Let me introduce you to my new favourite biscuit: black sesame shortbread. I wasn’t expecting them to be a favourite; it just happened. I fiddled with a recipe, ate the resulting biscuits, and was delighted. Just sweet enough. Crisp, with the lightest crumb, and richly fragrant with earthy black sesame.
They’re also very simple to make, even in a hot summer kitchen. Perhaps it would be a different story if you wanted to roll and cut them into shapes, but I’m content with slicing and baking, which means the fridge does most of the work. Suits me.
It’s really like any other shortbread recipe except you grind toasted black sesame seeds into the flour. Depending on the tools you have, that’s probably the most effortful part of the recipe. If it helps, you don’t need to do it too finely–break them down enough to release their colour and flavour into the flour. This ensures the cookies are thoroughly fragrant and beautifully coloured.
For those familiar with East/Southeast Asian cuisine, we see a grey or black dessert and think: oh! it’s either black sesame or charcoal! Just like how a green item could be perfumed with pandan or matcha or pistachio, or brown might be chocolate or coffee flavoured. It’s wonderfully normal and completely delicious. (I won’t deny they look like pebbles, though.)
I like these with either genmaicha or Earl Grey tea. They’re the perfect snack to take with you, the sesame adding substance (but don’t kid yourself: there’s still sugar and fat, own it, enjoy it), just make sure you package them carefully as they shatter easily. Maybe just eat all of them? It seems neater.
SMALL BATCH BLACK SESAME SHORTBREAD
Adapted from WendyinKK’s Black Sesame Cookies.
Makes about 18 small cookies. Store in an airtight container, eat within 3 days or so, maybe longer (I’ve always eaten them within 3 days; resistance is futile).
Get black sesame seeds from the world food section of supermarkets (Yutaka do them), Asian shops, or health food stores, both online and brick-and-mortar. You can also simply use white sesame or tahini.
If you don’t have the equipment/motivation to grind sesame seeds yourself, leave them whole for speckly biscuits, or locate black sesame paste/tahini and thenceforth consult Clotilde’s beautiful recipe for black sesame sablés.
50g black sesame seeds (raw or ready-roasted are fine)
pinch of fine salt
4 tbsp/35 g plain flour
50g unsalted butter, spreadably soft
25g + 2 tbsp icing sugar, ideally golden (unrefined)
Even if your sesame comes roasted, it will probably need a boost. So: gently toast the black sesame in a pan over a medium-low heat for a few minutes, adjusting heat as needed and stirring constantly. Once everything smells nutty, take a seed and press between fingers, if it’s easily crushed into sand-like fragments, it’s done. Immediately transfer toasted sesame into your grinder/blender or processor/large mortar.
Cool for a few minutes before grinding into clumpy, gritty powder (about 5 minutes with pestle & mortar). Add the pinch of salt and plain flour, grinding for a further couple of minutes until mixture is evenly grey, fragrant, and slightly clumpy. Set aside.
With a wooden spoon, beat soft unsalted butter and icing sugar together in small/medium mixing bowl until pale and creamy, just a few minutes. Add the flour/sesame dry mix, gently working it in with your spoon just until evenly combined, scraping down bowl and utensils as needed.
Turn out onto clingfilm or foil and gently pat dough into log about 1 inch thick, squaring the ends. Wrap and chill until completely firm, 2 – 3 hours, ideally overnight.
Unwrap and slice into 5 mm (1/4 inch) pieces, a shade thicker than a £1 coin. Transfer shapes to baking tray (I don’t bother with lining), spacing them about 1 inch apart. To encourage neat shapes and light texture, chill tray for 15 minutes til shapes are firm, but it’s not essential.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 170 degrees C/150 fan (340 degrees F). Bake cookies straight from the fridge for 12 – 15 minutes until dry on top and faintly golden at the edges. They’ll still be soft in the middle; allow to cool 5 mins on tray before transferring to racks and cooling completely. Once cool, they’ll crumble easily, so handle carefully.