A grown-up treat that’s not over sweet
Christmas is coming up soon. And that means cookies. We bake lots of them at our house.
But sometimes we need to lessen the sugar overload. Which this cookie does, with style. It has just enough sweetness to satisfy, but not too much.
These cookies are great with tea or coffee, or with the classic glass of milk. They make a nice afternoon treat, too.
Even your kids will like these. And you? Let’s call it love.
Recipe: Italian Sesame Cookies
This is a traditional Italian cookie, and is quite popular during the Christmas holidays.
Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the baker in our house. She adapted this recipe from one she found in Sweet Maria’s Italian Cookie Tray by Maria Bruscino Sanchez.
Prep time for this recipe is about 15 minutes. Baking time adds another 45 minutes or so, depending on how many cookies you bake on each sheet. Yield is about 36 cookies.
These cookies keep well for several days if stored in an airtight container.
- 2½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
- 1 stick unsalted butter, softened
- ½ cup granulated sugar
- 2 eggs (consider using pasteurized; see Notes)
- ½ cup milk
- 1 to 2 teaspoons almond extract (or other extract of your choice; see Notes)
- additional ~½ cup milk for coating cookies
- 1 to 2 cups sesame seeds
- Arrange two metal racks in your oven, placing them about a third of the way from the bottom and the top. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F (or 350 F for convection bake).
- Line your baking sheet(s) with parchment paper. Set aside.
- In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flour and baking powder. Set aside.
- Place the softened butter in the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl, if using a hand mixer). Add the sugar, then cream together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and mix in thoroughly. Add ½ cup milk and the almond extract, then mix well. Gradually add the dry ingredients (flour and baking powder) and mix until well blended.
- Fill one small bowl with about ½ cup milk, and another small bowl with sesame seeds.
- Scoop out about a tablespoon of cookie dough and roll it into a ball. Dip the dough ball into the milk, then roll it in the bowl of sesame seeds until coated (see Notes). Place the dough ball on the prepared baking sheet. Repeat until you have used all the dough (place the cookies about 2 inches apart on the baking sheet). Press down gently on the tops of the cookies to flatten them a bit.
- Bake the cookies for about 12 minutes, reversing the baking sheet from the bottom to the top oven rack midway through. The cookies are done when they have puffed up and are beginning to brown. Don’t overbake.
- Remove the cookies from the baking sheet and cool them on a metal rack.
- These cookies are sometimes called “Biscotti di Regina” in Italian (the name translates as “Queen’s Cookies”). They’re also known as “Giugiuleni” (especially when you form them into a crescent shape).
- Almost every baking powder you’ll find on your grocery shelf is “double-acting.”
- Baking powder does become weaker over time (and most baking powder tins have an expiration date). So replace your baking powder when necessary. We usually replace ours once a year, when daylight saving time ends (so we remember to do it).
- It’s a good idea to shake baking powder before using to make sure all its components are well mixed. Baking powder consists of baking soda, plus an acidic ingredient (which reacts with the baking soda to produce leavening), along with a neutral substance (usually corn starch) to provide bulk.
- Eggs carry a slight (but real) risk of salmonella. So we suggest using pasteurized eggs for cookie dough. Although it’s unlikely that the eggs you buy will be infected, why take the risk? Especially since most of us can’t make cookies without tasting the raw dough.
- You can identify pasteurized eggs because they usually have a red “P” stamped on them.
- We like to use almond extract in this recipe, but anise extract is also traditional. Or you could use vanilla extract if you prefer.
- Adjust the amount of almond extract to your taste. If you use 2 teaspoons, the cookies will have a fairly pronounced almond flavor — tasty, but perhaps more than you want. If you prefer just a hint of almond, stick with one teaspoon.
- Sesame seeds can be expensive if you buy them in the little jars typically sold at supermarkets. So we like to buy them in bulk, generally from an online source.
- Why dip the cookie dough dollops in milk before rolling them in sesame seeds? Because the milk coating helps the seeds adhere.
- About overbaking: It’s all too easy to do. So, if in doubt, underbake instead. Cookies (and other baked goodies) dry out quickly if you bake them just a bit too long.
“So cookie season is upon us,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs. “Sweet.”
“But not too sweet,” I said. “And the sesame seeds add great savor to these.”
“A nice cookie for grownups,” said Mrs K R.
“Yeah,” I said. “But I like them too.”
“You’re a smart cookie,” said Mrs K R.
“But not too smart?” I said.
“I didn’t say it,” said Mrs K R. “Though you might have trouble counting.”
“What?” I said. “My quantitative skills are legendary.”
“Creative, too,” said Mrs K R. “You said you ate two or three cookies. But I see there are only a handful left. We started out with three dozen.”
“Says who?” I said.
“Sesame,” said Mrs K R.
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