Joan Nathan, the James Beard Award-winning author and authority on Jewish cooking, releases her 11th cookbook this month. King Solomon’s Table: A Culinary Exploration of Jewish Cooking from Around the World is a winding journey through the foods of the Jewish diaspora, from Roman ghettos to Middle Eastern markets to homestyle flavors in Cuba. It’s a brilliant look at a culture that has adapted to and influenced nearly every region in the world, and among the sweets featured in the book is this recipe for cookies made with tahini — or tahina as it’s sometimes written. If you’ve never had tahina cookies, imagine a shortbread with a lightness and the flavor of toasted sesame seeds, which taste a little bit like sweet, lightly caramelized milk. These cookies are good fresh out of the oven but even better the next day.
Tahina CookiesYield: about 3 dozen cookies
8 tablespoons (1 stick / 113 grams) unsalted butter, at room temperature, or ½ cup (120 ml) vegetable oil
½ cup (100 grams) sugar
1 cup (135 grams) plus 2 tablespoons flour, sifted
¼ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon vanilla
½ cup (120 ml) tahina
¼ cup (20 grams) blanched and peeled almonds
One day when I was looking for a cup of coffee on Twenty-Third Street in Manhattan, I stopped by an Israeli coffee shop selling tiny balls of tahina cookies that literally melted in my mouth. Their texture reminded me of Russian tea cakes, kourambiedes (Greek Easter cookies), and polvorones (Mexican wedding cookies). These addictive cookies, made with ground sesame seeds, butter, and flour, are giving halvah, the ancient sesame candy, a run for its money.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
In the bowl of a standing mixer with a paddle attachment, cream the butter or oil and sugar. Mix in the flour, salt, and baking powder, then the vanilla and the tahina.
Roll the dough into balls about the size of a large marble and put on the parchment-lined baking sheets. Press an almond in the center of each, slightly flattening the cookies.
Bake for about 15 to 20 minutes, rotating sheets halfway through, until lightly golden and beginning to crisp.
• Note I like Soom Foods tahina, made from Ethiopian white humera sesame seeds.
Excerpted from KING SOLOMON’S TABLE by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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