When a cookie can transport me back to a summer afternoon in the jalousie-windowed sunporch of my grandmother’s house, complete with a tableful of visiting Italian relatives sipping coffee, that’s a pretty powerful cookie.
Such was the case when, after many attempts, I came up with a recipe for these Italian Sesame Seed Cookies. When I finally got it right, I fixed a cup of coffee and dunked the cookie in; the ultimate taste test. The taste was just as I remembered: light, buttery, nutty, and slightly crunchy, all of it made even more flavorful by the milky coffee. I didn’t normally drink coffee as a young girl, but when the sesame seed cookies were out, my grandmother gave me a cup so I could dunk with everyone else. Heaven on Earth.
Sesame seeds come from the fruit pod of the sesame plant.
Once the pods dry, they open up and the seeds fall out. Open Sesame! I was so enamored by the process, I grew my own small crop.
When baking with sesame seeds, use hulled, untoasted seeds. I purchase them at the Indian grocery store Patel Brothers in Nashville or from the bulk dispenser at Whole Foods. You need about two cups.
Life for many seeds and nuts laden with oils, sesame seeds become rancid when sitting in a cupboard for a long period of time. Thus, if you are not going to finish the package soon after opening it, store it in the refrigerator or freezer. A rancid nut or seed can quickly ruin any savory or sweet dish. Often, you can tell if the seeds or nuts are rancid simply by the smell. Even without a rancid smell, I do a taste test to be sure.
1 cup butter, at room temperature
1 cup granulated sugar
3 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 teaspoons baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1½-2 cups untoasted sesame seeds
⅔ cup milk
Mise en Place:
Preheat oven to 350º. Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
Cream butter in a mixing bowl on medium speed for one minute. Add the sugar and beat for another minute until the batter is light and fluffy.
Add eggs and vanilla and mix one more minute, still on medium speed.
Combine baking powder, salt, and flour with a wire whisk.
Add dry ingredients to batter. Mix on slow for 30 seconds. Do not overwork the dough.
Spread flour on countertop and fold dough over on itself about ten times.
Divide dough into four equal sections.
Roll each portion into ¾-inch thick ropes and slice those into two-inch pieces. My relatives would pull off a clump of dough and roll each cookie into a small oval log, but I like to do it this way because there is less handling of the dough.
Set-up two wide-mouthed bowls, one with milk and one with sesame seeds. Put about a cup of milk in one and 1½ cups of sesame seeds in the other. Pick up about 5 pieces of dough and put them in the milk. Then lift each piece of dough and roll it in the bowl of sesame seeds.
Arrange dough on parchment-lined sheet pans.
Bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until cookies become lightly browned. Let cool for five minutes and then move cookies to a cooling rack.
Other Italian Faves:
Italian Ricotta and Lemon Cookies
Rachelle’s Italian Sausage, Onions, and Peppers
Grandma’s Italian Fried Cauliflower
@judyschickens Everyday Salad Dressing
50 Ways to Make a Frittata
Aunt Bridget’s Chicken Soup with Little Meatballs
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