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A Recipe for Chewy Sesame Cookies With Cherries and Lemon

Zoë Kanan pairs sesame seeds and tahini with dried cherries for an earthy riff on a PB&J

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A tray of sesame cherry cookies set on a yellow-and-white striped tablecloth with cups of tea. Dina Ávila/Eater

I love riffing on cookies. I rarely plan to make them in advance, but a quick check for butter, flour, eggs, and sugar, and I’m halfway there. The fun comes from seeing what else I have around that could make an interesting inclusion. It’s an off-the-cuff approach that’s similar to figuring out how a weeknight dinner might come together, and often results in an out-of-the-box combination that becomes a new personal favorite.

When I evaluate which ingredients I have on hand, I’m typically calculating the shortest path to big flavor. And often, that involves nuts, nut butters, or seeds, which offer a readily available depth of sweet or savory flavor, a hit of protein, and textural satisfaction that make them a go-to in my home baking. They’re home pantry heavy hitters.

My nut- and seed-centric cookie roster includes spicy peanut butter chile crisp (also excellent with salsa macha), multigrain chocolate chip, and chocolate chip with black sesame and seaweed. Although they differ in style, the idea behind them is similar: I pair an additional flavor that complements the richness of the seeds or nuts and experiment until I achieve my ideal texture and flavor. That’s how I came up with my latest addition to the roster: Jammy dried cherries with toasted sesame.

Here, sesame shows up as both sesame seeds and tahini. I call for the use of natural, or unhulled sesame seeds, which tend to be a darker, earthier matte brown than their shiny, hulled siblings. Their husks contain a high mineral content and are extremely rich in calcium. With this nutritional content comes flavor, which I further amplify by toasting the seeds before I grind them to a flour-like consistency using a spice grinder, blender, or mortar and pestle. Nut flour doesn’t absorb liquid as effectively as grain flour, so this flavorful inclusion has the additional effect of locking in moisture in a way that intensifies taste.

The dried cherries do double duty: their flavor works well with sesame (think of the pairing as a spin on PB&J), and their moisture content makes the cookie chewier. A small amount of tahini adds a creamy sesame element, while a teaspoon of lemon juice wakes up all the flavors. After they’re baked, I like to finish the cookies with a sprinkle of lemon zest for an extra bump of citrusy flavor. A crack of black pepper would be great, too.

Chewy Toasted Sesame Cookies with Cherry and Lemon Recipe

Makes 13 cookies


½ cup (75 grams) sesame seeds, unhulled
1 cup (200 grams) granulated sugar, divided
½ cup (104 grams) light brown sugar, lightly packed
5 tablespoons (70 grams) unsalted butter, softened
3 tablespoons (48 grams) tahini
1 large egg
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 ¼ cups (150 grams) all-purpose flour (spoon into measuring cup and level)
½ teaspoon baking soda
1¼ teaspoon kosher salt
½ cup (70 grams) dried cherries
Grated zest of 1 lemon


Step 1: Heat the oven to 350 degrees and line a half sheet tray with parchment paper. Put ½ cup of the granulated sugar in a small bowl and set aside.

Step 2: If your sesame seeds are raw, toast them in a dry pan over medium heat until they are fragrant and begin to pop. Transfer to a plate to cool before grinding.

Step 3: Place the toasted sesame seeds and remaining ½ cup of granulated sugar in a personal blender, coffee grinder, or food processor and pulse until finely ground and powdery, about 25 1-second pulses. Avoid processing for too long or the seed oils will seep and turn the mixture into a paste.

Step 4: Set up a stand mixer with the paddle attachment and cream together the sesame sugar, light brown sugar, and softened butter until combined.

Step 5: Combine the tahini, egg, vanilla extract, and lemon juice in a medium bowl and blend with a fork until smooth. Add this mixture to the sugar-butter mixture and stir on low speed until combined.

Step 6: Add the flour, baking soda, and kosher salt and mix on low speed until just crumbly with a few unincorporated dry spots remaining. Add the cherries and mix on low speed to combine. The final dough will be slightly oily which is normal.

Step 7: Form the dough into 13 balls (approximately 2 mounded tablespoons or 50 grams each) and roll around in the ½ cup of granulated sugar to coat.

Step 8: Space 2 to 3 inches apart on the lined tray to allow cookies to spread while baking. Use the bottom of a glass to flatten the cookies to about ½ in tall.

Step 9: Bake for 12-13 minutes, rotating halfway through. When finished, the cookies will have flattened out, be light golden brown, and have puffed centers with cracks just beginning to form.

Step 10: Cool for 10-15 minutes, then finish by microplaning lemon zest over the tops of the cookies. They will keep in a sealed container or bag at room temperature for up to 5 days.

Zoë Kanan is a pastry chef in New York City.
Dina Ávila is a photographer in Portland, Oregon.
Recipe tested by Ivy Manning

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