Hi friends! I’m sorry for my brief absence, on both this blog and Instagram. Two weeks ago, I embarked on a pastry tour of Israel with some of my favorite baking bloggers (more on that soon!), then got back home and hit the ground running with a major deadline for #weeknightbakingbook. I’m on the home stretch, as the manuscript is being sent to the printers on June 27th. Just between you and me, I can’t wait to get it out of my life so I can get back to what matters the most—baking. There’s been too much sitting around in front of a computer, editing!
In any case, I’ll keep this short and sweet. At the start of the month, the incredibly talented and wonderful Sarah from Broma Bakery worked with Vibe Israel to organize a pastry tour of Israel for baking bloggers like myself to learn about Israel and its cuisine. If I’m being honest with you guys, prior to the trip, I didn’t really know too much about Israel and wasn’t particularly inclined to visit—I had a list of nonsense excuses in my head (like it was too far, too hot, too controversial, etc, etc). Part of the reason why I accepted the trip was to learn more about that part of the world, and to push myself out of my comfort zone. I’m really glad I did because it was incredibly eye-opening. We were able to meet a ton of locals, from renowned bakers and pastry chefs to humble home cooks, who welcomed us into their homes and taught us how to make challah, Iraqi kubeh, Yemenite kubaneh, and more. I’ll hopefully have a more in-depth post for you guys soon—I’m just trying to decide what to make first!
As always, as I’m wont to do whenever I travel abroad, I came back home with a suitcase full of ingredients to bake with. This time around, my bag was filled with jars of tahini and spices like Israeli za’atar, sumac, and even Persian black limes. And of course, boxes and boxes of halva.
If you guys don’t know what halva is, you’re in for a treat. Halva is a Middle Eastern candy, made from tahini and sugar. It sort of has the texture of meringue, but is much denser and definitely with more chew. It’s also not quite as sweet, and tastes primarily of sesame (its main ingredient). Although you can get halva here in the United States, it mostly comes stale and pre-packaged in small boxes (with the exception of Seed + Mill—see the baker’s notes). In Israel, most of the halva sold was made in the same day and for sale in open-air markets, in giant concrete-type blocks that could pass for soap. Vendors would slice chunks off the blocks and package them in wax paper for you. The halva there also comes in a ton of varieties, with nuts and seeds often mixed in to give the halva more flavor.
Like this black sesame halva! On our last day in Tel Aviv, Edd and I split off from the group to explore Levinsky Market in Tel Aviv. Levinsky Market is known for having a variety of spice shops, small grocers’, and more. It was there that I found this black sesame halva. Although it looked pretty unappealing (seriously, it looked like a lump of charcoal or something), I ended up buying the entire block (mostly because the Russian lady selling it to me didn’t speak a word of English, but also because I love the toasted flavor of black sesame).
Which leads me to these cookies! Ever since seeing Claudia’s halva cookie post from yesteryear, I’ve been wanting to try incorporating chunks of halva into some of my favorite chocolate chip cookie recipes. But because I really wanted the black sesame halva to pop, I decided to stick it on a pale snickerdoodle cookie, where its unique color would really stand out. To add to the black sesame flavor, I rolled each dough in a mix of black sesame sugar (more on that in the bakers notes) and plain ol’ black sesame seeds (which was what most of you wanted me to do on Instagram Stories all along, lol) in the style of traditional snickerdoodles. Enjoy!
- Alright, confession time: I’m not exactly sure where to buy black sesame halva in the United States. SORRY, I’m the worst, I know. I know that Seed + Mill occasionally has some (FYI—if you’re in New York, I recommend checking out Seed + Mill in Chelsea Market; they sell halva in blocks by weight, similar to how its sold in Israel), but it’s a seasonal thing and it doesn’t seem to be available right now. In a pinch, you can make your own (ugh) or substitute with regular or chocolate halva (definitely available at Seed + Mill). OR skip the halva completely for plain old black sesame snickerdoodles. They’ll still be good, especially if you go for the black sesame sugar route (see below)—I promise!
- A few days ago, when I was developing the recipe for these cookies, I did an Instagram Story series where I baked the cookie dough balls plain, rolled them in black sesame seeds, and rolled them in black sesame sugar. I asked you guys to vote on which variety you liked best. Seeds won by a landslide, every time. I was actually quite disappointed by the results; I wanted black sesame sugar to win! Black sesame sugar, which you’ve seen on my blog before in the form of cookies and cinnamon rolls, is made by toasting black sesame seeds and then pulsing them with granulated sugar to create a sugar infused with toasted black sesame seeds. It’s wonderful and delicious, and I highly recommend making some for these cookies, especially if you can’t find black sesame halva (if not, your cookies might not taste black sesame-y enough!). The recipe below includes both varieties—the snickerdoodles rolled in plain seeds, and rolled in the black sesame sugar.
Black Halva Snickerdoodles
For the Black Sesame Sugar
- 1/4 cup (1.5 ounces) black sesame seeds
- 1/4 cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar
For the Snickerdoodles
- 2 1/3 cups (10.5 ounces) all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon baking powder
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1 cup (8 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature
- 1 1/2 cups (10.5 ounces) granulated sugar
- 1 large egg, at room temperature
- 2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
- 2.5 ounces black sesame halva, sliced into sixteen 1/2- to 1-inch chunks (see baker's notes)
- 1 recipe black sesame sugar
- 1/2 cup (3 ounces) black sesame seeds
For the Black Sesame Sugar
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 400 (F). Line a quarter sheet pan with parchment paper.
- Spread the black sesame seeds evenly across the prepared pan. Bake for 15 minutes, using a heatproof rubber spatula to stir and toss the seeds every 3 minutes to ensure that they're evenly heated and not burning. When done, the seeds will be a light brown color and start to smoke slightly. Immediately pour the seeds onto a heatproof plate to prevent them from cooking further, and cool slightly.
- Once cool, combine the seeds and granulated sugar in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse until finely ground, with the texture of cornmeal. The black sesame sugar will keep for two weeks in an airtight container in the fridge.
For the Snickerdoodles
- Position a rack in the center of the oven and preheat to 375 (F). Line two half sheet pans with parchment paper.
- In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, combine butter and sugar. Beat on medium-high until light, fluffy, and doubled in volume, about 5 minutes, using a rubber spatula to scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl as needed. Reduce the mixer to low and add the egg and vanilla, beating until just combined. Gradually add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Scrape down the bottom and sides of the bowl once more, and beat for an additional 30 seconds.
- Use a 4-tablespoon cookie dough scoop to portion out 16 cookies. Place a chunk of halva on the top of each cookie dough mound.
- Pour the black sesame sugar and the black sesame seeds into two separate, shallow bowls. Working quickly, roll the bottom and bottom-edges of each cookie in either the black sesame sugar or black sesame seeds. Place the prepared cookie dough balls on the sheet pans as you go, leaving at least 4-inches per cookie.
- Bake for 12 minutes, or until the edges have set but the centers are still gooey. The cookies will look puffed when you pull them out of the oven, but will fall and crack into the perfect cookies as they cool. Cool cookies on their sheet pan on a wire rack for 20 minutes, or until the edges and bottoms of the cookies have set and feel firm to the touch. Serve the cookies warm, or at room temperature. The cookies can be kept at room temperature, in an airtight container or Ziploc bag, for up to 3 days.