Tahini is an oily paste made from crushed sesame seeds that is a pillar of any hummus recipe. It is also gorgeous with yoghurt, with green herbs, or with miso as a dressing on vegetables or drizzled on ice-cream. There is a sauce with garlic and lemon that rivals mayonnaise. Mix it with pomegranate or quince molasses and you have a dessert worth dying for. In the Middle East, tahini is viewed in much the same way as Italians view olive oil. It sometimes referred to as white gold – like Italians and olive oil, it is woven into the fabric of the culture and cuisine. It has been made across the Mediterranean, Middle East and North African countries for centuries.
Plain tahini is made with hulled, roasted sesame kernels. Whole tahini is darker in colour, and is made without removing the hull. It is richer but can also be a bit bitter or gritty. The best sesame seeds for tahini are said to be the Ethiopian humera variety, thanks to their richness of flavour. Try to purchase your tahini from Middle Eastern shops – they have some of the best brands.
These cookies are like a hybrid between a short biscuit and halwa, with the typical melting texture of the former and the nutty, unctuousness flavour of the latter. For us who grew up spreading halwa over white bread to gulp it down for breakfast, they are a real throwback to childhood.
With all of the sweet and savoury uses of tahini, perhaps one of the most well known (apart from hummus) is to make cookies, or as we call them in Australia, biscuits. This recipe, one of Ottolenghi’s from his book Jerusalem, is very short (in terms of dough mixtures).
Because of that, the biscuits are divine with a cuppa. They are absolutely gorgeous in flavour, but like all really short biscuits, a cuppa complements them perfectly.
This is an Ottolenghi dish from Jerusalem. We feel free to substitute ingredients that are not readily available in our local area.
It is Ottolenghi Cooking the Books Day on the blog – one of two days per month where we publish the latest recipes we have tried in our project of cooking from Ottolenghi’s books – those we have cooked directly and those we have been inspired by. Currently we are cooking from Plenty More, but not ignoring his other books completely. Note that I often massage the recipes to suit what is available from our garden and pantry. For the original recipes, check his books and his Guardian column.
100g caster sugar
150g unsalted butter, at room temperature
110g tahini (use the light one, not the dark, unhulled variety)
0.5 tspn vanilla essence
25ml thickened cream
270g plain flour
1 tspn ground cinnamon
This recipe can be made in a stand mixer, food processor with dough blade, or the old fashioned way, by hand.
Preheat your oven to 200C. Place sugar and butter in a bowl and mix for a minute or so until just combined but not aerated. If using a stand mixer, use the beater attachment for about 1 minute on medium speed.
Add the tahini, vanilla and cream and mix again. Add flour and continue to mix until a dough comes together. For a stand mixer, do this while the machine is running and work for about a minute until the dough comes together.
Transfer the dough to a bench top and knead for a minute or so until the dough is smooth.
Pinch off 20g of the dough and roll in the palms of your hand to form a ball, place on a baking tray lined with baking paper. Flatten each ball slightly with the back of a fork so that the cookies take on the marks of the fork prongs. Do not overcrowd the tray – the biscuits should be about 5cm apart.
Continue to roll balls of dough, place on baking tray and flatten with a fork. Sprinkle each with a little cinnamon.
Bake in the preheated oven for 12-17 minutes, or until the biscuits are golden. Watch them closely towards the end of cooking as they will brown very quickly.
Cool on a wire rack then store in an airtight container. They will keep for about 10 days.
Makes 30’ish biscuits.