the resident Cookie Critic as one of the best I’ve made), and Vegan Linzers, not very easy to make but if you have a little patience and the inclination to try it, once you taste it, you will be glad you baked a batch.
CASHEW CREAM ROASTED BELL PEPPER DIP (adapted from several sources)
1½ cups raw cashews ½ cup roasted red peppers (packed in oil, lightly drained) 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil 3 tablespoons lemon juice 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste) 1/4 tsp pepper (or to taste) water to adjust consistency 1/3 cup minced parsley leaves
Place cashews in bowl and add cold water to cover completely. Let sit at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours. Drain and rinse well. Process soaked cashews, red peppers, oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper in food processor until smooth, about 2 minutes, scraping down sides of bowl as needed. Add water if too thick.
Transfer cashew mixture to bowl, stir in parsley, and adjust seasoning. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving.
Comments: Using a Vitamix would be even better to get more of a creamy texture but I confess I hate removing things from the Vitamix bowl, unless they pour out easily. It is a little pet peeve of mine. This dip was absolutely delicious, and you can take it in many directions replacing the red bell pepper for some other ingredient, like roasted eggplants, or tahini. Vegan or not, it will definitely be a regular in our kitchen.
200 g whole-wheat flour 40 g all-purpose flour 1/2 cup grapeseed oil 30 g powdered sugar 1/4 tsp cardamon (optional, but nice) pinch of salt
jam of your choice to fill the cookies (I used strawberry)
Add all the cookie ingredients to a food processor. Process until evenly combined. Adjust the consistecy with more flour if needed, so that if you pinch the dough between your fingers it will not crumble.
Transfer the dough to a bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge for 1 hour. Dust a piece of parchment paper with flour and roll the dough to 1/4 inch thickness using a plastic wrap on top to protect it as you roll. Cut round shapes, at this point the dough might be getting too soft, so place it in the freezer.
Remove from the freezer, cut centers out of half of the rounds, place in the freezer again for 20 minutes and bake from frozen in a 350F oven.
Spread jam on the round cookies, top with the open circles, and dust the surface with powdered sugar.
Comments: You know I never lie to you. These were a labor of love. The absence of butter in the dough makes it very soft and tricky to work with. If you are not comfortable making regular Linzer cookies, take your time, and keep chilling the dough in the freezer at each step. Roll out, freeze. Cut rounds, freeze. Cut centers, freeze. Move to final baking sheet, freeze.
But they turned out very good, another type of vegan baking that will please those in the Butter-Egg-Dairy Team. You can trust me on that. Hand on heart.