Tahini–Black Sesame Spiral Shortbreads

BY JOANNE CHANG

When Boston chef and baker Joanne Chang attended Harvard in the ’90s, she began selling chocolate chip cookies to fellow students on a whim. Her recipe, a hacked version of the recipe on the Toll House chocolate chip package, was an instant hit with classmates, and it launched the former math whiz kid into a career in professional cookie recipe development (with some restaurants, bakeries, and popular cookbooks sprouting up along the way). These spiral shortbreads, from Chang’s book Pastry Love, are an ode to those who prefer their cookies on the less sweet side. Chang originally started playing around with tahini as a possible substitute for peanut butter. The result is this buttery, rich shortbread. The black sesame version is slightly stronger tasting: Swirled together, they make a beautiful, simple cookie that goes well with tea. If you prefer smaller cookies, roll the shortbreads starting from the wide edge of the sheets of dough rather than the narrow edge.

MAKES ABOUT 3 DOZEN LARGE COOKIES

Tahini Shortbread (see below)
Black Sesame Shortbread (see below)
3 tablespoons white sesame seeds
3 tablespoons black sesame seeds
3 tablespoons sanding sugar

1. Using a rolling pin, carefully roll the tahini shortbread between the two sheets of parchment paper into a rectangle roughly 10 inches wide from side to side, 15 inches long from top to bottom, and just under ½ an inch thick. Set the dough aside.

2. Carefully roll the black sesame shortbread into a rectangle similar in size to the tahini shortbread, about 10×15 inches. Place both doughs on baking sheets and refrigerate for at least 1 hour to firm up (so you can move them easily).

3. Decide if you want larger or smaller cookies. For larger cookies: Remove the doughs from the fridge and orient both so they are 10 inches wide from side to side and 15 inches long from top to bottom. Peel off the top piece of parchment from the tahini dough. Then peel off the top piece of parchment from the black sesame dough and quickly invert it directly onto the tahini dough, but about ½ inch offset from the top; i.e., the black sesame sheet should be about ½ inch further from you than the tahini sheet, so that you can see the tahini sheet peeking out from under the black sesame sheet. Peel the parchment from the black sesame dough. Let the dough sandwich come to room temperature so it will be easy to roll, 10 to 15 minutes.

4. Orient the dough sheet so that the shorter edge is parallel to the edge of the work surface and the exposed tahini dough is furthest from you. Fold the exposed top ½ inch of tahini shortbread directly over onto the black sesame dough. Lift up the parchment under the tahini sheet and use it to fold the dough toward you, nudging the shortbread to roll it into a 10-inch-wide log; keep rolling the doughs together like a jelly roll.

5. When the log is rolled up completely, gently roll it back and forth to tighten up the spiral. Enclose the roll with parchment and refrigerate for at least 3 hours to firm up. Every 15 minutes, remove it from the refrigerator to reroll it (still in the parchment) so it sets into a nice, round shape. The first few times you do this, it won’t really hold its shape, but it will start to flatten. It will firm up and stay more and more in the desired shape as it chills; after about 3 hours, it should hold its shape fully. (At this point, the spiral shortbread can be stored in the refrigerator, well wrapped, for up to 1 week or in the freezer for up to 1 month. If frozen, remove from the freezer 24 hours before using and let defrost in the refrigerator overnight.)

6. For smaller cookies: Use the instructions above, but orient the sheets of dough so that they are wider from side to side than they are long from top to bottom; offset the black sesame sheet from the tahini sheet by about ½ an inch and proceed as directed, rolling the sheets together into a longer and skinnier roll.

7. Preheat the oven to 325°F and place racks in the center and bottom third of the oven. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.

8. Combine the white and black sesame seeds and sugar in a small bowl. Pour the sesame-sugar mixture out onto a flat plate or rimmed baking sheet, and roll the dough around in it until it is totally coated, pressing the dough into the seeds to help them adhere. Slice the dough into ¼-inch-thick slices. Lay the slices flat, about 1 inch apart, on the prepared baking sheets.

9. Bake for 20 to 24 minutes, rotating the baking sheets and switching their positions midway through the baking time, until the cookies are medium golden brown on the edges, light gold in the centers, and baked all the way through.

10. Store the cookies in an airtight container for up to 1 week.

TAHINI SHORTBREAD
¾ cup / 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
⅔ cup tahini (white sesame paste)
1 large egg, at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, mix together the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3–4 minutes, until super light and fluffy. Stop the mixer from time to time and scrape the paddle and bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure all the butter is mixing with the sugar. Add the tahini and beat on medium for another 30 seconds, until the tahini is combined into the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix on medium for another 30 seconds to combine. Add the flour and salt and mix on low, just until the flour is completely mixed in, 10 to 15 seconds more. Scrape the paddle and the bottom of the bowl and give another mix to make sure the dough is homogeneous. Scrape the dough onto a piece of parchment paper, flatten it into a rough square, and top it with another piece of parchment. Use immediately.

BLACK SESAME SHORTBREAD
¾ cup / 1 ½ sticks unsalted butter, at room temperature
¾ cup sugar
⅔ cup black sesame paste (look for this in Asian grocery stores or online—black sesame seeds should be the only ingredient listed)
1 large egg (about 50 grams), at room temperature
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt

1. In a stand mixer fitted with a paddle attachment, beat the butter and sugar on medium-high speed for 3–4 minutes, until the mixture is super light and fluffy. Stop the mixer from time to time and scrape the paddle and bowl with a rubber spatula to make sure all the butter is mixing with the sugar. Add the black sesame paste and beat on medium for another 30 seconds, until the paste is combined into the butter and sugar. Add the egg and vanilla and mix on medium for another 30 seconds to combine. Add the flour and salt and mix on low, just until the flour is completely mixed in, 10 to 15 seconds more. Scrape the paddle and the bottom of the bowl and give another mix to make sure the dough is homogeneous. Scrape the dough onto a piece of parchment paper, flatten it into a rough square, and top it with another piece of parchment. Use immediately.

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